Catherine Kasavuli was born and raised in Nairobi West and went to Ngara Girls High School, but she wouldn’t say her life revolved around town.
“My father would drive my four siblings and I to the village for a two-week vacation during the long school holidays. It was a more of a voyage than a journey. My late father was very conscientious of the family on board the Fiat, so he drove at a safe comfortable pace, giving a little history of all the landmarks on the journey,” she said.
Her journey in the media began in 1980 as a radio continuity announcer when an uncle who listened to her reading the Bible and praying for dinner told her to go for it.
“He said I had a remarkable voice and that my expression, articulation and diction was also very good and urged me to try my luck at the Voice of Kenya where there was a vacancy. That’s how I ended up going for an interview,” says Catherine who was barely 18 at that time.
“We were 10 of us at the interview, but we were scaled down to three. Dorothy Nyong’o, Kisumu Senator Professor Anyang Nyongo’s wife, was in the interviewing panel,” recalls the veteran who has been in the media for over 30 years. She would later join television in 1985.
Thrown into the deep end with no professional training (she went to Kenya Institute of Mass Communication two years into her job), Catherine admits that she was initially timid and that it took her a while to sit in the office.
“I would sit at the office canteen or at the reception, afraid of sitting on someone’s chair and crossing their path.”
The glamorous TV presenter who would later command stellar pay packages began her career on Sh1,500 a month, although she earned a few extra coins voicing commercials.
“I would earn around Sh3,500 from commercials. One time in 1985, I earned Sh25,000 from a commercial and those days that was like Sh2 million! I not only joined a sacco called Sauti Cooperative but also opened an Eaglet account for my son,” she explains.
Catherine was part of founding team that saw the first privately owned station go on air in March 1990.
She was the first anchor to host a live broadcast at the station.
She says her first year at KTN was a discovery as well as novelty because the station was not only savouring freedom of expression but also broadcasting on a different wavelength the UHF ULTRA HIGH FREQUENCY requiring the viewer to purchase and install this new strange looking aerial.
Graduation from the VHF AERIAL used by the state owned broadcaster, it was the coolest thing ever!
But at some point, she says the team went overboard with their reporting, they were summoned to State House. (what exactly happened?)
“That was a close shave. Executive bosses were reprimanded in our presence and we dared not speak or breath. It was tense! But relief came when we were told that despite that misdemeanour, we were professionals with a refreshing approach to news gathering and delivery and were pardoned and directed to be impartial and balanced,” Catherine says.
Minus a house girl Catherine Kasavuli took her baby Martin, to the studio
Catherine became a mother in 1981 and regrets missing some moments of her son Martin Kasavuli’s childhood due to her demanding career.
“There are days I would have loved to have breakfast and dinner with him but I was on the early morning 4am shift or working until midnight. However, I tried my best to take him on holiday – just the two of us,” she says adding that she wishes the moments she missed were recorded on camera so she could watch them over and over again.
“The first time my son saw me on TV, he walked to the screen and started talking to me, but I was not responding. Sadly I was not home to see that. I recounted that story for a while to everyone who came to visit us,” she said.
One time she even went with her son to the studio because she had no house help.
“I warned him not to cough, belch, breath, sigh or break wind! He sat there at a corner in a tiny little chair and watched me read the news. Come to think of it, that was a very big risk. But looking back, I just realise it was all about zeal and commitment. It was quite hilarious though,” she says with a giggle.
Martin who serenaded his mum at her 50th birthday, does not shy from acknowledging the beauty of his mum.
“My mother is 50, but she looks so fiti,” he sang to her before revealing to giggling guests on a light note how she kept him waiting for a whole hour in her office.
“We get along so well, but we also disagree so well,” Martin said at the event adding that he is lucky to have a mother like Catherine.
The veteran broadcaster who takes pride in having trained big names like Jennifer Okungu, Edmond Mudibo, Joseph Warungu, Waweru Njoroge, Zein Verjee, Ahmed Dharwesh and Mwanaisha Chidzuga, believes sharing knowledge and staying humble is what takes one places in the profession.
She credits good rest, feeding well and taking care of her body as the secret to her good looks.
I did not date Kanda Bongo Man -Catherine Kasavuli
Guards at the posh and highly guarded Fairview Hotel along Bishop Road beamed when this writer mentioned the name of Catherine Kasavuli, the ‘Queen of Kenyan Television’. Despite her absence on air, Kenyans are still charmed by undoubtedly their first woman media celebrity.
The silky voiced beauty who wowed and charmed viewers for decades breezed into the hotel slightly late and apologized profusely. Clad in a cream skirt suit, matching fascinator and gold coloured slip-on heels, her infectious smile complemented her well-done make up and bright red nail polish.
Many things are said about those in the media, especially television. Catherine Kasavuli’s happen to be the yarn from rumour mills linking her to the then ‘King of Kwasa Kwasa,’ Kanda Bongo Man in the early 1990s. Catherine was even mentioned in a scandal that led to the musician being deported and banned from Kenya in the middle of a widely publicised tour.
For the first time in decades, Catherine exclusively told The Nairobian details of what happened and how the rumour began. For starters, she denied ever having even met the musician at the time they surfaced.
“A senior politician’s daughter was wedding and they invited Kanda Bongo Man to perform. Unfortunately, Kanda Bongo Man’s visa had expired. I was reading news when he was getting kicked out and I have no clue how my name ended up there,” said the anchor adding that, “It is the price I had to pay for being in the limelight.”
She is however glad that a minister of Information who was hosting Kanda Bongo Man organised for her first meeting with the artiste.
“We went to the airport (with the Minister) where I met the musician for the first time in 2012 when he made his first comeback,” Catherine said adding that, “Kanda sympathised with me for what I went through because of him and I felt sorry for the Kenyan fans he had lost.”
That would not be the last of scandals to follow the celebrated media personality.
“(When was this?) Within three weeks, two men I had never set my eyes on, wrote to Standard Group CEO David Davis accusing KTN of rustrating ‘their wife’ by keeping her in the office to read news until midnight. They said they did not marry me for all the men to see me. My bosses were very worried for me and even beefed up my security,” Kasavuli says.
One of her ‘stalkers’ was allegedly a very senior learned person and the other had just flown into the country.
“I did not know any of them. In fact, I was living with my partner then,” she recalls.
When Catherine approached one of them admitted that he ‘fancied’ her. They were called for questioning by the police and the matter settled. One of them, Kasavuli says, was mentally unstable.