With legs as long as the graceful columns in front of the Mount Nelson and a smile as wide as the Atlantic ocean, Jenny Powell’s exuberant personality and warm humour makes the Travel Channel’s newest show, Luxury Uncovered, a wonderful change from the uptight and prissy hosts that so often cover the luxury beat.
Powell is in Cape Town as part of a press junket to publicise not just her show, but the Travel Channel’s new look programming, underpinned by massive investment from Scripps, the company that bought the channel, rebranding and refreshing it. (Clearly, the strategy is working as numbers are up in South Africa to the tune of 38% year on year, and with black viewership up by a whopping 59%.)
It’s a bittersweet visit because her parents were born right here, in the old District Six, and moved to the United Kingdom, two years before she was born. “Dad was crying when I left,” she says. He hasn’t had the opportunity to come back to Cape Town, but his children and grandchildren have had pride in their homeland instilled in them. “Dad has horrific stories to tell but he’s the funniest guy I know. He just gets on with it,” she says.
“Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Beautiful people, beautiful food, beautiful scenery. People often ask where I come from and where I get my tan. I’m a Cape coloured! It’s natural! I’m so proud to come back,” she says. “Next time I’m going to bring my kids.”
She’s inherited traits that have stood her in good stead over her 27 years in television. “A sense of humour, persistence, personality. We’re resilient, tough. I talk a lot. I talk to everyone. And I thank God for my culture and heritage,” she says.
Powell tells how she was booted out of Celebrity MasterChef (UK edition) for making what she thought was a fabulous bobotie. “How could they fire me for bobotie?” she laughs. “All I could think was ‘What will Mum say’.”
Her new show, Luxury Uncovered, is a more unusual take than the usual shows devoted to showing how the other one percent live. At each venue, Powell is given a mystery box and instructions on where to meet staff. “We go behind the scenes to see the hard work required to produce such perfection,” she explains. “I never know what I’m going to have to do.”
To do it, she has travelled 50 000 miles and taken on 45 jobs in the luxury business. “So many people, so many countries! This show is not a brochure on the telly. It’s got a story,” she says. It was a tough schedule. In one gruelling week, she visited three different continents. “I’m really privileged,” she says. “The network invested me so I can have a go!”
There are two episodes filmed in South Africa. One was shot at the Oceana reserve in the Eastern Cape, the world’s only game farm with a beach. Powell had to conduct a bush tour, giving detail on the animals tourists see on their game drives. She had to clean water holes of weeds. She had to fish for fresh food for the braai and she had to set up a scene for a braai on the beach, luxury version.
In the other South African episode, she visits Delaire Graff wine estate in Stellenbosch. “Diamonds and wine,” she grins widely. Nothing wrong with that. “I told them I was good at wine (another wide smile) but when I tasted it, I spat it out. Horrible! Turned out to be their best wine.” (Owner Laurence Graff is head of Graff Diamonds and counts the Sultan of Brunei among his clients.)
Powell got her television break back in 1986, presenting the cult music programme No Limits for BBC2. She went on to Disney, Saturday Morning Shows and Wheel of Fortune for ITV. She now presents The Health Lottery on Channel 5, Daybreak on ITV, and Britain’s Secret Streets.