I was not ‘a bad girl’ before millions – Karen Igho
Karen Igho was the winner of last year’s Big Brother Africa reality show powered by M-net. Contrary to divergent views that the Edo State born entertainer is loose and cheap, Karen in this interview , proves her critics wrong, saying that she is a decent lady devoid of any dirty character.
You were talking about your mum. How’s she doing?
My mum is doing fine and she’s in Jos and doing her poultry business. But the crises in Jos is really affecting her business. Right now, all we can do is pray and ask God to guide them.
Don’t you want to relocate her to another city?
Basically, she was born in Jos. I was also born in Jos, we have our family house there and some of my family members are still living in Jos. So, it’s hard to move everything just like that. We want to see how it goes and maybe, we’ll have to move. For me, Jos is a home because I was born there even though I hail from Urhobo. But I’ll never forget where I was born and I hope there will be peace in that city again.
How does the whole Jos crisis make you feel?
I’m just a kid and I did my best when I was in the Big Brother house. I was always wearing a T-shirt with Jos Wants Peace inscribed on it. And when I left the Big Brother house, I went straight to jos to create my own little awareness because everybody was saying there was fighting everywhere. But as at that time, Jos was peaceful and there was no crisis there.
What’s the relationship between you and your mum like?
My mum and I are close to each other. I tell her everything and she encourages me in everything I do. She tells me the difference between good and bad. But don’t forget, I have a mind of my own- I tell her my idea, if she likes it, good and if she doesn’t- she’s my role model.
That brings me to the question that-why would a sitdown and watching her daughter on TV while all manner of photographs and things happened
All manner of photographs…funny. You know one part of the show for me was just living your life in the house. It’s like what I wear and do in the house isn’t what I’ll do outside. I can be in the house and get drunk. But when you’re outside, you are more composed. So the way people see us is different from the way we see ourselves. Basically, we were home having fun, we couldn’t leave the house and our whole life revolves around that house.
But the whole world was watching
Yes, the whole world was watching. I never watched the show. And I’m sure you all know the story- Denrele was the one who forced me to put in for BBAbecause I was living in the UK at that time. When he told me I just shoved it off. I didn’t really know it was that big and there would be millions of people watching me and always waited for me to go to bed before they also go to bed.
I didn’t also know there were people watching who cried whenever I cried. The experience was so overwhelming that I can’t explain how I became a star in a jiffy when at one point I was mostly hated. So all I can say is that; it’s God’s work. But it was all a growing process for me and that’s what’s called life- you learn and grow.
My mum knows her child. For all that happened in the House, anyone would have judged me. But my mother knows who I am. Because I dress in a particular way doesn’t mean I am what the society would classify me as. It turns out to be that I am a good girl and not the girl who everyone thinks is bad. I just don’t want to remember all of it again. I just know that when your mind is clean, nobody can bring you down. In as much as I was there and not trying to please anybody and just being myself- a lot of people weren’t happy about that. So I just had to stand my ground and people started loving me for me because I have to be who I am. In as much as those things happened, there’s a boundary. In the whole 91 days I spent in the house, I never showered naked- I had bikinis on so it should tell you the kind of person I am. A lot of people think I’m crazy but I’m not. I had boundaries and I knew that even my seven year old brother was also watching me. But maybe because people saw me with a certain guy and we were playing around- it’s not going to ever lead to sex- never! I’m a proper Urhobo girl. I grew up with my grandmother who I just built her a dream house she’s been longing fors.
How many rooms is the house?
Three bedrooms. I never thought it was me who would grow up and build her a house. But I knew how much it meant to her.
It wasn’t even her daughter who built her the house?
It doesn’t matter who built the house because my mum is her daughter. When my mum gave birth to me, I wouldn’t suck her breast, I preferred my grandma’s breasts. I’m her child.
She didn’t have a male child?
She did. My uncle is just a year older than me.
So you drank a left over breast from your grandma?
Yes, maybe that’s what made me smart. Sometimes when I talk, I talk like an older person and when I want to be childish, I can also be. But at the end of the day, I don’t forget where I’m coming from and I still haven’t forgotten where I’m going to.
You said you had boundaries while in the house.
Of course, money wouldn’t make me do wrong things. Like if someone asks me what I wouldn’t do for money, I would say that I’m not ready to kill for money or backbite.
The whole thing you saw on the show that I said I wouldn’t do, I didn’t do them. Like I said I wouldn’t do unrighteous things like have sex or shower naked in the house and I didn’t do them and I’ll never do such things.
But you were almost close to doing them
There’s a difference. I was only close to doing it but never did it. If I did, you would have seen it. But I know the kind of person I am and it wouldn’t have happened.
And you wouldn’t go nude for any amount?
No I wouldn’t. I didn’t do it for $33m so for how much would I do it? That’s the boundary I was talking about.
When you got into the house, you didn’t think you were going to win. It was someone who knew you were capable just who asked you to
It was Denrele.
He’s a crazy man
He isn’t crazy o. He’s a very nice person with a good heart.
I don’t mean crazy as such
Yes that’s what I’m telling you. Denrele is an example of someone who believes in living your life and doesn’t care about what people think.
But when you got into the house, did you go into the house to win or to have fun?
I went in there to have fun because I feel when you start thinking too much about life, you’ll start wearing gray hair. For me, I don’t expect too much so I don’t get hurt. Like when I was living with my grandma, whenever she cooks soup without meat, I don’t get hurt. Whatever she gives me- garri or rice, I eat. I was trained not to expect a lot. So I wasn’t expecting to win. But there was a time I just wanted to leave.
Because I was tired and wasn’t feeling the love. Everybody was just particular about the money and I felt I was giving too much- love and caring for the house and most of them weren’t showing me that love I gave. But no hard feelings because it’s now in the past. So that was why I wanted to leave- I missed the outside world and wanted to know what was going on outside, although it was worth it eventually.
When you said you wanted to leave, did you express it?
I said it so many times.There were times I would pack my bag and even put my self on nomination just to go because I felt there’s nothing like freedom. The truth was that we were caged like lab rats because they wanted to see us break. And we did break- I broke because I’m human. So for people who mocked me because they saw me cry, I advise them to also try it and see for themselves. You wouldn’t understand what I went through in the house unless you were there with me.
So finally you made it
What was the first thing that came to your mind the moment you became the winner?
The thing is psychological.
Like what you want to do with the money
It’s not even that. There, they tell us when to go to bed, they gave us goodies when we’re good and punished us whenever we’re bad. So I wanted to damn everything and leave. But the experience was good because I learned about human nature ,what they were willing to do for money and how far they would go. So, I learned a lot. In as much as people think I’m a bad girl, I’m very smart and I’ll like people to say that. I often say that to myself. I can tell the kind of person someone is under just ten to fifteen minutes of talking with him or her. I tend to read people but you may not know because I’m always all over the place. At first, Nigerians didn’t believe in me. Many people gave me names like ‘a street girl turn millionnaire.’ That was cruel. They made it look as if I was sleeping under the bridge and then became a millionnaire. There’s a story to tell at every stage of my life.
So were you a street girl?
Maybe the things I went through in life- my upbringing. But whatever I went through in life, the hardship made me strong.
Life was very tough?
I’m sure you know the whole story. Life was very tough. I had no dad. We were abandoned and had to stay with my grandma- all those things made life hard. So when I was telling my story, people just wanted to see that side of me- it was good though because some people out there are also going through what I went thorough and I know that one day, God will wipe their tears just like he did mine. So they shouldn’t forget where they’re coming from and never give up.
So like I said, what went through your mind when you won?
There was a time when the Big Brother’s voice asked me what I would do if I won. I said first of all, I would shout, scream, thank God and then slap myself back to reality, which was what I did. I kept to my promise after I left the house- I did all the things I said I was going to do. I slapped myself twice(a hard slap). I felt as if it was a dream. I was crying and thanking God- I ran to my mum. Even as at when I was announced as the winner, it still didn’t register into my mind until the whole hype went down. Like I said, I like to speak pidgin and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Like I said, the moni fall for my leg and I grab am nah. No be so? And in as much as I grab am, I go make use of am well. So I thank God for that grabbing part. I didn’t see it coming and I would say that was my best part of 2011. That was the best surprise of my life.
With all that show you put up on TV, how do men see you?
I would tell you one thing- when people get to see me, they say I’m more slimmer , prettier and ladylike in person. I don’t get comments where they see me as not cultured and confrontational. My kind of person just tell you how I feel not regarding how old that person is. I don’t know how to pretend. I’m someone that when I go somewhere posh and don’t feel like drinking champagne, I feel free to ask for something ordinary or local. Or maybe I go somewhere posh and they’re serving foreign dishes and I don’t feel like eating it, I just ask for Banga Soup and Eba- there’s nothing razz about that, I’m just being myself.
Before you went into the house, you had a boyfriend
Why are you asking about my personnal life?
Did you have a boyfriend?
Yes I did.
And are you still dating?
So how did he react when he was watching you on TV?
He’s happy for me.
And he doesn’t feel intimidated?
Of course not. When you have a woman that loves you…before I went into the house, I was single(not engaged). But now, I have someone very special. We just want to see how it goes.
We learnt you recently got engaged?
I did not accept the proposal.
I need to know what you’ve done with the money
I’ve settled my mum and my grandma
How do you mean by you’ve settled your mum?
My mum is doing her business and she’s cool and happy
You bought her a car?
Yes. I bought her an ML.
Isn’t that too much?
That’s my mum. She gave birth to me.
Does she drive herself or you got her a driver?
She drives herself around. My mum is a very strong woman.
You have brothers?
I have three brothers and six sisters. I’m the first child.
Wow, that’s a lot
Yeah, my dad had two with my step mum, while my mum had seven with my step dad.
So your father took them all in?
He took them all in from where? I told you that there’s a lot of responsibility on my head and that’s why I’m trying to make more money. I just launched my street wears, Entag Tops, unisex. The price is affordable.
What’s the name you’re using on them?
It’s Karendify street wear. I want to try that first before launching my clothing line. I’m into trading too.
Have you given to the less privileged?
I have. So far, I’ve given to Zawan Little Home in Jos. I went there and contributed my quota because I know how it is not to have a mother or a father. Also, on my birthday, I went to LUTH to see the cancer patients- it’s not funny to see kids with cancer. The pain they go through at that age is very painful and some of them have no chemotherapy where they can recover from. Most of them just have their diagnosis and all they’re doing is awaiting their death. When went there on April 6, I went there with my birthday cake and food items just to make them happy. It brought me to tears. Bumba and Wendo from BBA were around. So they followed me there because such things are close to my heart and not the Big Brother partying Karen. I invited them to support me in my projects because the street shirts I’m about going into is what I need to take back to the less privileged and even to an SOS home that I knew since 2002. After becoming the winner of BBA, I still didn’t forget them and I’m still trying to create more awareness for peace in Plateau and Kaduna because I feel nobody should be killed just like that. Who has the right to take lives when he can’t even give life? I believe that we all serve one God and we should be our brother’s keeper . That means we should be compassionate and forgiving and we shouldn’t be evil because we have just one life. So for me, I think about all those things.
Do you have an NGO?
I don’t want to go into an NGO just like that. I want something that’s consistent ,something I’ll keep doing each year because I’ve noticed that everybody wants to have an NGO. I also want to create awareness about cancer after my sisters’ experience because they had lumps- one was seventeen and the other was twenty-one. The lumps were taken out.
What happened to them?
They had it and we had to have them taken out before it turns to cancer. I also had lumps but people were asking why I had it removed. When one has cancer, they’ll have to take out one’s tissue and one’s breast would lessen. For me, it was a very emotional journey .
Where was it removed?
Then I was in the UK. My mum wasn’t aware of it because I was trying to be brave. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. All I want to do is help people create awareness because two of my sister had it and I had lumps too.
Is it hereditary?
Did your mum have it?
No she never had it. But her aunt died of Eucamia and her uncle died of eye cancer. My grand dad died of inflammation of the intestine. So you see, it’s hereditary. So I just hope it gets to secure us. Many things are close to my heart but I have to focus on my career because that’s what’s important. I’m also trying to learn about other things before going into them.
Talking about career, which one are you talking about because you’re an actress, you model
Yes, those are my careers. I just finished a movie called Heavy Beauty. It’s a movie to motivate young girls to follow their dreams in beauty pageants. So I played the role of the owner of an agency who sponsors beauty pageants. So I’m also shooting another one which will bring out the street side of me. I have many sides of me and you’’ll have to keep up with me. So, I’ll try acting and if the public likes it, I’ll keep up with it. I’m still into hosting, presenting, MC and adverts. I’ve been working with DSTV a lot.
What’s the relationship between you and your state government?
I am an ambassador of my state
But you should be doing one project or the other with them?
Yes, I’m on a project. I’m building something to become an ambassador of tourism of my state. I know people expect a lot from me. But they shouldn’t forget that it’s not even a year yet. So I wouldn’t want people to pressurize me delivering so much. So I’m working hard. I’ve been doing a lot. I’ll be going to Ghana soon and I’ll be going to many states in Nigeria. I’ve hosted the face of Edo, Miss Abuja, Dynamics Awards. These businesses come to me without me learning the game but I have to learn fast. I’m a fast learner. So I hope I’ll be perfect with time.
There’s one more thing we’re expecting from you that you still haven’t done-singing
I don’t think I have the voice for singing. I don’t have an interest in singing. I’m also trying to start a reality show of my own. So you’ll see more of Karen.