Rugby fans will recognise Stuart Berry as one of the world’s top 20 referees, but did you know he is also director of a successful events company that is breathing new life into the KZN sports and social scene?
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I’m probably a bit ADD,” Stuart says with a smile, “so combining rugby with the challenge of running a business is good for me. Rugby feeds my soul, but too much of it would probably affect my performance on the field – I’d over-think it.”
Stuart got into reffing in 2000, when Hillcrest High School teacher John Cafeteiro took him to a refereeing course at Kings Park. “People talk about the ‘rugby family’, but you cannot truly understand it until you’ve experienced it for yourself,” Stu explains. “Wherever I go, I know that I will be looked after by the local rugby community and now that I’ve moved up the ranks a bit, I’m happy to do my bit. It’s amazing!”
Having recently signed a three-year contract with SA Rugby, Stu has set his sights on the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019. “I need to stay in the top 20 to qualify, so I’ll give the next three years everything I’ve got and take it from there.”
Off the field, Stuart is a director of Impi Concept Events, which he founded with Andrew van Rensberg in 2006. “Putting on a great time for people is a driving force in our business, whether it’s through a cycle race, trail run or music concert.”
The pair started with sports events, putting on the first Berg and Bush with Gary Green. From there, they were approached to manage the Karkloof Classic, then the Eston MTB Challenge and it blossomed from there.
“2010 was a landmark year for us,” says Stu. “We held our first music concert at the Woodburn Rugby Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on April 27, with Johnny Clegg, Good Luck and Wonderboom on stage. We had put all our savings into it and watched as it rained solidly in the week running up to the concert. Thankfully, it cleared on the day and the numbers exceeded our expectations. That introduced us to the joy of live music!”
Impi Concept Events now manages a wide range of events across KZN, including the Music at the Lake series at Durban Botanic Gardens. Stu and Andrew have introduced an eclectic range of artists and increased visitor numbers significantly. “We’re proud of the fact that the concerts are culturally diverse, from Goldfish to Mi Casa, Zakes Bantwini and Mafikizolo, as well as international acts Passenger and Mumford and Sons.”
Impi orchestrated a landmark collaboration between Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which took place at Music at the Lake in November 2014. Joseph Tshabalala came back from retirement to take part in the show, completing a stellar line-up. “It was so rewarding being part of something so significant for both the artists and the crowd.
“Teenagers today are accustomed to a digital sound that doesn’t necessarily reflect the individual talents that have gone into making it, but putting artists on stage brings that music to life.” Recent shows have seen Gangs of Ballet and Arno Carstens backed by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, bringing different ages and cultures together.
This year, Stuart and his team tackled a new challenge: Splashy Fen. The iconic Underberg music festival was established in 1990, but has lost some of its sparkle in recent years.
Talking before the event, “Our goal is to create defining moments for the artists and festival goers, whether that’s hearing a talented young musician for the first time, seeing your favourite local band or just the fact that there are clean ablutions. We have put all our energy into Splashy, investing in extensive security and creating a harmonious flow of people to ensure that everyone has a great time, from the 18-year-old there for the party to the family who are up early and want to enjoy the vibe. We want to create an atmosphere where music can thrive.
“It’s been an emotional process, but we believe in the festival and are confident that we can restore this South African icon to its former glory, embracing its history and giving it a modern spin.”
Between refereeing and events, Stuart and his fiance Kim are also planning a wedding. One thing’s for sure, whatever the venue, guests are in for something special!
Above left: Stu issuing a yellow card to New Zealand player Sam Cane in his test debut, Japan vs New Zealand. Left: Before the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2015 at Twickenham Rugby Stadium.
Top right: Driving a hovercraft at the pre-Rugby World Cup Referees camp, 2015.
Top: Stu and his sister, Claire, riding the iMfolozi MTB Challenge.
Above: Splashy Fen as many know it …Tags: Hillcrest High School, Music at the lake, rugby