My first house - Shaleen Surtie-Richards, Egoli star

That familiar set smell of paint and sawdust… I knew I was home.’ Shaleen Surtie-Richards embraces Nenna’s character, who featured on Egoli from the day the popular soapie started 15 years ago. ‘I just stepped back into that character as soon as I stepped into her clothes.’ In fact, Shaleen says she’s pretty similar to Nenna. ‘Apart from the hair and the clothes… and she’s fat!’

When the series started, Nenna was the caretaker of a block of flats called Marlborough Mansions, which she did for 10 years. When Shaleen needed a break, Nenna disappeared to live with her daughter, Margaret Rose, in Italy for four years, while Shaleen went freelance. However, viewers liked her role as the nosy caretaker so much that Shaleen eventually returned to the show. Nenna then bought a block of flats, Windsor Manor, with the financial help of businessman Chris Edwards (played by Eckard Rabe). The flats are in the process of being sold off and, busybody that she is, Nenna insists on interfering in the tenants’ business, even suggesting that they form a body corporate – of which she would be chairlady, of course…

Nenna lives in apartment number one on the ground floor. The two-bedroom flat is just big enough for her lifestyle. She collects knick-knacks, and the small set is a tribute to Nenna’s love of ornaments and traditional English furniture. ‘Nenna used to love collecting royal-family memorabilia – she even named her children Andrew Windsor and Margaret Rose – but when Charles married Camilla it was all over for her…’

The fictitious Windsor Manor is based in Rosebank, near the bowling club. It was dilapidated when it caught Nenna’s eye, but with the help of her business partner Chris Edwards, she managed to renovate and restore the building to its former glory. ‘She’s an astute women, in spite of her nosy attitude. Although she had so many hassles getting a loan from the bank, she never gave up. She likes the fact that she’s in business with Chris.’

Nenna’s two-bedroom apartment is where she entertains – she loves cooking (unlike Shaleen!) – and enjoys her poker sessions with friends on Egoli. Nenna employs Joe’s garden services company to see to the grounds as ‘she’s too busy to garden.’ In real life Shaleen, who was born in Upington and schooled there and in Cape Town, started her career as a teacher and bought her first house in Dieprivier, Cape Town. She was there for a few years until she started professional acting and moved to Joburg, where she lived in a flat in Rosebank for 12 years.

‘I look back and have to wonder how I, a child from the platteland, survived living in such a small space.’ When Shaleen’s father passed away, she invited her mother to come and live with her – a decision that prompted her to move. ‘I don’t like change but it was a good move – I got a bargain five-bedroom house on the West Rand with lots of space, a lapa and a pool. Never mind that it takes me seven days on horseback to get to work,’ she says, referring to the traffic from the West Rand to the Egoli set in Highlands North.
Work starts at 7.15am in the morning and finishes when each episode is done.

Shaleen is passionate about the stage and has 35 awards under her belt, but she enjoys the job stability of playing Nenna. ‘I love the challenge of the stage, but it’s not viable.’
She never becomes blasé about her accolades, and tells me her old primary school in Upington is naming a training centre after her. Her role model was her father. ‘He taught me to buy property and to only buy quality. I drive a Mercedes not because it looks fancy, but because I never want to buy another car. I’m proud of everything I’ve bought.’
Shaleen’s all heart and she loves the fame her job has afforded her. ‘Wherever I go I am a character to everybody in the country. I’m either Nenna, Mattie (from her short stint on Generations) or Fiela…’ Welcome home, Shaleen.

Words: Rosanne Buchanan Photography: Roelene Prinsloo
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