Chioma Toplis started her acting career in 2004. The mother of three, married to a whiteman went underground for a while. Now back in Nigeria, the actress and business woman, in this interview with DUPE AYINLA-OLASUKANMI, talks about her family, 18 years marriage and other issues.
YOU just came into the country; is there a reason for this?
I came in last week and presently I am trying to sort out my business first, after which I can put a call to movie producers and let them know that I am available.
Would it be right to say you have lost interest in movies?
I still do. It is my passion and joy. It is something that I love doing. I have a lot of people who having been contacting me before I came back, so if I call them and they ask me to come around, I would have time for that. As you can see, we are trying to put up new stock and check stock. So I just want to have all these sorted out. That is the way I have been doing it.
You reside abroad and have business here. How have you been able to manage it?
By God’s grace I have been doing that for the past 10years; alongside acting which I started in 2004. I think it is not hard managing both the business and family. Once you have good people taking care of your business and you know what you are doing; I think it is okay.
With the recent rise in marriage break-ups in the industry, how have you been able to hold yours?
I think it is the grace of God. And then having a family that understands what I do and are comfortable with it. So, when I am not around they know what I have gone for, and then they have to balance up. And another thing is that you must organize yourself very well. The time when you are there and when you are not there, you make sure everything is balanced. So, when you are not there; nothing is lacking. For me, it’s been working out alright.
Why did it take you so long to unveil your family to the public?
I just wanted to do so because it was our 18th anniversary. And I decided I would do it then. For instance, I have never put my son on Facebook or any other forum. Nobody has ever seen my son. And the reason then, was because he was here schooling. So I didn’t put him there, until he was through with his studies here and went back to UK. That was when I started putting him up on social media. As for my husband, I didn’t put him up. I let people say all sorts. All I did was to let people know that you can say all you want to say, but at the end of the day nobody knows me like myself.
Didn’t this decision have a negative effect?
It did. A lot of things were said; like we were separated and a lot of nonsense. But people who know me, knew that nothing of such happened. So I just did it on the anniversary day to show people that, they can say all they want to say. But they don’t know what is going on with me. So that will make them know that, whatever rubbish has been said, people won’t believe.
You kept your family from the public for 18years. How did you do it?
Anything you want to do in life is possible if you put your mind to it. I have friends that have been to my house. So when people say all sorts of things, and I kept quiet, they help me do the same. Because if they say all sorts, it is my cross, am the one carrying it. And I also thank God for the kind of husband I have, he does not listen to all they say. And my children don’t read all the blogs. Even when they come across it, they don’t care. So whatever they say, if I want to answer, I will and if I don’t; they can say what they want. Looking at the picture, you will know I have a happy home, no pretence.
Would it have been a different story, if you were married to an African?
I have examples of few people in the industry who were married to whites and their marriages had failed. And there are lots of them who are married to blacks and their marriages are intact, likewise crashed. So it all depends on the individual. And I believe like they say, ‘every man has his own wife and every woman has her own husband’. When the real people have not come together, it wouldn’t work. But when your real husband or wife comes to you, you will know because everything you touch will turn to gold.
Why did you pick interest to care for the elderly and not children like others?
Well, everybody should have what interest them, including children. I have compassion for the elderly and I do have interest in children. The elderly do experience lacks because there are no provision here. Unlike western societies, there are people who take care of them. Most of them here have lost their children. And those who still have, while they are old, are left in the village to suffer harsh conditions of living.
Government have a lot on their hands and they are yet to get them done. So that aspect might not come into the picture. We as individuals, can help if we have a way out. There are a lot of people who need help out there, but I feel the elderly ones really do need a lot of help. I just started with the elderly; tomorrow, it might extend. I still do some charity works for children. I have a lot of stuff at the cargo, and it is more of children effects. It is just that if you have humanitarian personality in you, you can help out when anybody comes around. It is not something that should be advertised or celebrated.
The reason for the wide spread information on the previous action I embarked on was because I went all the way to Ibadan. A friend told me about the elderly home there and I went. For me, it was like an adventure. I liked the way they were cared for with free medical checkups and other things. I still do it, in my hometown but on a smaller scale.
How easy is it for you to fit back into the industry anytime you are around?
It is just the grace of God. A lot of people will say, how much does she make from this? That she shuttles between here and there. Like I said, it is my passion and this business as well. I won’t say it is my life, because God is. But they are the things I enjoy doing, fashion and acting. When I am here, I feel joyful, even if there are no big sales coming in. I have my customers, so I know how I do my things.
Even like the movies, it is not everytime that I am there. And people are like why is she there all the time? It is still the grace of God. I am not always acting, but I am always out there. Whatever I do, people take note of. I give God all the praise, because I don’t really come here all the time, which is not enough. Because there are people who are there all year round and are not recognized by anyone. And any movie I do, gets applauded.
There was a period you went underground, was it deliberate?
I am still there. It is just that, a lot of things happened at that period and I decided to go underground. I made up my mind to keep off from some people. But at a point, I realised that you can only run, you can’t hide. So I decided to continue doing my thing and suddenly invitations started coming in.
Then journalists would call and ask if I wanted to reply to things that were said about me? I would say no, I just wanted to be on my own. So I went off the media, and social functions. I concentrated on my business and it helped to calm the situation then. Journalists put fire into issues that are not meant to be, and it would escalate as if the whole world would come to an end.
Who were your contemporaries in the industry back then, that you still communicate with presently?
I have been the kind of person that makes too many friends especially in the industry. I have friends a lot, that is why I run this business. But in the movie industry, I tend not to make friends. We can be friends, but not close friends. I have had problems in the past, so I decided to leave it on platonic level with everybody. I can come back and I can say hello or you might want to say hello to me. I have a lot of them like that. Since I came, I have called a few and they can call to ask ‘where are you?, Or drop by’. But am not too close with anyone anymore.
You want to tell us about that?
No, that was in the past. I have learnt a lot in the industry, otherwise Nigeria. I have learnt to flow with everyone, so that I won’t have enemies. Because when you get too close, then there is the possibility of becoming enemies. But when you are just friends, it is alright.
Does this enmity have to do with achievement or competition?
It is all about individuals. For me, I am happy when my friends progress whether you are smaller or bigger than me. I am not the jealous type. But you know, when it comes to women, a lot of things tend to bring jealousy. I have a lot of platonic friends in the industry. Even if you have money whether it’s flowing like honey, they don’t care, they just flow with you like that. And there are certain people who come to my small shop and become very jealous. It is just an individual thing; personal issues.
I believe God has created everybody with their own destiny. Whatever you have become today, is what He has said you would be. If you like to kill yourself over it, you might not achieve what that person has achieved. So you just have to be happy in whatever position you have found yourself. I just had to generalize it with the experience I have had before and leave everybody up there. One of my friends says ‘it is I see you when I see you friendship’.
You look too simple for a star?
With the kind of business I do, which I started before I came into acting; you have to be friendly with everybody. I need to be cheerful to attract customers. I need people to shop in my outlet. So when I frown, how do I get people to approach me? But I don’t like people taking me for granted. When it comes to that, I will make my boundary known. Aside the movie industry, I have always been a cheerful person.
I don’t underrate people, and I don’t like that for myself too. So if you feel that I can’t fit into your level, I shift. But for me, I carry everybody along.
What is the reception like when you are in the public having been away for some time?
I have this face that everybody wants to reckon with. So anywhere I am, people are like Chioma Toplis is around because I just flow. I have not been in a place that people would start shuffling themselves. If I see anybody doing that, then they have problem with themselves and not me. I can not enter any crowd and they won’t notice that I am there. That is how God has made me.
How easy is it raising three kids?
It is God’s doing; three is not much. Though, they are a handful. I have people with seven kids. My kids are cool headed, except for my boy. But boys will always be boys.
And the environment has not had any negative effect on them?
That is the worst place to raise children, though people might not know. But I have also discovered that Nigeria is also getting to that level. That was the reason I brought my son to school here. Nowadays, the way parents are bringing up their children here, is becoming as bad as that place too. But the good thing about here is that you can discipline your children. Over there, you can’t discipline your them the way you want to. But thank God, everything went smoothly, they are all grown-ups now.
Source: The Nation