Mercy Ajisafe popularly known as Omo London was a model in the UK. She is an actress and also a presenter. She tells Ademola Olonilua about her love life and why she quit her modelling career
I learnt the marks were as a result of an accident that involved me and my godmother when I was barely one year old. She had a mug of hot tea and being a restless baby, I tried to take it from her to know what was in the cup. I was trying to forcefully take the cup from her while she was preventing me from having it. Eventually, she left it and the tea poured on me. You can imagine how serious it must have been for me to still be having the marks on my body. My mother said it was the worst day of her life. While growing up, she used to tell me the scars would fade off but they are still here and I am okay with them.
Did the scars ever discourage boys from approaching you?
No, I don’t think anyone notices it. I don’t even remember it until someone points it out. No guy has ever pointed out the scars to me. While I was modelling, it was a bit difficult but make-up was always used to conceal them. Some people like them. They say the scars make me look natural; your imperfections are your perfections. I actually believe that.
Were you a tomboy while growing up?
When I am dressed casually, you can see the root of my tomboy nature. I have six brothers and I was that girl that loved to climb trees, play kung fu with my brothers and their friends. I have always loved to be comfortable, I am quite expressive. I like to be able to move, to be free. When you see me on the red carpet, it is a very different Mercy; people don’t believe that I was ever a tomboy. I love shorts, leggings, jeans. Most times women tend to be fixated on being sexy and I believe that there is nothing more sexy than being comfortable with yourself.
Are you saying being sexy starts from within you?
Definitely; you can have the sexiest clothes in the world and the best make-up artiste at your disposal but if you do not have confidence in yourself, how sexy can you be? It is about knowing who you are and being proud about it. I might not be the most beautiful girl in the world but I know who I am and I love myself. If you don’t know, then that is your business but people respond to that type of attitude. The most popular guys are usually those who do not seem to care if the girls are interested in them or not. Nigerian women are the most glamorous women in the world. I might be a tomboy but my mother is a typical African woman who loves to dress glamorously for any occasion. I feel there are different waysof looking good, I don’t have to wear very high heels in short skirts to look sexy. I could wear a lovely shirt, leggings and sandals and still get all the attention in the room. People respond to confidence. One thing I have noticed in Nigerian fashion is that consumers are not stupid. They can tell what is authentic from what is not. We tolerate counterfeits but respect authenticity.
How did your mother feel about you being a tomboy?
I am the youngest girl and the baby of the house. I look more like my mother than all her other children. I am like her twin sister. I look just like my mother. I am just a dark skinned version of her. I loved playing with my friends who were mostly guys and with time, she came to terms with it. She is still in London and when she watches fashion channels on television, she gets products she feels would look good on me. She begs me to be feminine. When I was coming to Nigeria, she said it was in the DNA of Nigerian ladies to look good and I should try and look my best. I have a really bad habit; I love to shop. I buy clothes but I don’t wear them.
She deals with my tomboy nature very well, hoping that one day, I would become a full fledged woman. I stopped being a tomboy because of work. I modelled in London and I was involved in the Clothes Show line and that was a big deal for me. It is an event where designers come together to showcase their latest fashion and sell clothes. While growing up, I was very skinny, so it helped me as a model but as I grew, it became clear that I am not built to be a fashion model. I am very slender but I was not skinny; the ideal size for models in the UK is size four to six. I am a size eight although I can wear a size six. Also have big breasts and that is a disadvantage, so it became clear that I was fit for commercial modelling. I did some gigs for lingerie and swimsuit products. I did some lingerie jobs for Marks&Spencer in 2011 and that was really nice. For me, modelling changed me because as much as I wanted to be a tomboy, I could not because the job did not permit me.
How many holes have you pierced on your body?
It sounds like a lot but I have pierced just ten. It is not that much.
Don’t you feel pain when it is being done?
No, I don’t feel the pains. They are an expression of me. When I was in London, black girls were not being pierced as such. It was mostly seen as a funk/rock movement. My mother’s take on pierce and other things about my life, like any other Yoruba woman, is, ‘what would the pastor say?’ Even though we judge people by their appearances, you are very myopic if you think I am a bad girl because I pierced my body. Anybody that knows me well would know that I am respectful. I am a typical Yoruba girl, born and bred in London.
You haven’t spoken much about your father. Are you not close?
We are close but fathers are different. My father is a very busy man and as I speak, he is not in the country. We have about five different sites in Africa, he is a contractor and he is usually in one of them. In terms of my fashion, my father hates leggings. He wishes I wear a dress every day, the 1960s kind of dresses. I am a daddy’s pet.
Why did you decide to study Law?
One of the reasons is because I love reading a lot. I wanted to be a barrister and I still have a big interest in the legal system and politics but entertainment is my calling. It is something that I have been doing since I was eight years old. I was always involved in school plays. In the UK, I went to various schools of art. I am very expressive and comfortable with myself and I realised that I had all the natural tools I needed to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. As much as I enjoy law, I believe in justice and retribution, I am meant to be in the entertainment industry. I love being knowledgeable about everything, even when I was with a fashion magazine, I read it as opposed to just looking at the pictures.
Would you still practise law?
No. I don’t think that would happen. For now, definitely not, I am more interested in building my entertainment empire.
Why are you not so active in Nollywood despite attending some of the best acting schools in London?
That is a decision I took on purpose. When I came to Nigeria about two years ago, my intention was to interact. I am a trained television presenter, I was meant to present at the last Olympic Games in 2012 but was pulled-out at the last minute because they said I was not sports focused enough. That was reasonable on their part because you don’t look at my brand and think I am a sports reporter. Acting is very personal to me. I want to wait until there is an opportunity to do something great.
How has it been since you returned?
It has been difficult; every day has been difficult for me. I miss my mother; I miss my friends, I miss the comfort. My elder sister is very British and very posh, she would tell us say she wanted to spend two weeks in Nigeria and we would not see her for months. It always got me wondering what kept her here in Nigeria. I loved Nigerian music during my first visit here and when I went back to London, I was missing Nigeria. I reasoned that why be a peasant over there when I can be a queen in Nigeria? The thing is that in the UK, the colour of your skin matters a lot. It is a disadvantage to you if you are black-skinned. I reached out to a lot of top agencies in the UK and they usually told me they could not accept me because of the colour of my skin. They would tell me not to give up.
Are you saying that the colour of your skin determines the type of job you get?
Ninety nine per cent. The colour of your skin determines the type of job you get especially when you are working in the UK. That was the reason I gave up modelling in the UK. I am a perfectionist, I am ambitious and very hardworking, and it was very annoying seeing Caucasian girls who are not good as models getting jobs because they are white. It is painful. I had top producers as friends back in the UK who told me to try out some auditions because they saw that those agencies were accepting models that were not as good as I was but when I got there, the producers turned me down just because of the colour of my skin.
What is your love life like?
I don’t really date.
It is difficult for me. When I was in London, I was with my partner for over five years, so I was very happy with him. I broke up with him and a few months after, I came to Nigeria. I came to Nigeria to work and learn more about my roots. I did not come to Nigeria to date but if I meet someone amazing and he captures my attention, I would try it out. Dating in Nigeria is not easy.
What do you mean by that?
When dating in Nigeria, the stakes are high. Lagos is one place where you have to be very careful or you find out that the guy you are dating is actually married to someone else. That is a regular occurrence and it is so weird. Nigerian men are some of the sexiest men on earth; they are handsome and these qualities are very attractive. I am a very serious-minded person, if I am going to date someone. I believe in fidelity, complete fidelity, I would not be tolerant of you cheating on me. That is not something I would accept. We come from a strong ‘marrying culture.’ When you are in a relationship, the next question you hear is, when are you getting married? I am not ready for marriage till a few years. Right now, I am dating my career but if I meet a nice young man, I could give dating a shot. I am six feet plus, so my man has to be taller than I am.