This is the story of a survivor, a woman that took her destiny in her hands and, against all odds, rose to fame and stardom.
During the interview, Shan George broke down in tears, and the reporter could not stop the tears from flowing from her own eyes. This is her life story in her own words:
In the beginning
Life started for me in the village, in a small village called Ediba in Abi local government area of Cross-River State. My mum worked as a nurse in one of the local hospitals. She is now retired. My father was an expatriate from England with a company called Turners Asbestos in Emene, Enugu State, before he died. The company is now known as Emenite. It produces roofing sheets and water pipes. After the death of my father, my mother left Enugu to go back and live in my village where I grew up.
My parents used to live at No. 2 Nwodo Close inside the G.R.A. in Enugu, and I was getting close to my 5th birthday when I lost my father.
My mother was so heartbroken when she lost my father, my grand-mother then insisted she comes back to my village to live. Back in the village, my mother worked as a nurse in the local hospital across the river in Etigidi.
My mother never got over my father, I am my mother’s only child and she still lives in the village, she only comes to Lagos now and then to visit me. My mother put all her effort in taking care of me, and also thought it was important for me to be educated. I had my primary and secondary education in the village.
Village life, when I was between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, was a lot of fun for me. How I used to climb trees and mountains with my school-mates on our way back from school. How we used to swim in the stream, how you don’t get to eat lunch until you get to the farm after school and lunch, for me then, was roasted yam.
Sometimes when I look back at what my life was as a young girl growing up in the village, sometimes I get an image of a young girl who deserves better. But then it was fun. I knew no other life. Here I was, half-caste, born by a British expatriate, living in a village that had no electricity. My mother worked very hard to send me to school, provided me with the little comfort that she could, I remember as a young girl I had my own bed. But all the other basic amenities like having a generator, a television set were luxuries that my mother could not afford. I remember how I used to go to watch television in neighbour’s houses. And how I used to dream of becoming somebody some day. I actually wanted to become a lawyer as a young girl. And I wanted so much to become somebody great in the society, and I used to fantasize about how someday, I am going to marry a governor or a president, so that I can become a first lady, just like the wives of the presidents and governors that I sometimes see on my neigbour’s television set.
I was an Oyibo girl, who knew nothing about the Western world, and I had this big ambition to be great someday. How to go about it then, I did not know. But I just kept on dreaming, and hoped it happens.
It is the norm in my village then that young girls get married off between the age of 15 to 17. If you don’t get a suitor by the age of 17, you are like a leftover. And back then, in my village, they didn’t see it as a wise investment to send girls to school. After all, a girl changes her name to that of her husband immediately she gets married and whatever she becomes thereafter is to her husband’s name and glory. So why waste your money educating a girl child? And I thank my mother who insisted I pass through secondary school before I got married. So, when I was getting close to my 16th birthday, I got married. I was really excited about the marriage proposal then, to me as a young girl growing up in a village without electricity, getting married and going to live in "township" then was very exciting. "Township" then as we used to call places where there is electricity, cars, television, executive sitting chairs, to us then in the village, was paradise. I can’t say I was forced into marriage then, I was actually excited at the prospect of leaving the village for paradise. But I realised later that not all that glitters is gold. I left the village for the so-called paradise, for me to find out that it wasn’t a paradise after all. And things didn’t work out the way I thought they would.
Maybe if I didn’t get married that early in life, maybe things would have been different. Because I now know everything has its time and season. One needs to be mature and ready for marriage. Although my ex-husband is older, there was no cordiality in the marriage. We had a traditional marriage and I left the village to live with him. As a young girl, I had high hopes of going to the university to read Law.
Four years into the marriage with two kids, and no talk about me going back to school, to become that person that I wanted to be, I became an unhappy persons. Suddenly, I realised that if I stayed on in that marriage, I will never realise my dreams. And I was not happy in that marriage. At a point, my marriage was like a stumbling block to my success in life. So, I knew I had to do something about it. After six years in that marriage, I woke up one morning on the 6th of May 1991, with N2,400 in my bag. I left my husband’s house in Ojodu.
I did not head for the village this time around. I had left with my kids before then for my village. But my mother asked me questions about how my ex-husband was treating me, and my replies were positive ones. Was I being maltreated by him? I replied no. So my mother was not in support of me staying back in the village with my kids, she insisted I had to go back to my husband. So, I realised then that I just couldn’t go back to my mother in the village this time around. I knew if I had to leave, I had to go somewhere else, definitely not my village.
My first son was born in November 1986, my second son was born November 1988. In 1991, when I left my husband’s house, they were so young, I never wanted to leave without them. But I knew I couldn’t take the kids with me. I had nowhere to go, so taking the children with me to an unknown destination will be putting then through a lot of hardship. And I had no means of taking care of them. So, I prayed that morning for God’s forgiveness.
We had just moved to Ojodu then. I think we moved to Ojodu in Lagos in 1990. So, I was very new in Lagos, I had no friends or family I could go stay with. But I was determined, so I was going round Lagos, looking for work and hoping that I would come across anybody from my village that could be of assistance. That night, I slept in a small hotel. I can’t remember exactly how much I paid at the hotel per night, but the N2,400 I had with me lasted just for four days. As God will have it on that 4th day, I met somebody I knew while in the village. Her name is Mrs. Betcy Ukoh. I ran into her somewhere around Fola Agoro in Shomolu where her fashion house was located. She now lives in Abidjan, Cote’d’Ivoire with her family. It was amazing and I was so excited and she was happy to see me. I explained my situation to her, and she offered to take me in. When I left my husband’s house in Ojodu, I did not leave with any of my things. What I had was just the one dress I had on. And throughout those four days I was going round Lagos, I had that dress on. At night, I wash it in the hotel I was staying, spread it under the fan to dry till the following morning. So, when my aunty took me in, the first thing she did was to make me a skirt and blouse from the leftover fabrics she had in her shop. And that was what I wore for the first few days that I stayed with her. I learned how to sew from her and she used to send me to some of her customers in corporate offices that can’t find the time to come to her shop to take their orders. And she was always sending me to Tejuoso Market to buy fabrics that she intends to sew for her customers. And that was how I got into fashion. After some time, I started saving the little money I was making towards buying G.C.E. forms. I got enough money to sit for my G.C.E, I passed, and the following year I sat for JAMB exams. I did not make my JAMB that year, but I did the following year.
After two years of living with my aunt, I left her place to get a one room accommodation somewhere in Obanikoro. And that was how I started sewing on my own. After some time, I was able to save enough to open a boutique and up till date, I still run the boutique. My boutique is called SHANDEL, it’s a combination of my name and that of my first son. My boutique is located in Jibowu, my shop by the special grace of God is stocked with the latest fashion trend. Then I used to get goods from people that travel abroad to put in my shop. I couldn’t afford to pay outright, I used to take the goods on sales on return. And when I get little money then, I used to travel to Cotonou to buy things to put in the shop.
In 1996, I got a letter of admission to University of Lagos to read Mass Communication. It was the happiest day of my life. I was overwhelmed with joy. I held the letter and tears of joy dropped from my eyes.
Later, I realised I didn’t have enough to pay my tuition fees. I had to pay N12,000 and all I had then was N8 in my account. While I was working with my aunt, I met a lot of people from my village but I didn’t socialise with them, because I was always busy working for my aunt. One of them was my mother’s brother who is a customs officer. I went to see him, and he offered to help. He gave me N5,000. And there was this other man who is also from my village, his name is Mr. Omini, he was working with N.N.P.C then. I don’t know if he still does. I have made a lot of effort to reach him. I hope he reads this. I really, really want to get in touch with him. He gave me N2,000. (At this point, Shan’s voice quivers and tears rolled down her face).
While I was running around looking for money to pay my tuition fees into the university, I was also looking out for any job opportunity. My boutique was not doing well then, so I decided I needed to get a paid job to support whatever I was making from the boutique.
Luckily for me, I got a job working behind the camera at N.T.A. on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island. And later, Sadiq Daba gave me a role to play in Winds of Destiny, and I was paid N1,000 per episode. That was in 1997.
While acting in Winds of Destiny, I got my first home movie role in the late Jennifer Ossai’s movie titled, Thorns of Rose. My sister, Blessing Eremi, who played Wakanga in NTA’s rested soap, Fortune, introduced me to Jennifer. I had to stop my behind the camera work at NTA because of my studies, and later, I got a major role in After The Storm, a television drama which ran on N.T.A. Tunde Adesina gave me a big role, so I got a better fee.
After the Storm was rested after a while, so, I just concentrated on school. And that was how I started writing my own script while in school.
In my final year at the university, I produced my own movie titled, All For Winnie. Later, I was able to raise enough money to travel abroad on business trips. And the first country I travelled to in Europe was Paris.
My father was a British expatriate and because my mother was too devastated after his death, when she left Enugu, she didn’t even think of keeping any document for future references as regards my father.
All she had was his photograph. So, at a point in my life, out of curiosity of wanting to know who my father was, I went in search of the company he worked with in Enugu. And that was how I got to know that the company’s name had been changed from Turners Asbestos to Eminite. I found my father’s name in what was left as the ‘company’s record. And I was able to get the company’s address in Manchester, United Kingdom. I sent a lot of letters to the company, but I never got a responce. And the telephone number I got from the company’s record was also no longer in service.
My father’s name, Gordon Walker George, was on the company’s record. I have reached out to a lot of organisations that could help trace my father’s relatives. I also tried Red Cross because I heard they are good at uniting lost families, but no positive response came from them. I didn’t inform my mother before I went to Enugu in search of the company my father worked with. But I later told her what I found out. And she was not pleased that I was going around trying to gather information about a dead man.
She sees no point in the search, especially now that I am famous and am doing so well for myself. A lot of websites that I tried on the internet could not help because I don’t know my father’s date of birth and place of birth. There was a time that I logged onto a website called something ancestral and called all the Gordon Walker George listed, but nothing came up.
Someday, I intend to go to the company’s address that I had written to in Manchester, and find out why I didn’t get a reply to my letters. So, right now, I don’t know how to go about the British citizenship.
I met Okey Bakassi at a public function in 1998, then I was still in school. We started out as friends, I was very new in the movie industry then and Okey was the only friend I had.
We were friends before we became lovers and he put me through a lot of things. He had been in the movie industry before me. And he had produced several movies, so I learnt a lot from him.
The relationship came to an end because at that time, I was not so keen on marriage. I had just come out of one marriage and I wasn’t ready to get into another one so soon. Coupled with the fact that we were both struggling artists. So we were not talking marriage. At a point, the affair just faded away naturally, no quarrel.
But what we had was a good, honourable relationship that lasted for three years, and in an industry like ours that a relationship that lasts for two months is a big deal.
My new husband
I met my present husband Anthony Nwosisi in England in 2002 and we met through a friend.
For me, it was love at first sight. In fact, I fell in love with him on the phone before we met physically. He called my friend I was with while in London, and she told him on the phone that I was in London and with her. He asked to speak with me, and immediately he said hi on the phone, my heart just skipped a beat. And we went on chatting like we’ve known each other for long, and that was how we exchanged numbers. And when we met physically, it was like magic. Well, the rest is history. I know there has been so much negative things written about us not being together in some soft sell magazines.
And I will like to set the record straight. We are together and we intend to be together till kingdom come. Or like my husband used to say, till eternity. My husband lives in England and that’s why I shuttle between Lagos and England a lot. But he is planning on re-locating back to Nigeria very soon. Yes, he was once married with two kids, a boy and a girl. I love and respect him a lot as my husband and he has always been there for me. We got married traditionally, and he means the world to me