Author Interviews

Jen Su: From Z-A Lister

Jen Su is one of South Africa’s most unique TV and radio personalities. She is a news presenter on Business Day TV and Sky News ‘The African Business Report’, a radio presenter on CliffCentral for the Gareth Cliff Morning Show, a contributor to SABC3 Expresso, and entertainment reporter for People Magazine’s ‘Out and About with Jen Su’. Jen has also been an actress on the hugely popular drama series Isibaya (Season 1) and on Jacob’s Cross (Seasons 5 and 6).

Jen is a top Corporate Emcee and has been the Master of Ceremonies for galas and launches for major corporations such as HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, Telkom, Transnet, G4S, Heineken, DHL, and many more. She is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and Thai, and has also emceed a number of bilingual events for the Thai Embassy and Chinese corporations in South Africa.

Jen is well-known on the social scene, as one of South Africa’s most prominent socialites and A-List celebrities.

She is an avid traveler, hat collector, and red carpet reporter – from the Cannes Film Festival in France, to the MTV Europe Music Awards in Scotland, to New York Fashion Week, to the BET Awards in LA – Jen has been at the forefront of entertainment reporting.

Jen has been in the field of news presenting with over a decade of experience – in addition to BDTV and the financial report on Sky, Jen has been a prime time anchor for Star News Asia in Hong Kong, a senior anchor for Thai TV Channel 11 Newsline, and an anchor for Good Morning China on China TV in Taiwan.


When Jen Su came to our offices for an interview eight years ago I knew immediately that this petite Chinese-American dynamo was going to make a huge impact on the South African social scene. Jen arrived, not knowing anyone in South Africa, impeccably dressed, with portfolio and show-reel in hand. She was confident, talented, experienced, and prepared.

When we launched over a year ago, Jen moved over with us, and to this day is still a part of our CliffCentral family. She is a master at networking, a loyal friend, and brilliant at building her reputation in a natural, effortless way. She also loves to take photos of everything – and we can count on Jen to document everything that’s been going on.

On the surface Jen might seem to be just a hat-loving socialite, but if you’ve ever seen Jen anchor the financial news on Sky, emcee a corporate gala, or sing solo with the Soweto Gospel Choir you will be impressed by the depth of her intellect and talent.

And now, in her book, Jen gives a fresh, unique perspective and shares her secrets to success.

Enjoy and be inspired! – Gareth Cliff, President and Founder,

Your relationship with your father was very close. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you now that he is no longer with you, to share in your success. If you could tell him anything today, what would it be?

I believe that my Dad has always followed my journey, even in death. In the book ‘Journey of Souls’ they talk about the afterlife and I believe that my Dad knows everything that has happened thus far in my life. But if I could tell him anything today, I would say that I miss him so much and I wish more than anything that he could be here with me. I wish I could take him on a tour of beautiful South Africa, and take him on safari!

Tell us about your love of hats.

I am meticulous in crafting each aspect of my appearance and one example of my signature looks are my hats – all 300+ of them. It’s not an Imelda Marcos obsession, but a thought-through element of my style that has added to my distinction and character in endless ways. It all started in my days in Taiwan as a singer, when I found that hats had a way of covering my forehead and making my face look a bit smaller. I stood out, I looked cute, and people noticed me. Over time, however, I realised that hats also had a powerful way of changing one’s character to fit the mood or occasion, without having to change every article of clothing.

I could wear hats to reflect my stylish side, my ‘fun in the sun’ side, and even my crazy side. Over time, hats became my calling card and my trademark. I became the ‘Mad Hatter’ from Thailand to Hong Kong to South Africa. Fans sent me hats and fascinators as gifts on my birthday. And now I’m still asked to judge ‘Best Hat’ for major equestrian events such as the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate or the J&B Met.

What does it feel like moving countries six times, and having to start all over again in each new land?

It has been absolutely agonising to the point of suicide and depression. I have no words, I have experienced the very depths of humiliation and embarrassment, and I have also experienced the gratitude of meeting some absolutely incredible people that have crossed my path in my life journey.

Do you ever get nervous on the red carpet?

Yes. I’m not nervous if I’m the one walking the red carpet, but I’m nervous when I’m the one who has to interview Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet overseas at a huge event. When an A-List celeb walks down the red carpet, you have a split second to grasp their attention and get that interview, or you miss it entirely.  Fortunately, with my American accent, I often grasp the attention of many a Hollywood A-Lister, who usually do a double-take and stop to listen to what I’ve asked!

What does the ‘day in the life of Jen Su’ look like?

It’s very hectic, and it changes from day to day. It almost always starts early, usually before 6am, and consists of photo shoots, on-air broadcasting for my radio show, TV, press conferences, and evening events which range from small product launches to huge corporate galas.

What many people don’t realise is that you are an accomplished pianist – when did you learn and what are your most memorable performing experiences?

I started to play classical piano from the age of five and I performed in national piano competitions from the age of eight. By the time I was ten years old, I was practising piano five hours a day, on my own with no supervision. Neither of my parents nor my brothers were musicians and they did not have to push me to practise. I just had this sense of discipline and desire for accomplishment and perfection that drove me to play those scales over and over again till my fingertips were sore and bleeding. It never felt burdensome, though at times the sound of my friends laughing and playing in the yard outside did pull me off my bench and into a friend’s house or pool. Still, day after day, I found my way back to that piano bench. It was just something I felt compelled to do, and the satisfaction of advancement, of nailing a difficult piece, or performing impeccably at a recital, or winning a national piano competition was the fuel that would drive me further.

One of my favourite playing experiences was with the Philadelphia Orchestra and trumpetist Frank Kaderabek, when I performed the Shostakovitch Piano Concerto No. 1. Another occasion was the U.S. popular morning show ‘The Today Show’. We were selected as a Chinese traditional ribbon dance troupe, which performed all over the nation.

Another thing that many people don’t know about you is that you can sing. Please tell us about your collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin, and also your winning a TV singing contest similar to ‘Taiwan Idols’.

Thank you – yes, I’ve been fortunate to have released five albums in Asia and my collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin was a theme song called ‘Rise Up South Africa’, which was part of a national compilation of the top World-Cup inspired songs.

Who have you met in South Africa who has inspired you the most, and why?

Nelson Mandela (who I had the honour of meeting at a press conference in Thailand many years ago), Bryan Habana (his family ‘adopted’ me as their adopted South African goddaughter), Gareth Cliff (he’s been an amazing mentor and friend), and of course my ‘pinkies’ – my close girlfriends Danielle Franco, Peta Eggierth-Symes, and Jill Grogor. I have learned so much from their success. And for the book, the late Reeva Steenkamp was the person who inspired me to finally get my courage together and write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand.

What advice can you give aspiring authors on the process of writing a book?

You must be extremely patient and always think in detail. Don’t be afraid of failure!

What is one message you would like to give the youth of South Africa today?

Follow your dreams and passions!

You are the mom of two boys – how do you manage juggling parenthood with the line of work that you are in?

It is so difficult and you are always feeling guilty. It is truly impossible! Being a mom has had its fair share of trials. From giving birth, to nappies, to burp cloths (I’ve had spit on my suit many a time!), their first steps, to travelling abroad, and now their coming of age, I’m proud to say that I’ve been there for just about all of their birthdays and milestones. It has been extremely challenging, though, and when you’re a mom who’s also a public figure, and moving from country to country at a moment’s notice, you often feel torn because you can’t be there all the time for your kids.

If someone has to attend an event / gala / launch and their clothing budget is non-existent, what tricks can they use to make themselves look like a catwalk model?

Go through your closet and mix and match existing pieces.

But let’s say you really don’t have anything and need to buy a few basic items – then buy simple (not expensive) classic pieces that can be worn again and again. For the ladies, look at a simple LBD (little black dress without sequins or embellishments), heels, and an accessory or two. The LBD can be worn over and over, while changing accessories. Try to make sure your heels are as comfortable and easy to wear as possible. And practice walking in them! They don’t have to be sky high – just be sure that your heels look and feel fabulous. Guys should invest in one really good suit in black, grey, or vertical pinstripe, changing the look with different shirts and belts.

The important thing to remember is that people are too busy worrying about themselves and their own looks to worry about you and what you’re wearing. Wear your LBD or suit with confidence and don’t worry if you wore the same dress or suit last week. Change your accessories, wear a hat, put on a scarf, change your jewellery, change your belt, put on sunglasses.

Many people never like what they look like in photos. Are there some tricks that you can share?

Look at that camera as if it is your best friend. When the camera is right in front of you, look at the top rim of the camera lens when you are being photographed. It will make your eyes look bigger and more energetic. Looking at the bottom rim or below the camera lens will make your eyes smaller and less interesting.

When the photographer is kneeling down and shooting upwards at you standing, it’s important to slightly tilt your chin down so that your face looks slimmer.

The best kind of smile is a bit of a smile, either showing or not showing teeth, not too wide (think Cheshire cat!) and not a ‘half-smile’ either. You need to practise and take a number of photos to find out which is your best side and your best kind of smile.

You are everywhere on social media. How can writers make themselves discoverable in this medium?

Blogging, vlogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – you name it, there are so many excellent ways to build a profile for yourself on social media. As an author your first job is to write something brilliant. And your second job is to connect with the masses and the media. In a nutshell, you need to make yourself, and your writing, discoverable.

What one piece of advice has Gareth Cliff given you that you refer back to often?

When people criticize you is when you’ve actually made it!

When you emcee for an event what kind of preparation do you need to do?

I’m meticulous about preparing and memorising my emcee script. Nine times out of ten, I will memorise an entire script outright. I am fortunate to possess a photographic memory, but memorising a five to ten page script is no easy task for anyone, particularly when you consider the fact that most scripts require the flawless pronunciation of people’s names in a language that is not my own.

There is no ‘last minute’ with me. Each job is treated with the same rigour and discipline. I’ll pace up and down my room committing the script to memory, thinking about how to make it sound natural and practicing my delivery.

At the event I may seem calm and collected, and this is achieved not simply by controlling my nerves, but by my confidence that my prep work has paid off. An accomplished emcee or presenter always looks comfortable in his or her shoes. I will never let my confidence in myself overwhelm the need for one hundred per cent focus and preparation.

In between television links, you’ll always find me in a quiet corner going over my lines, thinking carefully about how I’m going to interpret the next lines I will need to say. I’m so deep in thought that people sometimes think I am an unusually quiet person. Actually, I’m just conserving my energy and focusing on the task at hand.

After everything you have achieved already, it seems there is nothing you cannot do, but what inspired you to write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand?

Being able to help others in their quest to build their personal brand through detailing the ‘how’ of how I did it, what were my methods, tricks of the trade, and tried and tested tips for success.

What do you hope others can take from your book after reading it?

I hope that I will be able to inspire others to build up their personal brand to the best of their ability, for their own set of personal A-List aspirations. To anyone who is pursuing their dreams, carving a name for themselves in the social scene, starting over, building their personal brand and social network – this is for you.

I hope that through my personal tale of hardship and challenges, and by sharing my secrets to the way I built my personal brand, I can help inspire you to make it happen for yourself in your own unique way.

In each country I lived in, I was approached to write on this topic, but I was always too insecure or scared of failure to do so. It was in South Africa where I had the immense support of so many of you, that I have finally gathered the courage to make this book come to life.

Always remember that you are not alone in your quest for making yourself into the most amazing brand you can be, and I thank each and every one of you who has crossed my path and helped me in my challenging journey to making it happen.

Jen’s book, From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers and is available at all leading bookstores as well as on Amazon Kindle.