Not based anywhere in particular, PIPPA Francis writes the blog, Phambili. 
Her posts explore people, places and the politics of it all.

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Homecoming: the tale of a Kirkwood farm girl’s unbelievable adventure

Homecoming: the tale of a Kirkwood farm girl’s unbelievable adventure

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Gina Woolley’s zest for life shows not only in her smile but the way she sees the world. The 35-year-old from Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape has lived a bright and colourful life, and says she owes it to grabbing the opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

From growing up on a citrus farm to studying her degree in the scenic town of Stellenbosch, travelling all over southern Africa for a Cape Town destination events company to dealing with queries from those looking to speak to famous musicians at a well-known record label in London, and working for a world-renowned chef, Gina’s early twenties were filled with plenty of fun and excellent work experience.

“When I went to England to pay off my student loan, I ended up working for music company EMI. It was like temping but I loved it because I was young and I had colleagues from all over the world,” she says.

“We were answering phones and people would ask, ‘Can we talk to Katie Perry?’ and we’d have to respond, ‘She’s not in the office at the moment but we can put you through to the PR department!’ It was so funny and such good fun.”

But it was ten years ago when she was offered a job working for Jamie Oliver Ltd that this young woman from the Sundays River Citrus Valley began one of her greatest adventures.

“It was such an opportunity for me in the Nile Street office, opposite Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in London. I was a point of contact for everyone, so I ended up meeting such inspiring, awesome people,” Gina says.

“Jamie is such a good guy. He wants to uplift and empower people and give back to the community. I have such huge respect for him.”
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After just more than a year in that role, Gina was offered a position helping out the family directly. Jamie’s wife, Jools, was soon to give birth to her fourth child. After some uhm-ing and ah-ing and a trip back to South Africa for family reasons, Gina agreed.

“And that was that. Eight and a half years with the family who are my ultimate best people ever,” she says with a grin. There are now five children in the Oliver household; Poppy, Daisy, Petal, Buddy and River.

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During that time, she travelled extensively, with the Olivers and in her personal capacity, once coming across actress Julia Roberts in the school drop-off queue while Jamie was filming “Food Revolution” in the United States.

Gina, a keen open-water swimmer, and a friend completed “the world’s oldest swim”, Hellespont and Dardanelles; the cross-continental, four-and-a-half kilometre swim from Europe to Asia in Turkey. The Hellespont was officially swum for the first time by the poet, Lord Byron more than two centuries ago.

She admits that people often ask her what it was like working for Jamie and Jools Oliver.

“And I always say the same thing. It was amazing! They are (incredible) people and I can’t lie anyway; I am so transparent.”

Gina says she had been thinking about moving back to South Africa for some time before she finally took the plunge in 2018.

“When I went overseas, I never thought it would be for a long period of time. But it was awesome! One year just flowed into the next and I loved London, my job and my friends,” she explains.

“But coming home to South Africa and the farm was always at the back of my mind. I realised that family is so important and everyone is getting older. I wanted to spend quality time with them because I won’t be able to get this time back.”

And it seems that Gina has adjusted smoothly to life in “the valley” once more, although she is happy to leave the actual citrus farming up to her older sister, Marisa.

She has instead started her own range of citrus-based products under ‘The Citrust’ label. Gina produces detoxing bath salts and shower scrubs using orange, lemon and grapefruit. She uses no additives or preservatives and wants all her skin products to be 100 per cent natural and fresh.

“Jamie is always so positive and enthusiastic about people doing good for themselves and others. He knew that my family lived on a citrus farm and he was really excited for me. He said I should use the citrus, take lots of photos and just get involved with the farming products (at my fingertips),” Gina says.

“It is difficult to find citrus-based products from the Sundays River Citrus Valley. This shouldn’t be the case.”

“I hope that ‘The Citrust’ will be a platform for all kinds of citrus-based products from this area, eventually empowering other members of the community as well. “

‘The Citrust’ body scrubs have been welcomed by the local Kirkwood and Addo communities, especially enjoyed by the ladies at Gina’s aerobics class, and have already travelled as far as Kathu in the Northern Cape and Hong Kong. The week she started her new venture, Gina set up a stall at the Addo Rose Fayre, where she sold some of her salts, scrubs and juices. Talk about jumping at every opportunity.

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If starting a new business does not take up enough of her time, Gina also cooks for up-market clientele at a guest house a few nights a week. There is no doubt that this chick gets things done, and fast.
And naturally, there are days when she longs for her fast-paced lifestyle in the United Kingdom.

“What do I miss about London? Everything. I miss driving over Waterloo Bridge and getting excited every time. Obviously, I miss the (Oliver) children and the family and my friends. I miss the availability of music concerts and anything else you want to do, and driving out to the countryside. I just miss the hustle and bustle. I even miss the Queen,” she says in jest.

“Then again, I love the chilled life here on the farm and being close to my family. It was just the right time to come back.”

Watch this space. Goodness only knows what the next 35 years of the Gina Woolley adventure will hold.

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