Actress Emily Whitefield had to learn what was important in her life very quickly. Having fought many personal battles in her past, Emily is now content.
She has starred in television shows such as Rhythm City, Scoop Schoombie, Scandal and the recent mini-series Cape Town and has even done advertising campaigns for Magnum and Sissy Boy in her day.
Now, she has taken a break from the fast lane and is the CEO of Student At Home, a student accommodation and property development company in the city centre.
Emily grew up in Cape Town and said her father and grandfather fought hard against apartheid, and the family found themselves moving between South Africa and the UK during this time.
They finally settled in Cape Town after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
“I travelled extensively in my twenties. I was fortunate enough to travel with a well known entrepreneur at the time. I saw a lot of the world.
“The first 30 years of my life was just me rushing around between the acting world and the travelling world and not settling and knowing where my heart really was.”
She studied mathematics and drama at UCT, which she admits is a “very strange” combination. She also studied through Cape Academy of Dramatic Arts.
“I’m a bit of a crazy, wacky person with different dimensions. I was really good with acting in my 20s.
“I never used my qualifications, strangely enough. I just went on the whole ride of fame in this country, if there is such a thing.”
However, Emily’s family was struggling financially, and she found herself having to stop going in all directions and find a way to make money to help her parents.
“That’s when I found myself in the student accommodation market, where I found my grounding for four years working for other companies, and then finally meeting Frank (Gormley, her business partner) and endeavouring to go on this journey of ours together, which involved property development as well and really getting into the crux of student accommodation and the market itself.”
She said Frank was a good mentor to her.
“He is the best business partner and the best friend. My parents played an intricate part in my life and losing my father was one of the hardest things I had to endure but my mom remains the love of my life. They’ve taught me lessons and have shown me unconditional love.
“I rejoice through my struggles, because it’s only through those that I am where I am today. There is a quote: ‘A flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.’ I’ve had so much adversity in my life and it teaches you to not only be strong, but also to be compassionate because everyone is fighting a battle.”
She said that she is sometimes amazed at her achievements because she has had to overcome many challenges.
“For the first time, I love what I do. I love my business, I love the people I work with. I have an amazing love partner in my life. I’m so content.”
Emily said that although 106 Adderley is the only building that they own in the city centre, they are looking to buy one or two more.
She believes the future of Cape Town lies in the CBD.
“I see the developments going up, but also the cultural developments, the economic developments and the retail developments.
“It’s a hub of excitement and we are on the precipice of taking the town to the next level, which is so exciting.
“I see it with First Thursdays and working with Cape Town Partnership and their ideas. And the amount of tourists coming into the country. I love the energy of the CBD. We’ve got the most incredible restaurants, we’ve got such cool bars and pubs popping up.
“I love the diversity and integration of everyone. You never know who you will meet when you go for coffee.”