Michelle Botes, 50, chats about the duality of life as an actress, being terrible at small talk, and her two greatest teachers: her kids, Cara, 22, and Daniel, 18

Best known for her role as the charismatic honey trap Cherel de Villiers in the soapie Isidingo, Michelle Botes has long been driven by the desire to spin a good yarn. ‘My greatest inspiration has always been the stories that must be told,’ she reveals enigmatically, and yet, little is known of her own life story. Describing herself as shy, Michelle says she’s the polar opposite of her character: ‘I’m a private person. And I’m also wary of peoples’ expectations of me to be something I’m not. A common misperception of Michelle is that I’m a social butterfly. But I’m not; I get the impression people don’t really want to hear that, but unfortunately it’s just not in my make-up,’ a coy grin slowly spreads into her trademark sylph-like smile. ‘I’m truly envious of Cherel’s energy and people skills!’ she concedes openly.

Description: Michelle Botes

Michelle Botes

Michelle is an unwavering in her loyalty to her children as she is about staying true to herself. ‘For the last 18 years I consciously rejected roles that would take me away from my kids, a decision I often questioned and certainly resented at times. But with hindsight I’m very happy and grateful I was so resolute on the matter. Daniel’s just finished school, so an incredible new chapter is about to begin for me: freedom, change and the courage to do different things – it feels like I’m the child now! It’s weird how life does that, isn’t it?’ The family live in Riviera, in what Michelle’ calls a ‘treetop apartment’ that overlooks Joburg’s vast green sprawl of manmade forest.

Being a mother changed me. It joyously gave me a second childhood and flooded me with love and laughter, which in turn gave me another, more beautiful way of looking at the world around me. It also stretched and strung me out – i was transformed by nights of colic and crying to morph into a different me: a very real and honest me.

Description: Being a mother changed me

Being a mother changed me

If i wasn’t an actress, i’d be a spy or a photographer – perhaps a writer or maybe an architect or a psychologist; basically I want to be part of a story, in whatever form to be part of a story, in whatever form that is. I adore how we author our own stories, for instance, recently Cara SMSed: ‘Fire engines alongside plane, can’t see any flames yet, but we had to turn around for fuel and I think one engine’s gone. Don’t know what’s happening. Love you mom.’ Daniel’s SMS? ‘All good – flight delayed a bit’. They were on the same flight!

As a person i’m far too intense and passionate to manage the balancing act of juggling kids, work, friends and family. I mostly give up social interaction for quiet time in nature, hiking and camping in the Magaliesburg. Although, once a year, the hedonist in me will command control and take me on a very wild all-nighter! I actually believe the swing between extremes might just be that elusive ‘balance’. Acceptance is what it’s all about – don’t resist anything. When I tried to push my life into manageable pieces I just ended up more strung out.

A lot has been said about the tumultuous teenage years, but no one ever speaks about the excitement of them. Sure there are ups and downs, but the variety of hugs I get on a day-to-day basis is just overwhelming.

I’m no good at small talk. Not at all. And sometimes I won’t answer the doorbell or phone – it’s my guilty pleasure! Home is our sacred space, it’s serene and looks good, fresh flowers are a must. I love gardening, tending to my herbs and pottering deep in thought around my patch. I’m an earth mother!

Description: I’m no good at small talk

I’m no good at small talk

Two things i’ve never budged on with the kids are: don’t be late for an agreed pick-up time, and don’t lie. The truth, however difficult to hear, is always bets. That said, love, to me, is about radical forgiveness.

It’s a huge compliment to be named one of sas most stylish women, but it gives me great mirth too! I won’t hestiate to pop into the Engen Quick Shop in my slippers or gardening gear when I’m out of milk. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m equally at home going off to my favourite restaurant bedecked in a ball gown after I’ve attended a flashy event. These are the real style moments in my life and I love them for what they are: a life being lived well. “Trust life, michelle,” is the wisdom i would impart to my younger self.

The best part about being a mom is sharing all those magic ‘firsts’ of someone’s life. Those rites of passage. From parties to thunderstorms, to your first oyster and first kiss. Like Cara’s fearlessness at crawling into her first wave at the sea. Or Daniel jumping over rocks, then chairs and stairways, finally buildings [he’s a Parkour disciple], all while I try to swallow my fear! Last year I shared a day of skydiving with Daniel! It was a truly amazing moment, a day we both lived out our Air signs – Daniel’s a Gemini and I’m Libran.

Motherhood is… the beauty of watching them find out who they are. And the worry when explorations go pear-shaped.

Description: My kids are very passionate

My kids are very passionate

We might all live under the same roof, but we still have to make time to catch up as a family. Often we’ll ‘do’ a lunch or a picnic. I love to see the kids one on one, but I also enjoy the big, messy kitchen cook ups. I’m addicted to the variety of humour at home; for sheer joy there’s Cara’s social adventures, and for a good dose of wry humour, there’s always Daniel’s dry, philosophical observations and unique take on people.

I’m been hugely influenced by a need to create and maintain a safe home. Now that it’s been done, I’m going to fly! Our essence as women doesn’t change when we become mothers: I love adventure, and now that the kids are older and testing out their own lives and freedom, I find myself flirting with my inner gypsy again – despite society and conditioning, our spirit will always rule.

Kids keep it real, they toss your ego and show us life’s opposites in the most exquisite way: mine have shown me the path when I’ve been open enough to learn, and have taught me to live in the moment and experience life deeply. And then to let go! But I admit, I still struggle with this one.

Description: I felt such a surge of love, not to mention something less noble, and felt so proud at her creative streak.

I felt such a surge of love, not to mention something less noble, and felt so proud at her creative streak.

My kids are very passionate, just like their mom. I remember coming home exhausted after a gruelling 12-hour day, and little Cara, then all of 3 years old, came galloping up to me, sporting the biggest smile, ecstatically shouting: “Magic! Magic!” In one hand she held a pair of scissors and in the other … my precious lace dress, cut to ribbons! I felt such a surge of love, not to mention something less noble, and felt so proud at her creative streak. But I also wanted to wring her little neck!

Cara and daniel are experts in their ability to read people. They learnt very early on that people’s perceptions don’t always reflect reality. They’re also very discerning about real friends versus ones who just wanted to meet ‘the actress’. Hilariously, they’ve both experienced a lot of misguided sympathy too, like the time they were invited to go away with so-called friends so that they wouldn’t have to endure “Cherel’s! A sense of humour always prevails though as one incident illustrates so perfectly: we were shopping for Cara’s matric dance dress, but she couldn’t hold the distracted shop assistant’s attention. ‘My mom’s the keeper of the Joburg Zoo’ she retorted when the shop assistant asked where she knew me from!

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