Liezel van der Westhuizen is one of those celebrity personalities that captures the true essence of what being in the spotlight is all about. A seasoned professional, Liezel has graced our screens for over a decade; entertained us for many hours on radio and brought us captivating digital content that will be remembered as not only insightful but also educational.
Liezel was nicknamed “the giraffe” in designer Craig Jacobs’ Sunday Times column in 2009, when she and her even sister Monique appeared in ‘killer heels’ which made them tower over other attendees at a Radisson Blu fashion event. Although the moniker was not meant to be flatteringly at the time, Liezel, as a clever entrepreneur, went on to incorporate it into everything she does, including launching The Giraffe Brand Academy. This Academy has been set up to assist business people all over the world to build powerful and authentic personal brands which take them to greater heights of success.
As the second woman in the world to present Idols, Liezel became a familiar face on the popular reality TV show during Seasons 5 and 6. She has also been a presenter on SABC3’s daily breakfast show, Expresso and she has presented TV shows for numerous channels. Liezel lists her career highlights as Idols, Expresso, The Lunchbox and Soundcheck.
Her daily output includes a fitness feature on 3 radio stations, namely KFM 94.5; Radio 702 and CapeTalk. With so much going for her, it’s hard to believe it has been just a few years since Liezel was “discovered” by Jacaranda FM after the programme manager heard her broadcasting as a Makro announcer whilst she was studying and working at TUKS FM.
Liezel describes her stature and presence in the entertainment industry as a “huge responsibility – one I gladly bear”. Being in the spotlight for over 10 years has given her the opportunity to not only amplify the voices that she believes would not always have been heard, but has also enabled her to be an ally of movements and efforts that share her values and preferences.
You have graced stages all around the globe as an Emcee, Speaker, Presenter, and Personal Brand Coach; but what makes you Proudly South African?
Our continued resilience even in the face of such devastating disappointments; Our innovation – creating some of the most inspired creations ever seen in the world, and sometimes with so little. Our pioneering spirit – our medical field in particular continuously surprises me and leaves me awed as they trailblaze. I’m proudly South African because of the people, the places, and the passions we have.
We’re kind of awesome, and I love looking to the good, rather than lamenting too much of the bad, where our country is concerned! We’ll always eventually find ways to survive and thrive.
As the first female presenter of IDOLS SA, who went on to present on Expresso, SuperSport, SABC Sport, MNET, DSTV and SABC 2. How has your career developed and grown to where you are today?
I have made a concerted effort to draw on all my strengths, in order to develop and grow.
Early experiences and my qualifications have also steadied the foundation I’ve built my career on. I started out working in Public Relations before all of this, and I had the honor of working with many acclaimed international artists, like Lenny Kravitz, whenever they came into the country.
My background in PR and Communications, as well as holding a Masters Degree in Business and Communication Management, and my television experience, has really fortified me to grow in the other avenues I’ve also pursued, like being the Personal Brand Coach that I am now – training entrepreneurs and business professionals around the world, on their brands, positioning, confidence-building, and additional business skills necessary to have them thriving (both in-person and online, as social media and putting yourself out there can be quite scary, especially for some Small Business owners)!
So, my career has developed and grown because one experience fed into another, and created a path to success that I’m so thankful to still be on now.
You are known for both your work on TV and Radio; looking back as being “discovered” by Jacaranda FM, how has radio shaped the type of Speaker and Emcee you are in the corporate world?
Radio is such a unique medium of communication, because its instant. So, whatever you say is all live and nothing is pre-recorded. You have to therefore make sure that you are sharp, witty, adhere to radio decency rules, and are fast-thinking on your feet. This has therefore all helped with my Speaking and Emceeing because you have moments where you have to keep the crowd enthralled, especially when something goes wrong behind-the-scenes (from late guest speakers, to technical difficulties), and it requires thinking on your feet.
Radio has really given me the experience and skillset to handle the gigs I get.
You currently present a Fitness segment on CapeTalk and Talk Radio 702 as well as an inspiring daily fitness feature on KFM 94.5. What do you enjoy most when it comes to combing your two greatest passions – being, radio and fitness?
I honestly think that I am so lucky to be able to enjoy both, and being able to be on THREE radio stations daily – talking about all things fitness, from news to fitness and health product reviews.
It’s all still so surreal, and I’ve been doing it for 3 years now! I just love being able to share real people’s stories when it comes to fitness journeys, because I have a feature called ‘Monday Motivation’ where real people sharing, I also get to review and test out the latest in fitness; health and wellness tools and share my funny experiences with the listeners.
You are a big advocate for putting yourself out there when it comes to personal branding and overcoming your fears in the corporate world. Why was this important to you when establishing “The Giraffe” brand?
The Giraffe Brand itself, came about from an insult by a journalist, about me, in a Sunday newspaper. At the time, it was something I actually felt quite embarrassed about, because of my height – having been constantly teased about being tall since I was young.
My sister actually thought it was funny, and encouraged me to see it as a fun thing rather than an insult. I went further. Every tweet I put out, I used a giraffe emoji, just for fun and the nickname eventually stuck. A couple of years later, an American business coach visiting South Africa asked me to speak to a room full of her clients, about Personal Branding and my own brand story, and I realised that I am actually on to something. And now, The Giraffe Brand is a successfully-run business towering above the competition, as I do too!
When it comes to lifestyle and fitness, you have taken on everything from fun local fitness activities, to tough sporting events like the Midmar Mile, Ironman Triathlons, Swimming Robben Island, and the Dusi Canoe Marathons. What motivates you in the fitness and wellness space?
Every year I choose a new activity or sport – from competing in a Miss Fitness pageant to stand-up paddle boarding to Robben Island and back or swimming from Robben island too.
I like variety. I like a challenge. I like giving things a chance. And I like my body moving. As an everyday athlete who has always been a back runner, and often finishes last in events, I want people to realize that you might be last but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start, or that you should quit. I also want others to realise they can find fun and fitness, in weird and wonderful active adventures out there!
I’m seeing more and more people taking up their own spaces to enjoy being active. They’re enjoying the freedom to compete in any fitness event and activity – regardless of fitness level, their kit, or whether they’re at the back or middle of the pack!
Additionally, the fitness and wellness space is ever-changing, and so there’s always something new and fun to look out for.
I get teased for finding the latest gym or the latest wellness product to try, and I tell them, and I do all this, to show you that you can too – because I’m just an ordinary person too, and as the industries change, so too do they open up for those with varied interests.
As someone whose brand is always evolving, what can we expect from you next?
There’s quite a lot of excitement around a new TV Show, which I will share more about soon as I’m allowed to speak about it! And I am also so keen on presenting another Branding Course soon.
So, if anyone wants to attend, they need only keep an eye out on my socials, or email my team at firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll update you on that as soon as we’re going live with the course offer!
As a truly South African role model, what impact do you hope to make through your personal brand, on those who follow you closely?
I want people to realise that a personal brand isn’t just for celebrities and billion-dollar companies.
It’s for everyone because every single person out there is a brand – from you to me, to Prince George, and even your favorite local designer or store. A personal brand is necessary to elevate your career as a working professional and to stand out among the competition within your field. It can set Academics and actors alike, apart.
Also, I hope people realize that personal branding is so vital when it comes to your business – for its establishment, development, AND its growth!
Hardworking, Determined, Multifaceted and Unique are just a few words that describe Liezel. A true Entrepreneurial master in her chosen career path!