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GAYNOR IN WOOLWORTHS (article first published : 2006-05-18)

Wander into any major Woolworths store and your attention will be caught immediately by the large scale photographs of top names featured in Woolworths’ ongoing advertising campaign featuring “real, creative South Africans”.

One of the latest personalities to be included in this project is Durban actress and promotional speaker, Gaynor Young. A legendary figure on the South African theatre scene, Gaynor miraculously escaped death in a fall from the State Theatre stage down an unguarded life shaft in 1989 while playing Guinevere during a production of Camelot. She sustained severe brain damage and now limps, has tunnel vision and is spastic on her right side. She is also deaf.

However, her indomitable courage and faith have not dimmed her natural infectious energy, verve and impish sense of humour.

Refusing to be bowed by any physical shortcomings, she has produced two one-woman shows - My Plunge to Fame and Gaynor Rising. The former title was also the name of her successful book. She was nominated for a Fleur du Cap award for Gaynor Rising and is also a recipient of a special Durban Theatre Award judges’ award for her commitment and passion to theatre. In 2001, she was invited to promote her book at the international DeafWay festival in Washington DC.

Last year, Gaynor was looking around for sponsorship to take Gaynor Rising to Johannesburg. Having been a devoted shopper at Woolworths, she approached them for support in return for promoting the company at all performances. Since her accident she is no longer able to drive so she pointed out that her life is made much easier, with Woolworths being situated directly across the road from her flat. As her right hand is spastic, chopping up food for a meal is particularly onerous so their prepared sliced, diced and chopped foods are perfect for her.

Kate Fordyce, Deputy MD of TBWA\FUSION, promptly replied saying that Gaynor’s achievements over the past several years were a “positive inspiration”. While they were unable to sponsor her show per se, Woolworths would like to include her in their campaign featuring “real, creative South Africans” for the Winter 2006 season. The resultant fee would then go towards mounting her show in Johannesburg.

Accompanied by her beloved cockatiel Pandora, who goes everywhere possible with her, Gaynor headed for Cape Town in January. The theme of the shoot was “Creativity” and Gaynor followed well-known personalities Jana Cilliers, Sandra Prinsloo and Antoinette Kellerman. “All those beautiful women … and then there was me!” remembers Gaynor, with a grin.

In the studio, she was dressed in a black polo-necked jersey with attractive colourful embroidery, a rust-coloured skirt and black boots. The boots caused a slight problem as Gaynor is now unable to walk in high heels but all she had to do was wear them in a sitting pose. Pandora sat calmly in her cage next to her while the photographer snapped away. Gaynor did put her on her shoulder at one stage but thinks that despite Pandora’s love of being in the limelight, she was happy to be returned to her cage!

Before the shoot was due to end, Cape Town was struck by one of the power cuts that had been plaguing the city at the time but Gaynor enjoyed every minute of the shoot. “I had a beautiful flight home. Woolworths had booked me in Business Class. They really spoil you,” she smiled happily.

“It was an absolute pleasure to work with Gaynor and we're very excited to have her in our campaign,” says Lisa Wagener, Womenswear Brand Manager of Woolworths.

NB: Since writing this article, Gaynor’s adored Pandora has died. She is now training a new cockatiel who rejoices in the name of Emelia!




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