It’s easy to look at Carole Mandi and ask yourself, “Why does she look so together?”
Well, she does because she works at looking together, but she is also quick to stress that she is a simple lady even though she realises that that is hard to believe.
“ I know it doesn’t come across, but I’m really very simple,” she says, “ I’m the ‘traditional’ woman who morphs into her traditional role when I get home, which means I will serve my husband food and do all that which role entails.”
But her traditional role, she is quick to point out, shouldn’t be taken in its literal form.
As publisher and owner of True Love and Drum magazines, a columnist with the Saturday and Sunday Nation, Carole finds herself in the eye of the media spotlight, which she says isn’t as pressuring now as it was before.
Your mother was Tanzanian, but your father is Luhya. What Luhya trait did you pick?
(Laughs) Tea! I can’t get by without tea. Then there is Luhya music – Isikhuti. But I think the most visible trait I picked is the Luhya diplomacy and hospitality. I love hosting people. And oh! I’m a great AFC Leopards fan, I might not go for their matches, but I feel them.
You have this image out there that you’re very prim and proper. Let’s humanise you, Carole. What have you done lately that was out of that character?
I could mention a few, but even those things would still look tame to the average person.
So what is your one trait that needs development?
I have many. I’m too diplomatic, always looking for ways to say things the right way when all I need to say it as it is.
I run a business now and I realise I need to shoot straight and let the chips fall.
I admire people who don’t mince their words. Also, my interpersonal relationships, which come across as clinical, need some working on.
Surely, you drink something, don’t you?
(Smiles) Yes, I do wine. I developed the taste for wine when I was working for the South African company, East Africa Magazines. Their wine drinking rubbed off.
When was the last time you drunk so much you needed to support yourself on the wall to walk?
(Laughs) Never! When I was employed, I was paid enough to know not to get drunk in public.
(Pause) But it’s not even about being employed, it’s about respecting yourself.
You drive a Mercedes CLK 250 Coupe. Who gets the most stares, you or her?
(Laughs) Her, of course. She’s pretty. I call her Cleo, as in Cleopatra.
Does your husband take Cleo for a spin sometimes?
Yes, he drives her, but being an accountant, he is a very practical guy who isn’t exactly thrilled by such things.
For example, he won’t drive it with the top down. He’s unfazed by glamour.
What is your greatest indulgence, apart from keeping Cleo happy?
I spend quite a bit on décor items; I’m into interior decoration. Then shoes. In that order.
Given your profile, do you feel the pressure to play to society’s expectations?
Given my position, obviously there are expectations of me from the brand and the public.
But it was harder when I was starting out, now it’s become second nature.
So you can’t go to the supermarket in an old T-shirt on a Sunday because you are Carole Mandi?
(Laughs) Like I mentioned. I long understood that it’s part of the job, that these two compliment each other.
So you have to go with the flow. And when I wear a tracksuit to the supermarket, it’s not just thrown on, it’s thought out.
But there was a time I hated the pressure during the time I had my show Sebuleni, a time when people criticised me; what I wore, what I said, ‘she has added weight’ they would say, it could get tiring.
But overall, I realised my job was to showcase the lifestyle of Kenyan women.
Sebuleni didn’t do very well, did it?
It did quite well, actually.
We did two years of the show, but I took a break because I was at a point of transition; I was starting my publishing business and I had to have a discussion with myself about whether I could do both.
Let’s have that bucket list.
Climb Kili (Mt Kilimanjaro), publish a novel, see the pyramids and write a screenplay.
Do you watch what you eat and hey, how many kilogrammes do you weigh? The truth!
(Laughs) I weigh 70-something now (Laughs).
At some point, I thought my scale was lying, so I had to seek a second opinion.
But I’m happy with my weight. When you have kids, you have to eat healthy. We have generally gone traditional.
The one person you would love to have dinner with?
My late mom. Then I would ask her what to do with a teenage child. (Laughs).
I would also apologise for being stubborn when I was a teenager myself and also ask her how she handled her 40s.