Diva, party girl, Heat magazine socialite and occasional fag hag, Tamara Dey is also one helluva singer.
She started her career performing in clubs as a student, was discovered by DJ Pepsi, and hit it big in the kwaito market with the single Thathi ‘Mphahlayakho. She went on to release two albums: The First Lady (2001) and The First Lady and the Boys (2003), becoming one of the few local artists to cross racial music barriers with a mix of dance, kwaito, jazz and pop.
Over the last few years, she’s been making her mark as a celebrity style icon, and as part of the electronic group Flash Republic, along with DJs Ryan Dent and Craig Massiv. The trio have gone on to tour around the world with the album Time Is Now, all sustained by Tamara’s beguiling voice and personality. They’re aiming for the big time with another major international offensive in the pipeline.
Ahead of her performance at the Therapy Deluxe party, I shared breakfast with a harried Tamara who was losing her voice while set to perform with American singer Kelis at a top secret function in Joburg later that night. Like a true diva Tamara was 45 minutes late.
Why is there so little information about you out there? You’re actually quite enigmatic.
Well, as far as personal questions go, I’ll gladly answer them, if you ask me…
Do you not get asked those very often?
Well, not so much… And the funny thing is that I’m such an open person. I feel that if I hide certain things about myself I’ll be questioned about them forever and I’ll have to constantly deny those things. And frankly, I’d rather not.
You were born in Belgium. How did you land up here?
My mother is South African English and she was an air hostess. And she went to Italy to marry a Belgian man but ended up in Belgium marring an Italian – who is my biological father. But things didn’t work out and she brought me back to South Africa…
How old were you?
I was a year and nine months. When I was five I was adopted by my dad who married my mom. When Flash Republic was touring Europe I met up with my mom and went to see where I was born. It was amazing. And then I went to Sardinia and met my father, stayed there for a week or two. I’m so glad I did it. And now we’re in constant communication.
You’ve always been very gay friendly.
Do you like the gays then?
I love them! (Laughs) A lot of my best friends are gay men and I was brought up very liberal. It’s something I’ve always known was… cool. I also studied musical theatre at Pretoria Tech and there were a lot of gay students.
Do you think it also has something to do with your personality?
Definitely! I’m over-the-top, I’m artistic, creative and fun… And, no offence to the other people, but gay men have a real eye for quality entertainment. I don’t know why that is. I think it’s just a gift.
You’re romantically involved with Ryan Dent, who is part of Flash Republic. Does that get complicated?
You’re not supposed to get involved with a guy in the band. A lot of artists do it and it doesn’t work out. And you can’t just replace a person in the band when things to wrong. Everyone was sceptical in the beginning when we got together, but we proved them wrong. We’ve just had out two year anniversary.
Thank you. We try not to involve relationship stuff in the band, but what does happen is that band stuff gets into the relationship. And in this industry we’re constantly working all the time, at night at home, and sometimes we just need to switch off and not talk about Flash Republic.
In a technology Q and A you recently told the Sunday Times that…
Did I say something stupid?
Well, you were asked, “What is the best gadget you’ve played with”. And you replied, “My boyfriend’s digital telescope”. What exactly were you thinking?
(Laughs) Well… He really does have a fantastic digital telescope. It’s huge really… And you can take that whichever way you like! (Laughs) But he does actually have a real digital telescope that he imported. He’s unbelievably intelligent and obsessed with stars. And he reads The New Scientist every night in bed. I love that side of him.
Why have you neglected your solo career for so long?
I made an electro track with Craig Massive. Ryan, who I didn’t know then, was Craig’s friend and heard the track and was blown away and ended up remixing it. At the time I was supposed to be starting work on a solo project, but the three of us got into the studio and started working on tracks together. And that’s how we got into Flash. It got to a point where I knew that we had something special and I had to put my stuff aside. And so Tamara Dey got put on the back burner…And that was two years ago.
So are you going to do a solo project anytime soon?
I’ve been writing with an amazing songwriter, Roy Benjamin. We’ve written about eight or nine songs. But while recording the new Tamara Dey CD, which I’ve started, I’m also recording a new Flash Republic album. I really believe Flash is going to be the one that’s going to break us into the international market. But I have to do another solo album. I will do it. It’s just going to take a while.
You won Most Stylish Performing Artist at the Style Awards last year…
And overall Most Stylish South African!
It sounds like really hard work, being permanently stylish?
It’s difficult to live up to my own expectations. Every day I need to have a different look. It’s totally about the mood I’m in. But I love it. I love the different outfits, I love the dressing up…And feeling glamorous and having different personas. It has its moments. I tend to go through a lot of clothes quite quickly. After I’ve done a really fab look I can’t wear it again for a long time.
Do you ever get it wrong? Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself and gone, “What was I thinking with that outfit?”
I’m sure I’ve had one or two bad ones. I mean I’ve had my nails painted yellow which I think is quite fab, but some publications have said that they’re not too sure about my “canary yellow talons”. Everyone’s got an opinion.
You’ve become something of a socialite. Is that by choice? Do you like being in Heat magazine?
I do enjoy it. It’s also part of my job to be out there and be seen and be photographed.
Appearing in Strictly Come Dancing: Great career move or b-list celebrity graveyard?
It’s not b-list celebrities. I mean, I don’t even know if we have b-list celebrities in South Africa. HHP is one of the biggest hip-hop stars in the country and he’s on Strictly Come Dancing. In the first week that we started rehearsing I thought, “What the hell I have gotten myself into.” But it did so much for me. Not just by pushing my profile, but I had to go through a lot: I hurt my knee and I just wouldn’t give up you know…And I got permission from three orthopaedic surgeons to go back. It did so much for my self esteem. I’d do it again actually.
Should Paris Hilton have been set free early?
(Laughs) I think she should just have been brave and done her time. Going to jail has given people on the street another connection with her. It puts her in the same position that a lot of other people have been in. It’ll really benefit her. A