Meet the Norwich model, actress, poet and dancer who met comic Russell Brand while working at the Olympic Games in London this summer
PUBLISHED: 08:44 07 September 2012
It has been a summer of celebration for Donna Africa, real name Donna Thompson, who turned 53 earlier this month just weeks after helping to bring the curtain down on an inspiring Olympic Games.
Donna, from Sprowston Road, Norwich, was a mechanical audience leader at the spectacular closing ceremony inside the Olympic Stadium just as she was a couple of weeks earlier in the Danny Boyle-inspired opening show.
The mother-of-one, who was born in Harare but has lived in Norwich since 2004, was part of a team responsible for hundreds of audience members, giving cheer, spirit, morale, meeting and greeting them, handing out their programme and 3D glasses.
Donna said: “The Olympic Games, that was my highlight. I’ve got my certificates for both the ceremonies. It was the best show on earth. It’s indescribable, I’m really so proud of being part of the show. I’m just really proud of Britain, the show we put on, the athletes, the atmosphere and the great support. I really thought it was quite magical, enchanting, inspiring and uplifting.
“The closing ceremony, people were off their feet, all the music it was magical, it was just fantastic. When the fireworks went off and the confetti...I pinched myself – ‘is this real?’”
Donna, who first auditioned to take part in the Olympics more than a year ago said she wanted to thank Danny Boyle, creative director of the opening ceremony, for the “honour and privilege” of taking part.
The certificates from the opening and closing ceremonies are two very proud possessions, but so too is a picture of her and comedian Russell Brand which was snapped while rehearsing for the closing ceremony.
She said: “I was there behind the scenes and was lucky to meet Russell Brand. We were doing rehearsals that day and he came on to the field of play. I don’t normally rush up to these people but my colleague said ‘go on Donna go and speak to him’.
“He had all these girls around him and thought he wouldn’t look at me. I said: “Russell, I’m from Zimbabwe, can I have a picture?” and he said “sure”. It was a highlight.”
The controversial comic is the latest in a long line of celebrities Donna has met in her own quest for success which has seen her audition and appear on a number of hit shows including Britain’s Got Talent, The Weakest Link and X-Factor.
Donna made it through to the televised auditions of this year’s X-Factor competition – even though her act is not a singing performance.
She appeared at the Manchester auditions, dressed in her Zulu warrior outfit, hoping that Sangoma Performance Poet Act – Asimbonanga will impress the show’s judges which include Gary Barlow, Tulisa Contostavlos, Louis Walsh and former Spice Girl Mel B.
Donna, who is remaining tight-lipped as to whether or not she made it through, said she had a “fantastic day” and met the likes of Jedward and Dermot O’Leary as well as getting the chance to present some of her poetry to Louis Walsh.
She said: “I was really impressed with Jedward. They are lovely guys. They were suited and booted and such gentlemen, very engaging.
“I did get petrified when I actually got to the stage bit and you see Dermot O’Leary and the directors. They let you look on to the stage and it was terrifying. There was a sea of lights and all those thousands of people and the judges.”
Despite her fears, Donna said she was able to go through with her routine in front of the celebrity judges.
Born in Zimbabwe, Donna lived there until she was 21 when she emigrated to South Africa.
As a young girl Donna dreamed of being a writer or an actress but it was not something she was able to even contemplate until after she had moved to Norwich.
Donna, who has worked on The Herald newspaper in Rhodesia, the Star in Johannesburg and the Cape Argus in Cape Town, came to Norwich in 2004 to be closer to her late mother, Joan, who lived near Bishopgate in Norwich and was diagnosed with cervical cancer and who died in 2007.
She said: “When I came here I felt inspired by the British people and your culture. Coming here to somewhere I hadn’t seen – it was all new to me.
“England is at the forefront of media entertainment, pop music culture and it inspired me to finally realise my dreams as a young girl – since I was 10 I wanted to write and act. Coming here was just like opening my eyes and giving me the opportunity to realise my dreams.”
Donna, who said she loves the “beauty” and tranquility of Norwich and Norfolk and its proximity to the coast and countryside, has done a lot of work for charity and continues to pursue her love of acting, performing, poetry and dancing.
She is disappointed not to be employed but insists she will never give up. She said: “My message is never give up – I’ve never given up on my dreams. I feel like giving up some days but I keep going and one of these days, who knows? I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”