20 Sep
Tanya van Agthoven

Kloof publicist Tanya van Agthoven is a formidable whirlwind of creativity, business acumen and sass. She spoke to Debbie Reynolds about life on the cutting edge

Back in the day Tanya van Agthoven was one of Durban’s top models and make-up artists. Since then she’s put people and places on the map, baby sat some of the world’s top artists, launched events and, more recently, created sensational celebration cakes.

Much more than just a pretty face, Tanya has proved that following your dreams means taking that first leap of faith and never looking back.

Born in Cape Town, she moved to Durban with her family as a youngster, finished high school in Pinetown and went off to then Natal Technikon to study cosmetology.

But in those heady 80s days it was modelling that attracted her full attention as well as that of Leigh Downing, who had started Durban’s first proper model agency.

From there it was a short step to working for Downing as an agent, as well as doing make-up and styling for fashion shoots.

“Even in those days, when Durban was a very little pond, I chose to stay because I could see the potential and wanted to be part of it,” says Tanya.

Being invited to The Workshop – a historical landmark in the Durban city and the first themed shopping centre in the country – as a celebrity guest sent Tanya in an exciting new direction.

“The Workshop manager offered me the position of PR manager and although I had no experience, I decided to give it a go. Retrospectively it was a huge privilege and opened my doors to the world of publicity and eventing.

“I cut my teeth on everything from corporate and property to business and entertainment. We were doing things like ice shows, fashion events and international championships that other centres weren’t even thinking about at the time.”

Her next move was opening a PR division within a well-established media and promotions company working on events such as the M-Net Summer Festival and Red Nose Day.

Then along came music promoter Attie van Wyk of Big Concerts fame who, she says, “pushed us right into a fantastic place in the music industry”.

Appointed as publicist for most of the big acts that Big Concerts brought to South Africa saw Tanya travelling the country and working with national and international media.

Her Kloof office “wall of fame” is a testament to the stars she worked with including many from Bollywood, Shirley Bassey, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Meatloaf, Mike and the Mechanics, Shaggy, UB40, Chris de Burgh, Crowded House, Wet Wet Wet and many more.

Like all good publicists she refuses to dish the dirt on any of her former charges, but says one of her fondest memories was meeting Nelson Mandela when she was involved in his 80th birthday concert in Durban.

In 1992 she opened Tanya van Agthoven PR, Publicity and Production, which she still runs today with the Durban International Blues Festival as one of her top events. Tanya has been involved in the festival with founding partners, Themi Venturas, who sadly passed away from cancer last year, Will Wallace and Pinky Mtshali, since its inception 14 years ago. Thando Nyameni has now taken Themi’s place as festival director.

“Making the Blues Festival happen come hell or high water is my passion, and I want it to be a legacy for Themi and the city I love.”

Tanya added another bow to her string a few years back when she launched her Extra Yum Cakes studio, creating bespoke celebration cakes. “I have always loved cooking and have a creative streak, so this fits perfectly into the next chapter of my life,” she says. “And next up – watch this space – are my ceramics, which I’ve been pottering around with for a few years.”


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