Top Billing presenter and all-round hunk, Janez Vermeiren, has scooped the 2007 Alcohol Killer Mamba Sexiest Man of the Year title. We sat down with Janez to get to know more about the man behind the brawn.
Apart from his good looks, I was immediately taken with Janez’ almost sheepish down-to-earth nature. He may be gorgeous, but he doesn’t act like it entitles him to anything in particular. At the Sexiest Man of the Year party, where the results of the survey were announced, the Belgian-born stud was approachable and relaxed with his fans.
He was the overwhelming winner in the survey; perhaps partly the result of being so very visible. He’s in innumerable TV and print ads, as well as gracing the Woolworths men’s underwear packaging with his athletically chiselled body. He’s also a Men’s Health Look competition winner and is one of Cosmopolitan magazine’s Sexiest SA Men of 2007 – among innumerable other titles.
But he’s perhaps best known, along with Aidan Bennetts, as one of Top Billing’s sexy DIY handymen. If the lifestyle television show didn’t already have a loyal enough gay following before, this was undoubtedly cemented by his addition (often shirtless) to its cast of presenters.
He first came to South Africa as an infant (his mother being South African) and grew up speaking Dutch-Flemish in a liberal, open-minded artistic home. He studied at both English and Afrikaans schools, before heading back to Belgium after completing Matric to study further. After a year of dabbling in Archaeology, he changed direction and did a three year interior design course – something that would come in handy on Top Billing. He also found the time to father a son, from a relationship that has since ended.
Today he continues to model, is constantly jet-setting around the world for the show, and has just started his own modelling agency in Cape Town.
Congratulations on winning the Sexiest Man competition. How does it feel?
I had so much fun. I can’t believe I won. I really appreciate the support.
How did your career as a model and presenter kick off?
When I returned from Belgium eight years ago, I came back with no money and no job, and I landed up working in commercials. My sister’s boyfriend was in the industry. I also did a lot of acting at university and at school so I was quite good in front of the cameras. I picked up a lot of good international commercials and thought ‘wow, this is easy and fun.’ So I’ve done a lot of travelling around the world and still travel a lot.
So how does that affect your life?
It’s pretty crazy. I mean I worked out the other day… I’ve got a little boy as well…that I have seen him a total of three days in the past month because of my work schedule.
Can you have a relationship with that kind of schedule?
It’s kind of destroyed the relationship I was in because of too much work and too little time to spend with family – and so it is quite hard. At the moment I’m very focused on what I’m doing.
You said you were involved in quite a lot of projects. What else?
Apart from Top Billing and the modelling agency, I also buy and sell old apartments. I renovate them my spare time, usually in the winter. I’ve got a team of guys who help me with that.
Your role in Top Billing; how did that come about?
Well they came up with this concept of doing this DIY show, and Jeannie, one of the presenters, knew me. They called me in for the interview and one thing led to another. And with my background in building and construction and the interior design it does help. Although that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot in the process of doing what we’re doing…
Does it ever worry you that people might perceive you as not having anything else to offer other than your looks…
I’m very comfortable with myself. I’m very comfortable with my sexuality; with who I am. I’m very open-minded to what other people want to think and want to do; it doesn’t bother me. If people want to take me as a piece of meat, that’s up to them. I know I’m more than that. As long as I’m comfortable with myself and I know what I want to do and what I want to achieve, that’s the most important.
And how does it feel to see yourself in billboards and magazines…
In the beginning it’s weird; it’s quite an adrenalin rush. You get a kick out of it. But the more you get involved in a lifestyle like this you more you get used to it; it becomes normal. I don’t even look out for myself anymore in the media. Most people say ‘oh I saw you in this magazine, I saw you on TV,’ it just flies over my head. It’s what I do.
Do people recognise and stop you in the street. How do you feel about that?
I haven’t actually had any bad experiences. I’m very happy to talk to people who want to ask me questions or ask about what I do. I love socialising and entertaining so when it comes to people I’m quite a social guy.
Clearly you‘ve got a lot of gay fans…
I’ve also got a lot of gay friends. I work with a lot of gay people in the modelling industry. A lot of people in the film industry are gay so I’m very comfortable with that. I go to The Point gym which is known for the gay community going there, and they’re cool people. It’s great. I enjoy everyone.
What about what people might think if you have a lot of gay friends…
Occasionally I’ll have one of my ‘rugga-bugga’ friends rip me off saying ‘oh was that your boyfriend.’ But, you know, I’ve got a diverse group of friends, from conservative people to gay people. It just opens your mind. I think the more people, the more different cultures and ideas and ways of thinking you interact with… it just broadens your mind.
Do you ever get gay guys coming on to you?
It happens every now and again that someone will try pick you up at the gym or when you go out at night, or they’ll get your number from somewhere and they’ll email you or they’ll sms you. I usually just play around with it – I don’t take it too seriously. If it gets too heavy I’ll usually tell them that I’m in a relationship.
So what are the downsides of being a celebrity, of being well-known?
To be absolutely honest, there is no downside except that people might sometimes stereotype you for what they know you are and not take you seriously when you try to do something else. But even that you can get past by just sitting them down and chatting to them. They’ll soon realise that, ‘oh, he’s not just the shirtless DIY guy from Top Billing, there’s actually more to him.’
Did Top Billing make that clear from the beginning – that you’d have your shirt off most of the time?
They didn’t really make it that clear – but it kind of went that way. (Laughs) You know sex sells, and if you show a bit of skin the girls and the guys like it apparently. But I don’t have a big issue with it. As long as what we’re doing can also be taken seriously. It’s not all about body shots. We’re actually trying to pull back a bit on the shirtless stuff. We give them a touch every now and then! (Laughs)
You and Aidan, do you guys get along? Are you friends? Or is it just a work relationship?
Aidan’s a super-cool, mellow guy; a man of few words but a really real guy. Whenever I get work or building contracts I can’t take on because of this new modelling agency I hand over most of the work to him, he’s very skilled. He’s a great ca