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Blanketing SA with kindness

When radio personality and philanthropist Carolyn Steyn took on a casual dare, she had no idea just how many knitters would be needled into creating a huge charity

Carolyn Steyn is one of only a handful of people famous enough to play herself on a television show. Carolyn is a radio personality, actress, philanthropist and, of course, is married to well-known businessman, Douw Steyn. We got her take on what we can do for Mandela Day this year, her acting history and a little advice when it comes to love.

You might remember Carolyn’s face from episodes of Generations and she’s also played recent cameo roles in the movies Zulu Wedding and Blessers but her favourite role to date was performing opposite Nomsa Nene in PACT’s 1984 production of Poppie, based on the novel, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena by Elsa Joubert. ‘It toured for a year, playing to standing ovations nightly,’ Carolyn says. ‘The play really opened my eyes to so much of what was happening in South Africa at the time.’  That love of acting was further displayed doing a BA (Dramatic Arts) Honours at Wits University, followed by six years of acting classes with the legendary Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in Los Angeles, together with the likes of Kate Hudson, Giovanni Ribisi and Jeffrey Tambor.

Her flair for the dramatic even extended into her love life, as she married Douw Steyn not once, but twice! ‘I first met Douw in 1999 at The Saxon Hotel through a mutual friend,’ Carolyn says. ‘The very next day he invited me out on a date. Life with him was a bit of a roller-coaster ride the first time around and I found it difficult to keep up. But he came to realise what is truly important in life. When we got back together in 2012, he told me he couldn’t believe he had to wait until the age of 60 to find true happiness.’ Carolyn’s biggest piece of advice for relationships is refreshingly honest. ‘Don’t lose yourself in a relationship. Always keep your own identity … and keep your own bank account!’  This Valentine’s Day, Carolyn will be presenting a special Valentine’s Day edition on her radio show on Classic 1027, playing some of the world’s most beautiful music. ‘After that, I’ll be enjoying a romantic dinner for two with my husband.’

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Carolyn Steyn has always been a philanthropist at heart with a lot of love to give. ‘It was ingrained in me by my mother, Yvonne, who grew up in the orphanage, Nazareth House,’ Carolyn explains. ‘She knew what it was like to be without, and as a result she was the most generous and kind woman I’ve ever known. Then I went to Jeppe High School for Girls where staff, too, always made us aware of those less fortunate. As a result, I’ve always tried my best to give back to those in need. When I was studying in the USA, I was invited onto the Guild of Big Sisters of Los Angeles, a mentoring programme which helps young girls build the confidence they need to reach their full potential.

 

‘More recently I’ve dedicated much of my time to 67 Blankets, which I founded in 2013 for Nelson Mandela Day.’

The 67 Blankets initiative is renowned in South Africa but was actually started by a simple dare from Zelda La Grange, Madiba’s former assistant. ‘The plan was to quite literally make 67 blankets for Mandela Day for those in need,’ Carolyn says. ‘My sister arrived on Christmas Day with wool and crochet hooks, but I soon realised I was going to need a lot of help if I was going to achieve my goal before Mandela Day. As a result,  I reached out to friends on Facebook to help me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what an amazing response I’d get, how a simple idea and a ball of wool could snowball into an international movement for good and make a change in this world.’

And as for that goal of 67 blankets? It’s now more than 67000 blankets which have been distributed in South Africa alone. ‘We’ve garnered several Guinness World Records but our Massive Mandela Masterpiece has been our biggest accomplishment to date, kick-starting the Mandela Centenary Celebrations,’ Carolyn explains. ‘The largest portrait blanket in the world, depicting Nelson Mandela’s smiling face, covered more than 7000m² and was unveiled at the Zonderwater Maximum Security Correctional Centre near Cullinan on April 24, 2018. The portrait, visible from space, was made up of approximately 6000 blankets. The blankets were distributed to communities in need throughout South Africa with the help of Stuttaford Van Lines.’

Her vision for 2020 is similarly patriotic. ‘I hope to grow 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day even bigger globally,’  Carolyn says. ‘We’re in the process of creating a massive #StrongerTogether – Springbok Blanket made of green and gold blankets to continue the celebrations of the Boks’ recent victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. We aim to lay this out in the Eastern Cape – the birthplace of our rugby captain, Siya Kolisi (and Nelson Mandela), before donating the blankets.’

To get involved with 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day, find the group of affectionately named KnitWits on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and Instagram @67blankets. Alternatively go to 67blankets.co.za

 

Text: Tayla Blaire. Photo: PETER WHITFIELD. Make-up and hair: Deidre Holtzer. Details: 082-894-9712.

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