Home Celebrity News JENNA CLIFFORD’S FIRST JOB: I never got paid for TWO YEARS
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JENNA CLIFFORD’S FIRST JOB: I never got paid for TWO YEARS

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HOLLYWOOD STARS ADMIRE HER FOR HER CREATIVITY AND BESPOKE JEWELLERY DESIGNS. BUT JENNA CLIFFORD TELLS GAVIN PRINS HER FIRST JOB WAS AT A JOHANNESBURG JEWELLERY FACTORY. HER SALARY (FOR THE FIRST TWO YEARS) WAS ZERO. BUT SHE KEPT GOING.

I had never met a person who worked at a business for two years without getting paid—until I walked into businesswoman, philanthropist, and jewellery- maker to the stars Jenna Clifford.

“I did everything in the factory. If Busi (the helper) was sick or off, I had to make the tea. I was also the receptionist. If I sold anything, I used to get a small commission. But basically, I didn’t get paid for about two years. My boss was nice. He said if you want to be here, work for nothing. And we will only train you when know you are serious about the jewellery business,” she says.

I WAS POOR GROWING UP

Jenna’s entrepreneurial skills started at school. As a teenager, she was feisty, strong-willed and a go-getter. While the factory was her first real job, she ran her own business as a scholar, selling bracelets she made herself. “I used to make tickey bracelets. I took my father’s tickey’s, which he kept in boxes. At that time, South Africa changed from tickey to rands and cents. So, he kept it in boxes and didn’t count them. I was removing them. I was not given pocket money, so I needed to make money. 

“My grandfather was the only one who gave me money. He was a very kind man. On my birthday and at Christmas, he used to give me an envelope with R50 in it. He used to say ‘Jenny, go and put it in your Post Office savings’. And I did. That is how I learnt as a child growing up poor that you had to compound something.”

She left the house at 16 and got married at the age of 19. She fell pregnant soon after, but then tragedy hit. “I had a baby, but she died because of a bad surgical error during which I had to be resuscitated. She was breech and I needed a C-section. They turned her and she got the umbilical cord wound around her leg, which led to her death.”

NO MONEY. NO JOB.

She fell pregnant again, and soon after the birth of the baby, her husband left her. “There I was, no money, no job. I needed to do something and feed my baby.” After hours, she started giving swimming lessons at a nearby school and worked at the factory during the day.

 “The British had introduced these plain bands in the 60s and 70s and I wanted to change that.” Eventually, she started designing. In the nine years that followed, she eventually partnered with the boss until it was time to leave. Then, in 1992, Jenna Clifford Designs was born.

Today, the images along the passage in her building leading to her office speak volumes about her fame. Former President Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, the Williams sisters (yes, Serena and Venus), and even Debra Messing, who plays Grace in Will & Grace, hang on the walls. “Yep, she (Debra) flew into South Africa just to collect a piece from me. How amazing is that?” she says.

Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Jenna Clifford

THE BIG PARTY

With 34 years in the business, Jenna Clifford has become a household name to the stars and the rich. A-listers attended her lavish celebrity parties. Hollywood stars would call her, making an order for a jewellery piece. 

Today, we sit in her office reflecting on her life. But she has no jewellery on her hands. Huh? “This is just laziness. I have been away on a farm and got home yesterday. That is why I am not wearing anything.”

Divorced from her second husband, Jenna continues to live her best life. This year she turns 65 and plans a big party. We can’t wait for the invitation. IB

QUICK Q&A WITH JENNA

What is your ultimate ride?

A 4X4. The Gelandewagen Merc. (She means a G-Wagon)

What should people cook for you?

I like a few meals. Oxtail and tripe. But you’ve got to know how to cook it.

If you go shopping for a top, what colour would you choose?

Black. For everything. Clothes, dogs, everything.

When flipping through movies, where do you stop and press play?

The Godfather. Oh, and after  Meet the Fockers (She deep laughs).

A song that would be on repeat during a roadtrip?

John Legend’s Glory.

First thing to order in a bar?

Vodka and Orange Juice.

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