Mark Pilgrim: Beyond the Baldness

Mark Pilgrim: Beyond the Baldness

With his distinctive bald head, warm personality and easy-going demeanor, Mark Pilgrim is one of South Africa’s best-known radio and TV personalities. This multi-award winning presenter has spent over 20 years entertaining millions of listeners and viewers. When not on-air, Mark spends a lot of his time in studio, recording voice-overs for commercials, AV presentations and IVR lines. He is also one of South Africa’s most experienced Master of Ceremonies and has hosted hundreds of corporate events over the past two decades.

Despite all of the above, Mark still found time to pen his first book, Beyond the Baldness, which released in December. Published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, Beyond the Baldness is an inspirational autobiographical book, telling the exceptional story of how surviving not one, but two, life-threatening illnesses inspires Mark to chase his dreams.

Mark is a cancer survivor. At the age of 18 he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer, which spread to his lungs and kidneys. Then, on the 14th July 2008, Mark suffered a sudden and severe heart attack. Despite these near-fatal events, Mark lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is! Melissa Delport caught up with this father of two to find out more.

Mark, first and foremost, I have to ask. The baldness… is it voluntary, the result of treatment, or a simple luck-out in the genetics lottery?

I initially lost my hair when I was undergoing chemotherapy. When it grew back, instead of my thick bushy locks, it landed up being quite wispy. So I decided to keep it off and it’s become my daily reminder of what I went through many years ago. A friend saw a picture of me with hair from when I was still at school and joked that it looked like I was wearing a helmet. I have been bald for more than half my life now. I couldn’t imagine having hair again, or buying shampoo.

You were born and raised in Kent, England, until the age of 9, and your father and brother still reside in the United Kingdom. How did you come to first set foot on South African Soil?

My mum was South African (grew up in Muizenberg) and met my dad while he was part of the Royal Navy, docked in SA. She followed him back to the UK and that’s how I came about being a pommie. My mum always wanted to come back to SA.

You were diagnosed at the age of 18 with stage 3 testicular cancer. At that age, most teens are worrying about girls and sneaking beers out of their parents’ fridge. How alienated were you from your peers and how did you cope with the weight of your diagnosis?

It was the very fear of something being wrong with my nether region that stopped me from telling anyone for weeks, as I was too embarrassed to have to show my mum I had a nut the size of an avocado pear. During that time of denial I didn’t realise the cancer was being left alone to spread through to other parts of my body, eventually landing up in my lungs and kidneys as well. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and only having been in Johannesburg for just over a year while at WITS, I never had a big social circle at the time of diagnosis. It was a tough period in my life. I was living in the lounge of my mum’s one bedroomed flat in Hillbrow thinking I was dying. It really sucked.

You graduated from Wits with a B.Com in Industrial Psychology and Business Economics before going on to become a consumer researcher. The science of psychology deals with all aspects of the human experience, but specifically that of the mind. How large a role do you think the mind plays over the body in surviving a disease such as cancer?

On the wall of the oncology ward (Ward 495 at Joburg Gen) they had a framed quote which read “In believing you’ll be cured is in itself a step towards recovery”. Your head has to be in the right space in order to endure chemotherapy.

During your eight-year-stint in research, you became the Johannesburg Chairman of the SA Marketing Research Association. No doubt you were exceptionally good at your job! What prompted the career change?

I was always good at the left brain stuff. Accounting and mathematics came naturally to me, but I always wanted to be a radio deejay. After eight years of auditioning I landed up on 5FM and held down both careers for two years before moving into entertainment full time.

In 2008, you suffered a sudden and severe heart attack. I believe you were in your doctor’s rooms at the time. Do you think the availability of immediate medical attention saved your life?

Without a doubt, receiving immediate medical attention saved my life. Even with the doctors administering meds while waiting for the ambulance I still suffered permanent damage to the heart muscle and now take chronic meds to keep it beating correctly.

You are, without a doubt, one of SA’s most beloved deejays. You have hosted no less than 10 radio shows. In 2012 you won the MTN Radio Award for Best Commercial Music Show in South Africa, and in 2015 the MTN Radio Award for Best Community Weekend Radio Show in South Africa. Why do you think you have been so successful in this industry?

First of all, I love the purity of radio and I think it comes across on air. I don’t do radio to get publicity in a magazine, I do it because I love the intimacy of chatting to someone even though I’m not really there. Also, I think that listeners pick up the integrity of my personality. I don’t go by a fake name and “stage persona”. I’m just me.

You have hosted numerous prime time television shows over the years, including Big Brother South Africa on MNET, new moves on eTV and Face2Face on SABC2. In 2008 you hosted the country’s biggest ever television game show, the Power of 10 on MNET. Do you have a favourite and why?

Big Brother will always be my favourite. When we started the show we had no idea how huge it would become. It landed up being the show that everyone watched and talked about. From a production point of view it was massive. I had seven cameras on me that were always moving around (and I had to know which one to talk to at different times in the show). The crowds were so energetic I had to have two earpieces in my ears just to hear the cues from my director.

You are well-known not only for your many achievements but also for your motivational speaking. What is the single most important message you want to impart on your audience?

Early detection can save your life. If you pick up a lump or other kind of anomaly, go have it checked as you may stop something from becoming worse.

You have survived two life-threatening illnesses. How has this changed the way you think about life and death?

It’s all about family. I love my job(s), but the only things really important to me are my wife and two daughters. When I depart from this earth I simply want to be remembered as the best dad ever.

You married Nicole, the self-confessed love of your life in July 2007, on a tropical beach in Mauritius, but you met when you were doing a voice over for the company that she was working at. Apparently overachieving runs in the Pilgrim household, as Nicole now runs the company! Do you still do voice-overs for her and does she ever give you a hard time?

Yep, I still do a lot of voice overs for the company. Technology has changed the way we do things now though and all the voice work I do is from my home studio so I never go to the office and see Nicole in “work mode”!

In 2010 you welcomed your first daughter, Tayla-Jean into the world. Your second daughter, Alyssa, was born in June 2012. How has becoming a father changed your perception of life and your priorities?

My girls are everything to me. I thought I would be a “best friend” kind of dad, but have turned out to be the disciplinarian. Sometimes the way my girls squabble I am less of a Dad and more of a referee. Parenting is the most rewarding and also most difficult job!

From 2013 to early 2016 you were a columnist for South Africa’s Living and Loving magazine, writing a monthly column about parenting from a dads’ perspective. Was this your first introduction to creative writing and do you think it prepared you for writing Beyond the Baldness?

It probably started about two years before the column when I began my online blog. I would just waffle about whatever was on my mind. My style was very informal and I think that’s how the autobiography landed up being so personal in its delivery as well. It was simply me chatting away… on paper (okay, computer screen).

Writing an autobiographical book is an emotional journey for any author, but can also be cathartic. How did you feel, writing about such difficult experiences, and did it take a lot out of you?

In life you often have general flashbacks to significant events, but writing the book meant I was reliving intimate details of what happened. The hardest part to write about was when my mum passed away and I had to tell my 8-year-old brother that she was gone. It felt like it had just happened all over again and more than once I had to stop writing to compose myself.

Ultimately, what message do you want readers to take away from this book?

Don’t just follow your dreams in life … chase them. Whether it be in the work place or personal life, you need to embrace your goals. Benjamin Franklin once said “Some people die at 25 and are only buried at 75.” Make sure this does not apply to you.


Beyond the Baldness is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers and is available at all leading book stores and as an eBook on Amazon now.

Felicia: Living her Dream

Felicia: Living her Dream

Felicia Mabuza-Suttle needs little introduction. From businesswoman to talk show host, Felicia is an international award-winning entrepreneur, an inspirational speaker, an author, and a philanthropist. She is the President and co-owner of Leadership Success International, LLC, an organization that specializes in executive leadership training and business communications. Mabuza-Suttle is one of the founding members and shareholders of Pamodzi Investment Holdings. The South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) also named her among the “100 Great South Africans.”

Born and raised in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, Felicia’s dream was to unchain herself from the shackles of apartheid that held back most black people in South Africa. She opted to leave South Africa – venturing to the U.S in search of an education and success.

“I knew the most powerful weapon against apartheid was to leave South Africa, travel abroad, and get an education. I knew I would see the end of the brutality of apartheid in my lifetime and that freedom would come. I set out to prepare myself for that future.”

And so it came to be that Felicia settled abroad, earning herself a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, followed by an MA in Mass Communication. Felicia built a life for herself in the land of hope and glory, until with one single plea, the great Nelson Mandela brought her home. It was 1991, and Mandela made a clarion call, challenging all South Africans living abroad to return home to help build a new democracy. Despite her successful career in the States, Felicia answered his call and left America.

Felicia didn’t, however, integrate quietly back into South African Society. She exploded onto the scene, using television as her platform for change. The Felicia Show was not only the first audience talk show in the country, but it was also the first South African talk show hosted by a black woman. Aptly referred to as “The Show that gets South Africans talking”, The Felicia Show focused on lifestyle topics and various philanthropic efforts. At a time when South Africa was transitioning from an apartheid government into democracy, the people had found a voice in Felicia. Her show enabled black and white South Africans to come together and debate issues they could not discuss during the apartheid era.

Over the course of her years in television, Felicia has interviewed such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Britain’s former first lady, Cherie Blair. Celebrity personality interviewees include Larry King, Danny Glover and Diana Ross.

Your first novel, Dare to Dream, a best-seller and publisher’s choice, was a memoir of your earlier life. Live Your Dream is a continuation of that memoir, but what inspired you to write this story?

Many young people ask me to mentor them. Being so far away, I decided to write a book aimed at inspiring the young and mature with strategies to help people to realize their dreams. I thought mapping out my journey, sharing stories of courage, determination and persistence would be beneficial. How I got close to people I admired, and learned about their stories, would be helpful. I wanted to share the many quotes that have served as my roadmap to success and now, to significance. Success is about self-empowerment and significance is about empowering others.

What message do you hope readers will take from this book?

There are three important messages to take away from this book:

  • No one and nothing should stop you from realizing your dream. You were born to make an impact.
  • It’s not where you come from that matters, but where you are going. Don’t let your past hold you back. Let it propel you to greater heights. As a product of apartheid, I refused to allow apartheid to determine my future.
  • You are never too old to give birth to your dreams. Never give up on your dream. We were also born for a purpose. Make it happen.

How have you changed or grown since the first book, Dare to Dream, and has this impacted your writing?

Dare to Dream was literally a book about my life, my wishes and dreams. Many called them “dreams of grandeur” but I knew that if given the opportunity, I could make those dreams come true. My dreams were realistic and doable. All it needed to make my dreams comes true, was education and exposure. I ventured to get that and all was possible. As Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Dare to Dream was a story of possibilities, determination and persistence.

You married Earl Suttle in 1976, but after your return to South Africa you spent many years apart, with you living here in Johannesburg, and Earl in Atlanta, Georgia. What was that like and how did you manage to focus on your family with all that was going on in your life at the time?

It was difficult. There were many lonely nights and tears when the television bright lights went off. But I was focused on what I determined was a ‘calling’ and a mission. I was answering Mandela’s call to South Africans living abroad to come back home to serve their country. My family understood I was passionate about making a difference in my country. I knew with the talk show, bringing black and white, young and mature together in communication, we could create understanding for a better South Africa. I was a transatlantic mother and wife. Sometimes I would do homework at times long distance with my children, sharing their victories in tennis tournaments and beauty pageants over the phone.  Wish there was Skype then and social media. I would teach my husband to cook for the girls long distance. It was tough but we survived the twelve and a half years!

How has being a mom molded or influenced the decisions you have made in your life?

Motherhood is extremely rewarding but still comes with a lot of guilt. As the eldest sister, I find myself being mother to my sisters as well. When I visit South Africa, I usually travel with three suitcases, two full of clothes for my sisters, brother, their children. I love children, so my friends’ kids always have something from me. They call me “Mother Felicia”, after Mother Teresa, because I genuinely deeply care. I feel blessed and grateful.

You are now living back in the States, in Orlando. What prompted your decision to return to America?

Husband (laughs). On a serious note, family. I live in Miami and Atlanta. I love the sea, thus Miami and I have my office and home in Atlanta. I also have a home in Cape Town.

I returned to America because my family was there. But now, both my daughters are gone – Lindiwe lives in Cape Town and Berlin, and Zani lives in Copenhagen and Miami. It’s lonely to be in an empty nest. I hardly go upstairs to the girls’ rooms. They are exactly how they left them when they left for college.

Do you miss home, and would you ever consider settling back in South Africa permanently?

Yes, I miss South Africa. As I always say, my body is in America, but my heart is in South Africa. South Africa gives me a sense of purpose. America makes me chase profits (money). I prefer purpose over profit now. I do plan to do more in South Africa in 2016.  My passion is to inspire young people to realize their potential. I do have a home in Cape Town and am one of the founding members of Pamodzi Group.

Your business acumen and achievements are inspiring. You have founded several business ventures. I know that you studied journalism and mass communications, both of which have served you well, but to what do you owe your entrepreneurial success?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. I wanted to create jobs and opportunities for others. My production company, FMS Productions, commissioned the show to SABC and later eTV. I wanted to one day own a restaurant like my grandfather, who was the first black man to own a restaurant in downtown Johannesburg. That inspired me to start the first dine and dance upmarket restaurant, Back O’ the Moon at Gold Reef, City Casino. I am an image fanatic. I started my own eyewear line, that is sold in South Africa and other countries on the African continent. Thanks to Ndaba Ntsele, Chairman and CEO of Pamodzi Group for getting me involved in a company that has empowered a number of people. Pamodzi was one of the pioneers in black economic empowerment – started in 1996.

Who have been your greatest mentors in life – the people who have inspired you to keep going, and to push through the trials and tribulations which stood in your way?

I believe my number one mentor is definitely my husband, Dr. Earl Suttle. He gave me a head-start and paid for my first year at university. Today we are partners in marriage and business. As I always say, “Alongside every strong and successful woman, is a supportive and self-actualized man.”

Philanthropist George Soros has also played a key role in my life. He paid for my entire undergraduate and graduate studies. I will always be indebted to him.Thanks to my partners at Pamodzi, Ndaba Ntsele, who brought me into the company. Businessman Solly Krok helped me make my business dream to own a restaurant a reality. Irwin Schaffer helped me start Felicia eyewear.

There were also women I looked up to as role models: My grandmother who was one of the women who started the Zezele YWCA in Johannesburg. My mother, Olga Williams, who demonstrated love to us all. Marina Maponya, one of the leading businesswomen, Wendy Luhabe, a friend and supportive businesswoman, Barbara Walters, who shaped the careers of many women in the media.


Live Your Dream is published by Victory International Publishers, Atlanta, Georgia and is available (CNA, Exclusive Books and all leading bookshops) as well as on (, Barnes & Noble, Apple iStores, Kobo, and Loot)

Felicia can be contacted through her publicist: Helen Holyoake of Helco Productions –