Already a household name after an impressive stint on MNET Idols in 2008, Liezel van der Westhuizen is currently taking both the South African entertainment and personal branding scenes by storm. The relaxed smile, smooth and professional working manner and impeccable style has made her one of the most sought-after presenters and emcees in the country.
Liezel kicked off her public speaking and Emcee career over a decade ago and, to date, has hosted more than 500 events across South Africa and internationally. She has won bronze and silver awards as a member of the Toastmaster’s Society and is often invited to give motivational talks, covering topics such as “Beat the Bully”, “Empowering Women”, “Finding Your Inner Strength” and “Personal Brand Personified”.
Coupled with a drive for success and an incredible work ethic in everything she does, it is no wonder the sky is the limit for this unique talent.
If the brand fits…
Liezel was nicknamed “the giraffe” in designer Craig Jacobs’ Sunday Times column in 2009, when she and her even taller sister Monique appeared in killer heels and succeeded in towering over other attendees at a Radisson Blu fashion event. Although the moniker was not meant entirely flatteringly at the time, this clever entrepreneur went on to incorporate it into everything she does, having recently launched the Giraffe Brand Academy. This latest initiative has been set up to assist business folks all over the world in building a powerful and authentic personal brand, which should see her students taking their businesses to great heights.
The way in which Liezel handled this particular occurrence and, in fact, turned it to her advantage, is a powerful testament to her experience in the personal branding niche. This is someone who can clearly assist organisations and individuals, alike, to turn negative publicity into something wonderfully positive.
As only the second woman in the world to present Idols, Liezel became a familiar face on the popular reality show during Seasons Five and Six, as well as during her time as a presenter on SABC3’s daily breakfast show, Expresso. Liezel has presented TV shows for channels SABC3, SuperSport, SABC Sport, MNET, DSTV and SABC 2, and lists her career highlights as Idols, Expresso, The Lunchbox and Soundcheck.
She continues to impress with her daily fitness feature on kfm and a Fitness Fridays segment on CapeTalk, a radio station that is broadcast in Cape Town. With so much going for her, it’s hard to believe it has been just a few years since Liezel was “discovered” by Jacaranda FM after the programme manager heard her working as a Makro announcer after serving her TUKSFM apprenticeship.
“I began my radio life at TuksFM and was well and truly hooked on the joys of being able to use media to connect with people,” she explains. While working for this varsity radio station, she received a job offer from EMI Music South Africa to become their international PR manager – a development that saw her being introduced her to an array of global music stars.
An 18-month stint as an SABC3 continuity presenter and presenter of the lunchtime show Lunchbox led to greater things, with IDOLS confirming her rise to the top. In 2010, Liezel launched SoundCheck Live on MNET before starting her work on Expresso, and also made her on-screen debut in the movies The Race-ist and Hollywood in my Huis.
Beauty and brains
With her professional style and ease of conversation, it will come as no surprise that Liezel has a spree of degrees in Communication Management from the University of Pretoria and, since 2000, has been a member of Toastmaster’s International. She holds a BCom degree in Human Resources and Industrial Psychology, and both a BCom Honours and an MCom in Communication Management.
Grabbing life with both hands
Liezel manages to find time to work as a voiceover artist, and has an impressive portfolio of television and radio voiceover work to showcase that underpins her other exploits. It all comes back to a drive within her that was ultimately inspired by her grandmother’s fight against Cancer.
“My gran being diagnosed with Cancer was a big life-changer. I even shaved off my long hair, and went bald for a year in support of her. I now keep my hair short in memory of her and as a reminder that life is short. Before my gran passed away, she told me to grab every opportunity in life and [to] enjoy every moment.”
Fitness feats for charity
But away from the microphones and cameras, in 2012 and 2013 Liezel partnered with Canoeing SA’s high-performance coach, Greg van Heerden, to finish the toughest canoe marathon in the world – the Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon. She keeps a healthy fitness regime, training six times a week on the road (running and cycling) and in the pool, and was selected to take part in Nestle’s Triathlon team that went on to complete the gruelling Full Ironman Triathlon in 2010 (this involves a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle and a 42.2km run).
Using her sporting activities to achieve good in the world, Liezel undertook a tandem cycle across the Himalayas in 2018, with a visually impaired athlete, to raise funds for Operation Smile and OneSight.
The ocean – and its preservation – hold a special place in Liezel’s heart. She loves to swim, stand-up paddle board and surfski and is, impressively, a certified Nitrox Enriched Air scuba diver. Liezel recently gained her skipper’s license, after practising during a sailing fitcation in the Seychelles archipelago, which saw her entering and winning – on her return – the Mercedes Benz Ladies Race at the Royal Cape Yacht Club.
She was a Top 8 finalist in the 2007 Shape/Sanex Cover girl competition, was voted number 56 in the FHM Hot 100 Sexiest Women in the World competition – and again in 2009 – and received a nomination in the Heat Hot 100 competition in both years.
The sport-schooling solution
Stylish and professional, Liezel made number four on designer Simon Rademon’s Best-Dressed Women’s list in SA in 2008 and was also nominated, that year, for an Olay SA Iconic Woman award. She is passionate about the environment, is an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Glass Recycling South Africa, and gives back in a big way.
“I am involved with a charity in Cape Town called Velokaya – it’s a not-for-profit organisation based in Khayelithsha that employs a range of holistic, education-based cycling programmes. I believe sport and schooling go hand in hand. I am passionate about South Africa and educating our learners.”
Liezel is the first person in the country to have ridden a bicycle powered entirely by social media (a custom-fitted techno wonder bike!) for the dedicated purpose of raising funds for Khayelitsha’s Velokhaya Life cycling academy. With the help of public “likes” and Pick n Pay, she was able to donate 20 bicycles to the academy – an organisation which, just like Liezel, believes sport is able to give our youth the skills they need for a happy and successful future.
This humble, energetic and deep-thinking personality will undoubtedly continue to grab each opportunity that life presents, while changing lives and bringing joy on her daily journey.