An Interview With Pierre de Villiers
By Jim Koury, Editor/Publisher, Diversity Rules Magazine
© 2014 Diversity Rules Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
Pierre de Villiers is a household name in South Africa due to his internationally recognised reality self-help book ‘Dear Pierre’ which sold out within 8 weeks in South Africa as well as being a TV continuity presenter for the country’s national broadcaster SABC 2 in years gone by. When anchoring TV shows like the SABC Big Brand TV Show as well as being a soap star in Egoli Place of Gold he also reads the Business Day finance news on Jacaranda FM and is chosen to do the live new year’s eve TV presenting welcoming in the new millennium. Apart from being a television and media personality Pierre also gives back to the community by lecturing communication studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) after resigning as youngest editor of the SA Military Medical Journal with the military rank of Captain. While lecturing at the University of Johannesburg he does his training as therapist and sets up shop in private practice which causes considerable media interest.
JRK: Can you give Diversity Rules readers an idea of who Pierre de Villiers is, your background and how it has shaped the person you are today?
PV: I am a South African TV presenter turned therapist who launched a debut international hit self help book called ‘Dear Pierre’ last year – not knowing the media frenzy it would cause around the globe. ‘Screen star turns author’ the tabloids immediately said as the book was released and after another 40 or so interviews the last six months I now have my own radio show based on the book as well as CNBC Africa who has asked me to anchor a ‘Mental Wealth’ TV talk show based on ‘Dear Pierre’. I have spoken live on-air to ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS writer and BBC comedian Ruby Wax about the book and met FORBES Africa’s publishers in person for a signed copy of ‘Dear Pierre’. The list continues… Let’s flash back to when I was an officer and a gentleman as Captain in the armed forces and editor of their magazine. I also lectured Journalism at the University of Johannesburg for many years after doing a B.Tech Degree in Public Relations and Majoring in Journalism. I believe if we allow life to guide us it ultimately does so to a point where we can combine all that we are with all that we have done and it becomes a beautiful – and successful – synergy of joyful celebration of everything we can be.
JRK: You are a household name in South Africa because of your book “Dear Pierre.” Tell us about the book and why you decided to write it.
PV: ‘Dear Pierre’ gets its title from the ‘Dear Abby’ song where everyone who was struggling with some emotional issue would write a letter to Abby asking for advice and so it was with me as a therapist. Amazingly enough some people prefer to never meet you face to face but simply pay and then do email interaction about their problems possibly to shy to look you in the eye of – if it was me – just too damn lazy to leave home. During my ten years or so of being a therapist I kept all my ‘email clients’ on file obviously with the Q and A of the problem at hand and always joked to my friends that it one day will become a best seller if only I changed the names of the people who wrote these letters seeking advice from me. You honestly hear it all as a therapist and it is crazy how people would tell a complete stranger upon meeting the most intimate of sexual detail or any other intimate tit bits that even their spouse or best friend doesn’t know. It’s all in ‘Dear Pierre’.
JRK: You describe the book as “A sneak peek into other people’s lives while feeling a whole lot better about one’s own.” This is very true as it can be very helpful to know someone else has gone through something as well. How did you pick the case studies that are included in the book?
PV: On a more serious note, there is a lot to be said for learning from other people’s mistakes and not making the same mistakes oneself. At the same time I have found most people saying that they could identify with up to 6 or 8 of the clients’ letters (30 in total) to me in my book (unedited completely real and only the names changed of course to disguise identity) which is wonderful to hear. It is lovely to know that you are not alone in the world and in a bizarre way ‘Dear Pierre’ does just that – it makes you realise that other people struggle with the very same issues you do. I tried to cover the full spectrum of sexual identity, infedility, sexual problems, romance, relationships, money, health, wealth and happiness – feeling that we all struggle with most of those big ones not so?
JRK: What is the most “out there” issue you have had to tackle in therapy with someone?
PV: I obviously had to keep the book in good taste and make sure that things are addressed in a professional way but I must say that the letter (in the book) where my client walks in on her husband masturbating with his best friend who happens to also be married is a favourite at dinner parties especially when he reassures her not to worry as they’ve been doing so for a long time and they don’t have sex. What’s not in the book as I considered it a bit pornographic for self help readers is my female client who complained that her new boyfriend wasn’t enjoying the sex toys she was using in their bedroom. Upon tactfully investigating which toys it was she admitted to using a vibrator to stimulate her boyfriend anally that for some reason he did not enjoy and for the life of her she couldn’t think why but thought it might be the wrong colour. THE WRONG COLOUR? You must be joking, right! Which red blooded heterosexual man is going to enjoy anal penetration that he did not ask for nor implied he seeks? I had to laugh when, telling the story at a dinner party someone actually asked me whether I did check the colour. Enough said.
JRK: How do you know you have reached someone and that they have turned the corner from their demons?
PV: Good question and I always say that one can pour the most exquisite imported tea for someone but if they are holding their cup upside-down it is a complete waste of quality tea and so it is with quality of advice and guidance: it isn’t always the advice as much as the willingness to face one’s demons that counts. Back to the question and emotion is very important. When a client thanks me for a session saying it was ‘interesting’ I don’t rebook them period. What I do isn’t interesting. It is either shifting someone’s perception or not. Once the perception of a problem is shifted we all easily find new ways of approaching old problems. I don’t want clients to cognitively ‘understand’ or find information ‘interesting’ as much as see them sob like little children as they surface from a deeply burried burden of emotion.
JRK: You are quoted as saying, “Disaster doesn’t care for gender, age, culture, country, language, religion or sexual preference when it knocks on the door. Normal folk struggle as much with life as Hollywood celebrities do – they just don’t make the headlines!” People tend to forget this many times and forget that their neighbors and friends are hurting and need a helping hand or someone to vent to. How can we be better at being more aware of others and their issues?
PV: Straight out I want to warn readers not to get involved in other people’s drama. It is like a modern disease and serves people well who would rather assist with another person’s demons than face their own. I DO NOT DO DRAMA. It is a life statement for me and should be for every Diversity Rules Magazine reader. When life offers drama as an option – which it does – say no thanks and move on. Having said that, I try to not read too many newspapers or listen to too much news or at least do so as Bette Midler says ‘from a distance.’ Don’t absorb what is negative. We live in such a cut throat society of doom and gloom and bad news is what makes newspapers sell. Isn’t it a sad reality that there is not a single newspaper out there that contains only good news? I believe in time we will get there as a species. The collective EQ of modern society is shockingly low and as a child throws tantrums and over-reacts to any stimuli such is mankind as it stands at this point in time I believe. To answer the original question though simply ask yourself: “Does this affect me?” and if it does, climb in head and shoulders and swim with all your might. If the answer to: “Does this affest me?” is no then ask the other person what they want you to do. Do so sincerely and someone might say: “I just need a hug” or they might say: “I need you to do this and that for me.” Then decide to which degree (as observer and not participant in their drama) you want to help. It all comes back to choice and accepting that we have a choice when it comes to life.
JRK: You alluded to people being willing to learn from other people’s mistakes. That really is the first step in helping oneself is to be willing to accept help. How can we become better at helping others come to this realization?
PV: I love this question because I want to shock readers by saying that sometimes we have to respect and allow those who choose to suffer to do so and to let them be. Help and assistance can be offered to people, but be street wise and trust your gut if someone really wants to be helped or is only pretending to or maybe even thinking that they do when they are in fact enjoying the twisted perks of their own suffering. An easy example is a colleague at the office complaining of a headache. Tabs offered and taken they soon say that they feel better or they might continue complaining while enjoying everyone’s sympathy and doting and carry on doing so for days on end until all and sundry at the company is aware of their long suffering and they gain an ongoing audience of supporting colleagues and care-takers long-term.
JRK: You were a television and media personality prior to your writing “Dear Pierre.” Can you tell us about that life and how you got embarked upon that path?
PV: When I was very young I saw these very glamorous people on telly announcing which shows were coming up later in the evening and I remember yelling (not knowing they were called Continuity Announcers) aloud and almost without prior thinking: “I want to do that one day!” and so I did. I was chosen as Continuity Presenter for the South African National Broadcaster SABC 2 and suddenly found myself all over the tabloids, getting the best tables in restaurants and being upgraded by British Airways my airline of choice as soon as they recognised my name. You get invited to absolutely everything. Every function and opening down to the opening of an envelope. Lunches and launches galore a home made meal becomes a rare treat. Everyone wants to date you or be seen with you or have a piece of you. It’s all very exciting, very glamorous, very fast paced but could be ultimately soul destroying – if you let it. This time round being back in my ‘celeb’ role as author of a much bigger stage I take it more in my stride and don’t get ‘starstruck’ anymore. It is what it is and after meeting people like FORBES publishers in person you don’t really care too much for shaking the hand of yet another model or mogul.
JRK: What prompted you to switch gears from TV and media and write the book?
PV: I have always done a seemlingly endless list of career choices all rolled into one giant portfolio and apart from author I have been a model, actor, presenter, journalist and editor. I have just been appointed yet again as editor of a top end celebrity-driven arts magazine called Arty Elephant Magazine which readers can download for free at artyelephant.com and I love it. Writing is a passion and being in the public eye too I will admit. Internationally recognised author seems to tick all the boxes.
JRK: Do you have plans for a subsequent book?
PV: Not right now while riding the current publicity wave, presenting my radio show and being newly appointed editor of the arts magazine. Mind Power as a topic is something that interests me and as therapist I can see how it fuses into the developmental years of up and to around seven or eight years old when we simply absorb what we are told: good or bad. Telling a child during the developmental years repetitively on a daily basis how beautiful they are so they become while telling a child how stupid they are so they will be too. My thinking is to do a ‘John Kehoe’ Mind Power book for children as a nursery book with little poems and pictures maybe. Wrtiting a book is hard work and not an easy task to complete so I will be very sure it is worth my while before doing the next one.
JRK: What’s next for Pierre de Villiers?
PV: I love how I don’t know which makes everything possible and keeps the joy rainbow shimmering every day.
JRK: What parting thoughts do you have for Diversity Rules readers?
PV: Log on to dearpierrre.com and order your copy of ‘Dear Pierre’ for $5 immediately of course! No, jokes aside. If I could tell the younger readers that it does get better that would be great. If I could tell the other readers that anything is possible even better. I myself went from obese child to severely bullied teenager to TV star and internationally recognised author. Zero to hero is possible for anyone who decides to do so and people do change and they do rise from the ashes. There is always hope. Fear is our biggest enemy added to limited thinking. Think big. Act big. Fake it till you make it (I did!) and always, yes, always be true to yourself. The legendary Oscar Wilde said we should be ourselves as everyone else is taken. Added to Freud, Jung and some modern guru’s like Oprah and Gary Zukov – who wrote my favourite book “Seat of the Soul,” Mr Wilde seems to have been a very wise man indeed.
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