TV host, former, model and producer, Jeanille Bonterre is on a beach in St Lucia - Reduit Bay to be exact. She is walking on the sand and soaking up the sun and sea sipping on her favourite drink, coconut water.
The soothing waves and tropical ambience feel like heaven to her. "I just love the beach. I grew up going to the beach for vacation in Toco, Mayaro, close to home in Chaguaramas where I used to fish for fun and of course the beautiful and pristine Tobago," the tanned Trini to the bone declares.
The night before she attended the CBS affiliate, One Caribbean Network's Christmas party at a hotel a few miles away and earlier she wrapped up yet another episode of her popular show on One Caribbean network, Island Xclusive "I just love St Lucia and the Caribbean as a whole. I believe that we are versatile, talented and I am proud to be from this region and more importantly Trinidad and Tobago. I have always embraced my culture and now I am getting the opportunity to showcase my world to the world," she continues. As she saunters along the crystal clear surf, her locks glistening against the backdrop of other Caribbean people also appreciative of their island treasures, Bonterre is a stand-out. They all look at her in admiration, they recognise her from TV. Some know her from Island Xclusive, others from MTV Tempo and later Tempo's Downtown Island, their concert series Live and Direct and their Caribbean HIV/AIDS awareness campaign CHOICES and the younger ones from Tempo Network Cable Channel.
A few of the bystanders ask for autographs, some blush and marvel at her presence and others mimic her signature lines from her shows but everyone is happy to be in the company of the beautiful Bonterre.
"I don't see what they see. I am an ordinary person. I guess when people see you on TV they think that that you are a star but its hard work being in the media business as a woman and as a Caribbean person. You have to earn the respect of your viewers; it doesn't happen overnight. You have to be a role model to the youth and you have to be easy-going and stay grounded and humble as you are as happy as the audience you entertain," she says.
It's amazing that Bonterre doesn't know the effect she has on her fans. Just talking to her I realise that she is a rare type, one who is blessed with a true sense of identity and quintessential beauty inside and outside, she has the gift to join regions and people via a TV screen.
Even the artistes and personalities she interviews fall in love with her poised but comfortable style. From David Rudder (one of the first artistes she interviewed during her first stint as a host of TV6 youth TV show, Nettwork at the tender age of 18) to Damian Marley (after his interview he advised that she work for MTV which she did in later years). They all love her flair which comes from her ability to be herself on camera.
"I was an avid reader growing up. I used to read a lot of Britannica encyclopaedias, National Geographic books and Time magazines; it was my way of broadening my horizons. I learned a lot about other regions through books. I wasn't an Internet babe; my knowledge came from traditional means which were very effective. I was in an era where Rikki Tiki and Teen Talent were hit shows for youth; I was even on Rikki Tikki with host Uncle Ian once. Also, having six siblings, I learned how to create and enjoy my own space. I guess these factors granted me the skills of a good host/broadcaster. I am never nervous on air, I love what I do so I think that helps," she says.
Born and bred in Glencoe, in west Trinidad, the tall St Joseph's Convent alumnae derived from the humble roots of a caterer mom and a talented dad who danced for Culture and Arts ensemble, Little Carib Theatre. Arts and culture were always in her bones. "I grew up watching my mom cooking her authentic local dishes for her catering business, watching my dad master dance and spending time at my uncle Richard's (popular Carnival bandleader, Richard Afong) mas camp. I was always surrounded by people who embraced creativity and a true identity of self. This exposure had a great effect on me and my career choice. I am even a cooking aficionado now courtesy my mom's influence," says the Fusion (synergy between European and Caribbean cooking styles) culinary expert. Her family and her patriotism is where she gets her energy and signature "Jeanille" vibe which is infectious to the greater world.
"On Island Xclusive I have covered many Caribbean and Trinbagonian festivals and modes of living. From Divali to Crop Over, I try my best to give international viewers a taste of the diverse culture of our region. Our music, our language, our food, our dance, our mode of life are indeed interesting and unique and people throughout the world appreciate our intrinsic features. We should as well!" Bonterre insists.
Inserts into her raving resume of working stints and accolades including MTV's TEMPO and One Caribbean Network, comprise of silver screen appearances on the debut film Hit For Six which won her the Best Actress award at the prestigious Bridgetown Film Festival and BET Networks' Island Lime on their sister network BET J (now CENTRIC TV) in the US and on BET Networks in Europe. These extraordinary opportunities took her brand of journalism and talent to the next level as she created a slate of Caribbean programming for BET with the docu-series When the Walls Talk, the groundbreaking music series The Top 20 Greatest Moments in Reggae, the spoken word series Word Sound Power, the live acoustic show Soundcheck and the concert series Island Specials adding executive producer, director and writer to her credits.
Bonterre's broadcasting talents have been her passport to everywhere - Australia, India, the UK and South Africa to name a few, but there is one trip which was a cut above the rest - her trip to Ethiopia. "I travelled to Ethiopia to do a documentary and I was blessed with the experience of meeting the grandson of the Emperor Most High, Haille Selassie I. Would you have guessed that he didn't have dreadlocks? It was the most memorable experience of my life. I was fortunate to also attend an Ethiopian Orthodox mass which was out of this world. Two to three hours and I was amazed by it all. I got a very good reception from the Ethiopians. I was surprised to see that they kept hailing me out as 'Irie Rasta' and some even reckoned that I was Bob Marley's granddaughter," the Caribbean empress states .
While she doesn't follow everything in the Rastafarian religion, her heart is "rasta". A vegetarian and very introspective person she is in touch with her spirituality which feeds her ambition and successes in life.
"Working with One Caribbean is just one of my major strides, as I have many frontiers of success in the media industry to conquer. You know how every seven years we go through major life changes? I think I have a couple more for bigger things. I believe that whatever your career aspirations are, you focus and go after it. Believe in yourself and trust that your spirit will always guide you towards the path of prosperity. As long as I can I will promote my beautiful islands and celebrate who I am as a Trinidadian woman! We have to get Caribbean people to love their own culture; we have to promote our talents right here at home because the people of the world are already on board," she extends.
Who knows where fate will lead the dreadlocked queen of TV? Perhaps some more beaches of the Caribbean, Accra Beach in Barbados, Pigeon Point in Tobago, Canary Islands or Hawaii, but regardless of where Jeanille Bonterre walks, talks or interviews, she will leave her indelible mark on the international surf.
CREDITSPhotography: Sean Michael FieldWardrobe: Sonia NoelEyewear: Eye Focus Inc.Watch: T.W. Steel for Diamonds International St LuciaStylist: Richard YoungLocstylist: Kelly BenjaminLocation: Bay Gardens Beach Resort, St Lucia