Famous actress, Didi Ekanem, speaks to JOHNNY EDWARD about her sports life and how Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney influenced her love for football. She also share her experience in athletics growing up
A beautiful actress like you must have participated in sports while growing up tell us which sports you were involved in while growing up?
It was fun though. I started out as a sprinter, particularly the 100m where I was actually good, I mean I was a rising star. I used to win races back then in my secondary school. I found athletics quite interesting and I was eager to join and make a name for myself but sporting activities in school back then was not something you wanted to think off to join as a career.
But I can remember a particular inter-house sports event that I took part in where I lost a race and was crying over the tracks afterwards. It was the first time I lost on the tracks and it was painful., Ever since then I did not compete again.
So what took that passion away?
Laughs. Where would I be running to? I wanted to be busy. I found other things more interesting and I went for it. Though growing up back then I adored Chioma Ajunwa – the first woman to win an individual gold medallist for Nigeria at the 1996 Olympics. She was a sprinter back then and I used to admire her a lot.
Did your parents support you career as an actress?
My dad supported my career but it was not easy. Initially, I told my dad that I wanted to become a lawyer, and he also wanted that. That was why I bagged a Diploma in Law. I was supposed to switch over to a law degree through ‘direct entry’ into second year if I passed. But, I did not pass because there were a lot of distractions. I then changed my mind from wanting to be a lawyer to being an actor. When I initially told my dad that I wanted to become an actress, he said I should forget about it. But, I stood my ground, and he said if I wanted to become an actor, I would have to complete my studies. Afterwards, he started supporting me. He even paid for the film school I attended.
So since you have a passion for athletics, are you pleased with the way athletics is being run in Nigeria?
To be honest, I’m not the right person to say this but it seems like they don’t regard the athletes well enough.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria don’t provide good facilities for athletes to train well. I feel both the federation and the government is not giving them enough attention like they should like other countries do.
The US, Russia and the Great Britain offer their athletes quality training but we just help our athletes compete and not help them win medals.
When was the last time you saw a football match?
The last time was in 2022 at the Africa Cup of Nations.
So you did not watch the Super Eagles lose and avenge their defeat to Guinea-Bissau this past week?
I did not but I feel losing to Guinea-Bissau was down to not putting the right things in order. We have good players and I feel with the right motivation and environment, as a nation we can get things right and show what we are capable of as a team to the world.
Would you allow your children go into sports?
Of course, I’d love one of my sons to be a footballer.
Which football star will you love him to be like?
Cristiano Ronaldo. Every parent will love their kids to become like Ronaldo or Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappe. But the football star who made me love football was Wayne Rooney. He had a telly tubby look. I loved Rooney when he played for Manchester United. As far back as 2006 I followed his career. Back then I had a boyfriend who was a United fan and I used to follow him to watch their games. I used to laugh each time I see him on the pitch but what was synonymous to him was that he scores goals. He made me start watching football and he is still my favorite football star.
As an actress, what challenges have you faced?
There have been lots of challenges. When I got into the industry, I realised that there were many things taken as norms that I had to follow suit. One of the biggest challenges I had was sourcing for jobs. It was always as if one was harassing producers, majority of whom are men. One had to constantly call them and ask to be featured in their movies. When people talk about sexual harassment, I don’t put all the blame on the producers because it is not easy when woman are harassing them. I cannot really remember if I have been a victim of cyber bullying. I don’t carry myself as a celebrity. I have not really done any negative thing that has been on social media for people to troll me.
When you’re not acting what do you do?
I am more of a businesswoman right now. I haven’t acted in the past five years. I have a fashion business called Shop ODOT, as well as a food business, which I started in March 2022. That is the project I am currently working on because the business is still very new. I am trying to put the business out there because I want people to know about it.
Who did you look up to as an actress?
I grew up watching a lot of Nigerian movies, especially at the time when Genevieve Nnaji was reigning. That was when I developed interest in becoming an actor. I felt Genevieve was an outstanding actress, and her beauty and persona stood out. I just wanted to be like her. Aside from acting, I love make-up. If I was not doing fashion and food business, I would have become a make-up artist. It is something I will still do anyway.