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Carolyn Steyn – To reveal all in explosive new memoir

FROM A SURPRISE WEDDING TO A HONEYMOON THAT LASTED A DAY, TO HAVING FORMER PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA AS A MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR, THE LIFE OF ACTRESS, PHILANTHROPIST, AND FOUNDER OF 67 BLANKETS FOR NELSON MANDELA DAY, CAROLYN STEYN, IS AS COLOURFUL AS THE TV ROLES SHE HAS PLAYED OVER THE YEARS.

By Gavin Prins

Today, she celebrates 10 years of driving one of the biggest charities in South Africa to honour former President Nelson Mandela and Nelson Mandela Day. She is a producer of the hit play Amadeus starring Alan Committie and is a proud patron and investor in The Devil Wears Prada which opens at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End in October this year starring Vanessa Williams in the coveted role of Miranda Priestly with music by Sir Elton John.

But life, says Carolyn in an interview with InBound SA, has not always been a smooth ride. She is penning her memoirs in an explosive new book with a title she is keeping to herself – for now.

We sit at the Steyn mansion in Steyn City, north of Johannesburg, in the conservatory. One of three staff members keeps a close eye on my cup of coffee, making sure it is filled. “You have to try the cheesecake. It’s sugar free. I made it myself,” she says. “Really?”, I ask to which she says no. We laugh. She is a great spirit, and looks refreshed after just finishing her daily swim. Next to her is her personal assistant, Jaco Lotter.

67 blankets is born

Her eyes light up as she talks about the day the charity was born. Madiba had just passed away. Douw, her husband, had recently come out of hospital and was recovering at home. Around the dinner table were friends, including Zelda La Grange, Madiba’s former personal assistant.

“It was a sad dinner. We shared stories about Madiba. Douw and Madiba had a father/son relationship. Douw built him a house on our game farm, Shambala. My husband used to behave around one person and one person only and that was Nelson Mandela. He was like a little boy around Madiba.” “At one point, I was boasting about my domestic abilities of which I have none. And Zelda said, “Make 67 blankets for Mandela Day.” It was lighthearted banter – in one ear and out the other. “Sure,” I said, “no problem.”

“Then Sharon (her sister) arrived the next day with a bag of wool and a crochet hook, reminding me of my pledge. So, on Christmas Day, 2013, I started crocheting and realised I couldn’t make 67 blankets by myself. I turned to friends for help. At 3 am, I put out a plea for help on Facebook. The next day, I had more than 100 messages of support.

The concept is simple. People knit or crochet blankets in honour of Madiba and then hand them out to organisations like orphanages, hospitals and people in need. Because 67 Blankets became such a huge national drive, Carolyn needed more hands. “I went around the country scouting for ambassadors who would be able to drive the project in their respective regions. We now have 54 Ambassadors in SA and 20 globally” she says and then Jaco interrupts her.

“All in all, about 88,”

“Oh, really?” she asks him, and he nods

The ambassadors are tasked with driving 67 Blanket through initiatives, spreading the word all while keeping Madiba’s legacy intact. And so, 67 Blankets has grown into a global phenomenon. When the Boks came back home with the Webb Ellis trophy in 2019, our KnitWits for Madiba created the biggest blanket in green and gold comprising thousands of individual blankets to honour our rugby heroes. People write songs and poems about 67 Blankets.

Carolyn’s eyes are visibly teary. “Mrs Graça Machel has been supportive of 67 Blankets since Day 1. She loves what we’re doing. I only wish Madiba were here to witness all the beautiful work being done in his name.”

A highlight, of the project, she says, was making 350 blankets for Nazareth House, an orphanage in Yeoville, Johannesburg. “My two sisters and I went there armed with several truckloads of blankets. It was extra special because this is the orphanage where our mother, Yvonne Mazotti, was raised. It was sad but beautiful. My mother used to recount how people would come on Sundays to the orphanage to choose children. The nuns used to dress the up for the occasion. My mother would always call ‘Pick me, pick me’… She was never picked.”

Madiba – the marriage counsellor

Carolyn and Douw’s relationship with Madiba went further than just friends. She recalls one special moment in particular.

“We had just arrived in London and went to rest for a few hours. Staff knew that no phone call was to be transferred to our bedroom, even if the house was burning down. Unless, of course, it was Madiba. An hour into their sleep, the phone in their bedroom rang. “Douw woke up immediately. He answered it and Madiba was on the line, saying that he would fly to join us in London the following day because he needed to discuss something important with Douw. Of course, I had arranged all this because of a certain issue I had with Douw’s behaviour. I just didn’t realise that Madiba would act so soon!”

Douw said, “No Madiba. I don’t expect you to fly to me. We will fly right back to South Africa.” A few hours later, we were on a plane back home so that Madiba could address Douw. That was the kind of relationship Douw had with Madiba. He would hop, skip, and jump around Madiba. He absolutely loved Nelson Mandela.”

The book

Our conversation turns to her tell-all book, in which she plans to write about everything from the impact her mother had on her and her life, to being arrested at a UK airport to a marriage that started with a few challenges.

Then she gets sidetracked. “Gosh, it requires discipline to sit for 5 hours a day writing a book.” She is certainly nervous about its contents, and says, turning to Jaco and laughing, “Sometimes I think it would be best if the book is only published after my death.”

Reflecting on her marriage, she tells us she and Douw were introduced by a mutual friend and fell in love. A few months later, on her birthday Douw arranged a party that turned out to be a surprise wedding. Carolyn fell even more in love with her husband. They flew to Spain for their honeymoon, adding to the former actress’s impression of a fairytale wedding, until her new husband’s team of lawyers insisted he return to SA immediately. On arrival the following morning, Carolyn walked into their living room at the Saxon Hotel where they were resident at the time, with the legal team insisting she sign reams of paperwork, which was the start of more to come with final divorce papers being signed just five months later. In the rush and plans for the surprise wedding, Douw had forgotten to have a
notary public present, leaving the couple married in community of property. They were officially divorced in October, 2003. Douw and Carolyn remarried ten years later on February 11, 2013.

Today, Carolyn, says, she is even more in love with Douw. “Despite his health challenges, Douw has become the man of my dreams. He is kind, considerate, funny and generous. He listens to my radio show on Hot 1027FM every evening. And every single day he tells me just how much he loves me.” IB

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