…People still see me as the face of Gulder

By BENJAMIN NJOKU

When you hear the name, Bob Manuel-Udokwu, the first thing that will come to your mind is the now rested Gulder Ultimate Search reality TV show. The show, while it lasted kept Nigerians’ eyes glued to their TV screens with the seasoned actor as the hero of GUS.

For five years, Udokwu anchored GUS (from 2007-2011) and took the show to its heights before it was finally rested by the Nigerian Breweries, producers of the show in 2016.

However, despite veering into politics, and doing well for himself, the multi-talented actor, still has strong affinity with the epic reality show, following the experience he gathered while anchoring it.

In this interview with Showtime Celebrity, Udokwu recalls how people still associate him not only with the show but also, with Gulder as a brand. He also reveals how the reality show helped to introduce another dimension to his creativity, and why Nigerian Breweries never gave him a branded car as a parting gift after five years of anchoring the show.

Udokwu, who debuted in Nollywood in the 1992 movie, “Living in bondage” also reels out some of his accomplishments since assuming office as the Senior Special Assistant on Creative Media, Movie and Entertainment to the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, Udokwu.

Excerpt:

Your fans wonder whether politics has taken over your interest in acting

Some people say that but politics has not taken me away from acting . It’s actually because of what I do that I was found worthy of being part of the political administration of Anambra State. I have not been totally out of the picture, I still feature in movies.

Even my political appointment was predicated on the job I do in the industry. So, my designation is Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Anambra State on creative media with emphasis on movie and entertainment industry.

If I don’t go into the entertainment industry once in a while to know what’s going on in the industry, how would I be able to advice the government of Anambra State on how to continue to liaise with the entertainment industry. So, I am very much around. I am still very much in the game. Though there are other things which I am doing that people will begin to see very soon. For me, when I do things in the industry, it’s for me to know what I am doing. But in the end, the public will see it.

You have been part of Willie Obiano’s administration from inception, what will you say you have done to boost the entertainment industry in Anambra state?

Anambra State has become entertainment friendly because the governor is one who takes entertainment very seriously. He lived in the United States and he knows that Hollywood, which is domiciled in California is one of the mainstay of California’s economy as a state in America. So, he encourages the entertainment industry.

That’s why he enhanced the Ministry that used to be for Culture and Tourism, which is now, Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Culture, Tourism and Indigenous Art Works. With that, everybody who’s supposed to be in every aspect of the entertainment industry is captured under that ministry.

A lot of film makers usually come to Anambra State to shoot their movies. The entertainment industry is thriving in Anambra. Nightlife that was non-existence in Anambra is there now. In 2017 Easter Sunday, we had one of the biggest and most innovative concerts in the state. Ten top bands of the 70s were assembled to play on Easter Sunday. We titled it ‘Resurrection Concert. Resurrection because Easter Sunday is resurrection remembrance of Christ. These were musicians of the 70s, people didn’t know they were still alive and playing music.

The likes of Sweet Breeze band, One World, Semi-Colon, Action among others were assembled to play at Ekweme’s Square in Awka. It was a wonderful experience, just as 2019 November Christmas carol was innovative too. Most people didn’t know that blind people also can sing. We had a hundred-man mass choir that caught across all the christian denominations we have in Anambra State. We blended them in one single hundred-man choir. They were wearing the same uniform, on the stage at the same time singing Christmas song. You wouldn’t spot any difference.

Are you thinking of going into full time politics?

In 2015, I was among those who vied for a ticket to represent my constituency, Idimili North in the State House of Assembly. For some reason, the party didn’t give me the ticket. That shows you that if I had done that in 2015, it means that my mind is still there.

How was your experience anchoring one of the biggest reality TV shows in Nigeria, Gulder Ultimate Search that bought you fame and fortune?

I remember Gulder Ultimate Search with nostalgia because of the experience I had in anchoring the show. I was the longest anchor of the show for the 10 years it ran. I anchored the show for more than five years because of the innovation and style I brought to bear in the presentation. GUS didn’t stop because I left the show. Nigerian Breweries stopped the show at the same time I was leaving. It might be a coincidence, but at least, I am still in touch with the authorities at the Nigerian Breweries.

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There has been an overwhelming desire for the Gulder Ultimate Search to come back. And they were actually going to bring it back last year but for the COVID-19 and the lock-down that destabilized the economic activities.

They thought we can’t bring back a show like this, which exposes people to bodily contact when there is a lock-down across the world. According to them, they want to look at the process of healing and decide whether it will come back when the coast is clear. I think they have that in mind. I must continue to commend the management of Nigerian Breweries for that opportunity.

They gave me the opportunity of travelling to very spectacular places in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the leadership of this country is not taking advantage of the natural environment we have unlike some of the countries in the southern region of Africa such as Namibia,Zimbabwe, Uganda among others, where wild-life and tourism are the mainstay of their economy.

In Rwanda, which has one of the biggest collections of Chimpanzees, they have an annual ceremony where they go to name the chimpanzees and tourists throng the country to be part of the ceremony. Unfortunately, because of the prevailing insecurity, a lot of Nigerians are now leaving the country, not to talk of foreigners coming into the country. These are the things I saw during the Gulder Ultimate Search that we have spectacular places in this country, which many people are not aware of. If we explore these tourism potentials very well, we might be able to generate a lot of funds to boost the country’s economy.

Are you coming back with the Gulder Ultimate Search?

It’s for the management of Nigerian Breweries to decide if and when. And I will be honoured to be back as the anchor of the new Gulder Ultimate Search.

What was it like being the anchor of the reality TV show for more than five years?

It was a wonderful experience. It gave me a different perspective and also introduced another dimension to my creativity. Being a reality show, it didn’t have a formal script like movie script. What we had was a story line that kept changing as the show was progressing because we must have a winner and it had a timeline. If it was 30 days in the jungle, it must be 30 days and within that 30 days, you must find the artifact or the treasure.

And you must shoot the programme in any circumstances. If it was too sunny you must do the work, if it was raining you must do the work. If the weather was overcast or there was flood you must do the work. For me, it was an eye-opener and for the fact that I was able to anchor it for about five years out of 10 years, I think both myself and Nigerian Breweries were satisfied with what our output was. Like I said earlier, it’s an honour and a privilege to anchor that show on that big platform and I am happy I didn’t disappoint.

Were you prepared for that task before you were chosen to anchor the show?

I am a trained actor. I was trained by one of the very best in this country, late Ola Rotimi who authored the ‘Gods are not to Blame.’ I remember the first time I was penciled down to anchor the show, and when it was finally revealed that I was going to be the anchor, a female journalist approached me and said, ‘Bobby you are a good actor but this is a reality TV show.

You don’t look rugged, how do you think you can anchor the show?’ All I told her was, let’s wait till the end of the show, then you can do your assessment. By the time I finished anchoring the show in 2007, she came back to me and was almost crying. She said ‘I underrated you .’ This was because I took the show from the level where I met it to very high up.

That was why for five years, I was in charge of the show. Many people saw me as the face of Gulder, not realizing that anybody who won each edition became the brand ambassador of the product. That was why Nigerian Breweries never gave me a branded SUV car till today.

I don’t begrudge the company for that, but I think it’s the right thing to do, to give me a parting gift. They might still do it I don’t know. But I think it was deserving because it will be a mobile advert for them. Every day, I answer questions on Gulder Ultimate Search. Till date, people still see me as the face, the strength and the character of Gulder, the ultimate.

At a point the show almost overtook your career as an actor

It was also part of the show business. If you take away two months out of twelve calendar months to anchor the reality show, I used the remaining ten months to do other things. But I must be honest with you, Gulder Ultimate Search was very tensed. For each time Gulder Ultimate Search was on, and I was anchoring it, it challenged everything in me.

In Gulder Ultimate Search, I quoted from the Bible, I quoted from Williams Shakespeare, and I also quoted from authorities. I always conducted research to know how to impart, not just on the contestants but also the viewers. There was a time we ended the show, I met one student who told me that one of their lecturers, in the course of teaching them, said ‘I hope you people are watching Bob-Manuel in Gulder Ultimate Search. Last night, he touched on a certain topic that is germane on our course of study.

If you are not watching the reality show, start now to watch it because you might get one or two questions from me on the show during the examinations.’ It shows that GUS was not only educating, but also, it was entertaining and didactic. More so, it was for public enlightenment and it gave the young people the opportunity to find out their strength of character. It equally showed that nothing is impossible.

Even if you feel that you are a weak person and you are able to watch Gulder Ultimate Search, you can draw strength from fellow young people and they become your role models. Nigerian Breweries did another interesting thing. After each show from the time I came in, I would take the contestants to meet with their various state governments as youth ambassadors. And I’m proud to say that I got many state governments to give the contestants scholarships because they were mostly students then. That was because the Nigerian Breweries approved that after the show, we should take it further by taking them to their various state governments for them to see that these young people stand out in the mix of those that have no ambition.

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