The Untold story of Clarion Chkwurah
•Meeting, falling in and out of love with Shina Peters
•How she had her son at 18
•Her escapades on stage and on screen
There is no better way to describe this encounter with the famed Queen of the tube Clarion Chkwurah than to call it a classic.
It is a story never told before about the rise, the fall and the come back to fame of this Onitsha, Anambra State born actress whose checkered story could on its merit make a movie.This is her story ;
Money Power, was it your first movie?
It was my first movie but wasn't my first entrance into the industry.
Between 1982 and today, tell us how it has been and all that had happened to you before now?
Since 1982 till date, it's been explosive. It's been from one mountain to one hill and valley and back up to the mountain.
The movie Money Power actually started everything. It started my journey to stardom, to adulthood to motherhood and through all the challenges I faced, the different views of Clarion Chukwurah that people had presented out of their own opinion that was not the real Clarion.
The real Clarion only came out through one journalist who was able to peep through and present the real Clarion.
Let's take it step by step. Money Power brought you into stardom, adulthood and motherhood and you were barely in your teens. Can you talk about each of them from the beginning?
Yes, I was seventeen years old then. Money Power as a film, was an example of what used to happen among my teens in the acting industry then.
If an actor or actress gets into a good play with a frontline director, the right people will watch it and that could be a stepping stone for you to get to the next level.
As at that time, I was an undergraduate in the then University of Ife and we came to Lagos to perform the premier production of Wole Soyinka's Camwood on the leaves at the National Theatre.
In that particular play we did a seven days performance and the particular performance that gave me a role in Money Power was the Command Martini performance which came on the 6th performance. The play had all the who is who coming to watch, because it was Wole Soyinka directed and it was a National Theatre production.
And unknown to me, in the audience was Ola and Francois Balogun. At the end of the play, I went to the back stage and noticed that a lot of people wanted to talk to me at once. Wole Soyinka's mother said she wanted to know if her son sat me down to tell me the kind of person he was as a teenager because she felt that I couldn't have acted out her emotions as I acted the role of a mother.
Until she asked me the question, I didn't know I was performing her character and so I was like, God so that was you, that was all that you put this woman through and he (Kongi) was just laughing.
Ola Balogun and his wife asked if I've ever done a film or been in front of the camera. I said yes that I've been in the front of the camera for television and also for a film that wasn't finished.
Meeting with Shina Peters
They told me that my acting “is so fantastic” that as they watched from the beginning, the flow of emotions to end of the play for about one and half hours they saw the character of Yemi in me.
I was made to understand that they had cast the character of one Maureen for that role but seeing me perform so well on stage, and they changed their mind.
We were to do the 7th performance that night and leave for Ife the next morning and I was to come back after a week to meet with Shina Peters so we could audition together to see if both of us could flow together.
It was amazing how both of us were crying together in a scene we were lovers in the film. The character Yemi was just about my age and Shina Peters played the role of a 22 year old journalist.
Yemi's parents were dead poor and wanted to trade her to a rich man who wanted her at all cost in exchange to settle her family. Shina Peter who acted as Jide was a poor journalist and Yemi's father didn't want to see him.
The story of the film was about all that Yemi and Jide went through but at the end of the day, they triumphed and got married.
The rich man who was actually the publisher of the newspaper where Jide was a reporter realising that Jide was his rival threw him out of the job and he went back to the street. Jab Adu who played the role of the editor of the Newspaper fought in vain to keep Jide because he saw no conflict between Jide's job and his private life.
In all, it was a good movie and it gave me the opportunity to meet with the people who were at the top hierarchy in the industry then. I also got to work with Cinecraft, that had the duo of Tunde Kalani and Wale Fanu as camera crew and they were the ones who got me onto Mirror in the Sun.
Falling In Love
My falling in love with Shina Peter happened at the point we were rehearsing for the theme song. Shina produced the sound track for that movie and we recorded the song together.
The whole process started quite naturally. It began when he started buying me apples, taking me to Ikoyi Park. And by the time we were doing the shooting movie Money Power I was already two months pregnant but people didn't know. The secret was kept between us and the make-up artist, Aunty Peju.
Anger and Condemnations
I was still in school when this happened and naturally my mother wasn't happy. Everybody was condemning both of us and the heat made me drop out of school. I was 18 while he was 24 when Clarence was born.
We were just two young people who were in love, so the anger shown by my mother and the disappointment exhibited by all those who believed in me shattered my world at that time. And on his on part, he was admonished for engaging in a relationship with me and people like the late Chief Olu Aboderin of Punch and Chief Dapo Tejuosho advised that he leaves me alone.
I didn't want to get married to Shina because I was still young and in school. It was not something I went into because I wanted to get married, it just happened. I was just a teenager who didn't understand what I was going into.
I actually told him that I wanted to finish school and become a big star. And he said, “you think you can become a big star just because you acted in one film?”. But deep inside me I knew I was going to make it big and this I told him. Often we'd get into argument because of this.
The Fights and the Lack of Support
Shina lived in Lagos while I lived in Ife. He will come to visit me in school and we will get into one form of argument or the other. And as soon as he leaves, I will write him a stinker and he replied saying, “I will read your letters some day to your son to explain what happened between the two of us when he was a baby.”
And don't ask if he carried out his threat because he did just that. Laughing she said, one day he stole my son and showed those nasty letters to him.
But I wouldn't want us to talk about his role as a father because my son has asked that I stopped talking about it.
The truth is, I felt let down by Shina, but I forgave him because soon after he abandoned us, he started having problems with his career and his relationship with other women.
He was just going from one relationship to the other because of the kind of industry that juju music was then and how people like him were not given any chance by the women.
And when he recovers from any of such sour relationships, he will just show up and say he is sorry and he will disappear for like two years again.
I wouldn't say the industry stole Shina from me. He was already deep into it when I met him but today, Shina Peters remains my first love and we are still very good friends. We talk, crack jokes together, abuse each other playfully and so on.
But all the fights that happened between us are in the past. Right now I have a very wonderful and caring man in my life. A man who has accepted me for who and what I am.
The role of the Media
At a point my career went down in the early 90's for three reasons. First the industry was going through the metamorphosis of the era of the Soap Opera to Home Video. The change saw new people coming into the industry and it also saw the emergence of the coming in of the Igbo entrepreneurs who depended on the directors they had and people they knew.
Secondly, Shina Peters made a come back and felt that the only way he could get favour was by running me down in the press. I was having a really bad press.
The press boys were those press close to Shina and they felt that Shina Peter had a vendetta with me and they were giving me a lot bad press. On his part, Shina fueled the situation and that didn't help at all.
At that time I was financially down and I needed him to take care of Clarence (his son) and the woman in his life then was scared. She felt that I wanted to come back and reap where I did not sow and all that.
I got married to Tunde Abiola and had two kids, a girl whom I lost after seven weeks and a boy (Bode).
I lost my daughter the previous year, because I didn't breast feed her well enough. And I didn't breastfeed her because I didn't want to lose my figure immediately I had her. So because of this I told myself that I wasn't going to work so I can give Bode all the care he needed. Bode's father was very supportive and I was never lacking financially.
Two years after, I went to work on the English stages to save enough money and get more formal training as an actress. This lasted for six months.
The Return of Queen Clarion
My come back was achieved largely because of my acting ability. When I came back, the first three movies I did were to play sub roles but before the movies were half way through, the producers and directors just realised that I had taken over the lead role.
You need to remember that I was coming from a long way back, so I was bringing with me a lot of experience, skill, training and don't forget also that it was not easy to have acted on stage for white audiences as a black. You will virtually get no laughter or applause, to succeed you have to be really good to get the applause. So I was coming back with that strength that I had used to conquer the white audience.
Falling from Grace to Grass and back to Grace
When I became broke and couldn't cater for myself and my son like I said earlier, I had to look up to Shina to at least cater for his son. And that decision turned out to be a very fatal action. The media feasted on me.
It was terrible, so terrible that I took to drinking and smoking packets of cigarettes like hell. But I never taught about killing myself because of my son.
My father died when I was very young so I didn't want to leave my son (Clarence) to go through what I went through. I wanted to be there for him and I was also praying because I have always had this feeling that God loves me. I will sit down and ask God, why? .
I had this never die spirit in me and I survived, but it was hell. When I walk the streets, people looked at me with disdain and disgust, as if I had shit all over me. And all those places and people who saw me like that, I always go around them. In my heart I was like, keep looking at me and you are going to see me become big soon.
Today I have seen some of the people who rejected me and called me names coming back to get my acquaintance and want to identify with me. And I will look at them and laugh (because I know it's not by my power but the mercy of God that turned things around for me) but I don't push them away.
The movie industry
The return of the older generation of actors and actresses is a pointer to the fact that the industry is beginning to mature and ready to move to next level. It's only in this country that you see colleagues (younger ones) wanting older colleagues to leave the industry for them because they feel that you have been there, but this idea is very sickening and shows their level of mediocrity.
The Clarion Chukwurah Helpline Initiative
The Clarion Chukwurah Helpline Initiative is not an NGO. It was inspired from when I was 19 years. I used to have this dream where I saw myself with kids and right from when I rented my first flat (I was 19 years) I've always had people coming to me (younger people and kids) with one problem or the other and I will go talk to their parents.
It was something I inherited from my father. My father was somebody my younger brother called Johnny Be Good.
I grew up in a home where we had people who were not related to us leaving with us and my father was paying their school fees and taking care of them. And sometimes I will get angry but I didn't know I was the person that will take after him. Somehow he knew, because he was giving me information on why it is necessary to help others as if he also knew he would leave us early.
As the personnel manager of Sunflag Textile Mills, my father will bring bundles of clothes and while the tailor will be taking my measurement, he will also be measuring the other children on the same number of wears he was going to make for me.
And when the goldsmith comes to take my design of Jewelries he will equally take the designs for the other children and this also was very annoying.
Another thing that inspired me was that I had always been around women who really cared about the plight of abused children because when my father died we went through a lot of hard time from members of my father's family but I don't want to talk about it because they have pleaded with me to stop talking about it. But the fact remains that they didn't do the right thing for me and my brother.
The project and the journey so far
Clarion Chukwurah Helpline Initiative is a project that will eventually metamorphose into the Clarion Chukwurah Foundation for the less privileged children, and youths especially the physically and mentally challenged and the abused ones. A lot of people in this country have so much sad stories to tell that will make you understand that there is a mass responsibility between Nigerian men and women when it comes to their offspring.
I started running this project with money from my pocket and I'm still doing that till date. In the few months we've operated, we have worked with the Arrows of God Orphanage Home, Olusoye Compensatory Centre for children and youths with learning disability, Juvenile welfare centre, Heritage Orphanage homes, Modupe Home for the mentally and physically challenged, Compassionate Outreach and also homes outside Lagos, Kogi and Kwara States amongst others.
The objective of the foundation is to let people know where these homes are, what they are going through so that they can go personally and directly to help them and also to get the Federal Government to pass an annual grant bill and make state government to pass same bill and compel them to inculcate children into the Ministry of Women Affairs so as to assist them.
Support for the Organisation
God has been our support and when we now bring people to see these homes for themselves, they now start supporting the homes.
They give directly to the homes not to me. People like Chief Mrs. Essien- Igbokwe has been very helpful to the homes.
She got involved in the Entertainers Star Trek we had on Childrens' Day and she has been doing a lot to help the homes.
Mr Andre Gbinige has also been very supportive to the Arrows of God Orphanage, as he organised a party and visitation for them. Jimmy Jatt was also there with us on Star Trek.
Funmi Tejuosho, the deputy speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly came and supported the heritage homes. Abike Dabiri, Chief Mrs Adunni Bankole came and with two imported boxes of new cloths from England for the children and youths of Modupe Home.
The Clarion Chukwurah Helpine Initiative is out to make people see these homes and when you see, your mind will tell you what to do.