Singer, former model and actress, Patti Boulaye, speaks on her family, marriage and career
At 62, Patti Boulaye’s looks belie her years. Except that she is not one, she could easily pass for a teenager. An international singer, former model and actress, Patti Boulaye (OBE), is an interviewer’s delight any day. The British-Nigerian singer, who was born Patricia Ngozi Ebigwei on May 3, 1954, has had an illustrious career in music and modelling, spanning more than four decades. Not one to rest on her laurels, she is passionate about giving back to society and one of the ways she is actualising that dream is through her charity works in the healthcare sector.
Boulaye emphasises that her late mother often harped on the essence of giving back to society. This activated her interest in the healthcare sector. “Already, I have built clinics in Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states. There are two others in Cameroon as well as a school with the Prince Harry’s Charity in Lesotho.
“I have been doing this since 2002. It’s a way of teaching my children that when God blesses you, you must find a way of blessing people,” she says.
A recipient of several awards, Boulaye had the exceptional honour of being awarded an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth of England in the first quarter of 2016.
In a voice laced with pleasure, she says she did not see the award coming but nevertheless, proud that the honour was bestowed on her because of her numerous charity works and not because of her singing career.
“It was such a compliment because it was wonderful being recognised on the Queen’s 90th birthday and her 60th year as the monarch of England. For me, it was fantastic.
“My husband had heard about it but he didn’t tell me until my birthday. He said, ‘I have a special birthday present for you, you’ve been awarded an OBE’. I am a Nigerian and I don’t see myself as British; so, I didn’t see it coming,” she added.
She still considers Nigeria as home even though she lives overseas and has done so for a few decades now. Boulaye, who visits Nigeria from time to time, insists that she feels every inch a Nigerian. Although on several occasions, some foreign journalists have advised her to act less Nigerian, she has yet to comply, she says. “In my response to them, I ask what would be left of me if I dropped my ‘Nigerianess’?”
Not one to deny reality, she subtly admits that Nigeria and Nigerians altogether don’t have a good image overseas. In a voice filled with regret, she says, “I must admit that our reputation is bad. Even when President Muhammadu Buhari came to London, I felt so sorry for him because that man is carrying and wearing Nigeria on his frame.
“Usually, when presidents of countries visit the United Kingdom, it is celebrated. In this case, Buhari, just stood in front of No. 10, Downing Street, like one who was waiting to take a taxi. When I saw him, I felt sorry for him and for the first time, I felt ashamed to be a Nigerian because I thought this is what we’ve reduced our leaders to.’’
Apart from music, which has brought her fame, BouIaye runs an academy called the Boulaye International Protocol and Decorum Academy, where she teaches etiquette. Without mincing words, she says Africans are not interested in learning about etiquette. According to her, etiquette does not start and end with using a fork and knife to eat.
“For me, etiquette is the line of life; how you present yourself, talk, walk; the things that you do, spiritual and motion etiquette as well.
“As Nigerians, we think that we know everything but reputation management is something that we lack and that’s the truth,” Boulaye states.
Recounting how she ventured into music, she recalls the time she travelled to England on holidays. At that time, she was a student of the prestigious Holy Child College, Obalende, Lagos, and she desired to go to the convent.
“We had Mother Thomasina at the time in the school and she realised that I actually wanted to join the convent because I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Out of my parents’ eight children, I was the only one who had gone ahead to study art- related subjects; so, I thought that I’d just join the convent,” she recalls.
She is quick to explain that it wasn’t an escape route for her because she was only a child. After a reverend mother spoke to her parents, Boulaye was sent to London because two of her sisters were there.
“I told one of them that I wanted to improve on my English and she decided to enrol me in an elocution class. When I went for the audition, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I decided I was going to study music as well and do drama part-time,” she says.
One morning, she went sightseeing and mistakenly thought that she was going to Madame Tussauds. She happened upon an audition and got the job. With a benefit of hindsight, Boulaye considers this a date with destiny because there were over 2,000 people at the audition and as though fate had laid it out, she got the part and started her career.
However, she says there was a thread to it. “When I was at Holy Child College, I was a librarian and Sister Catherine, who was in charge of the library, used to play The Sound of Music, so that was my audition at the time. I sang the song, The Hills are alive with the sound of music and that got me my first part,’’ she explains.
When asked about the Lux commercial, which further etched her name in the minds of her fans, she says she clinched the deal without any stress. “I was with an agency when I got a call that there was a commercial and I went for it. It was no big deal really and even though the commercial ran for 29 years, I was not paid any royalties,” she adds.
She explains that her mother always says that one has the face God has given until age 25 and after that, the face one has given oneself. Boulaye quips that she has a good heart and spirit, never bears grudges and never thinks negatively because she doesn’t want lines on her eyes more than she already has.
“I look at Nigerians and I think what is wrong with them? Some women walk around with such long faces and they think that they are making shakara but they just look ridiculous to me,’’ she says.
Boulaye has been married to Stephen Anton Komlosy for almost 40 years. She bore him two children and one of them Emma Komlosy, was the winner of the 1996 edition of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant.
Beaming with smiles, Boulaye speaks excitedly about her daughter. “After her reign ended, she returned to England to complete her Law programme and had the best result in Legal Reasoning in the whole of Britain that year. Presently, she is a director at the first private membership club in the city of London with an annual membership fee of about £25,000.
Like her mum, Emma also had a date with destiny as she never planned to contest the pageant, Boulaye reveals. “Emma came to Nigeria on holidays and stayed with my mother. Then, she told me that Ben Murray-Bruce had asked her to join the pageant. The Murray-Bruces are like my second family because we grew up together. I told her that she shouldn’t expect to win because they won’t choose an oyinbo but they did. When she called me that she won, I wondered how it happened,’’she recalls.
Speaking on how she has been able to sustain the sparkle in her marriage in a situation where most showbiz personalities are losing their marriages Boulaye, who was 21 when she got married, explains how she was able to study marriages. As such, when it was time for her to get married, she had learnt a lot, she says.
She states, “Your husband sees you the way he sees your family, so sometimes, when people get engaged, they get carried away, become selfish and run their families down in front of their husbands. To date, my husband thinks that my family is the best family in the world because that’s how I paint them to him; so, even when they come to see me and I get angry, I just say we were talking too loudly. The way he treats my family is the way he would treat me in years to come.
“A lot of young girls are into the love thing but you have to make your man respect your family. As a woman, your husband has to be afraid of somebody in your family.’’
Inheriting four stepdaughters after her marriage, with the oldest being only five years younger than her, it was quite easy to deal with “these oyinbo children” as she succinctly puts it. Hence, there were no clashes as such.
Elucidating how she managed amid four children, who were not hers, she lets out a deep sigh and continues talking, “I come from a large family; so, I was able to cope with them for the sake of their father. I had a larger family than theirs and my family needs to be welcomed, and if I am going to treat my family a certain way, I am going to have to accommodate them even more and I did that.
“When one of them was rude to me after a few years, I just threw her out and told her this is my house and her father affirmed what I had done, and after that, there was no problem. I have eight step grandchildren and one step great-grandchild and they all call me Nana. Their father had been married twice before he got married to me.’’
Given her busy schedule, how does she relax? Boulaye says that she and her sister are workaholics. “This centre that you are sitting in was just recently set up by my sister as a place where women can come, share their problems and relax. She is my driving force and she is my older sister. I am the seventh out of eight children,” she adds.
Speaking on her fashion choices, she states that she wears the clothes and not the other way round. Boulaye says, “I do not follow fashion, fashion follows me. Once I am dressed, I don’t care what everybody else is wearing because I cannot see what I am wearing after I have left home. On stage, I design what I wear. I still perform and I’ve got one when I get back to London at the Dorchester Hotel.’’
Espousing more on her recent autobiography, titled The Faith of a Child, Boulaye says those who have read it readily agree that it’s a very inspiring book. She recalls, “Someone, who is like an uncle to a former President of the United States of America, George Bush Jnr, read it and I was shocked. He said, ‘When I met you Patti, I thought you were this woman who was born with a silver spoon; I just called to apologise. You’ve had a tough life and this book should be read by all those people who think they have a problem.”