At a time when it was just Moira Stuart…and….erm…pretty much nobody else, Ms Rianna Scipio was the sister-girl to Moira’s aunty.
Classy, pretty, black, female who bucked the hot blonde trend when it came to reading the weather – celebrated for being the UK’s first Afri-Carib weather girl Rianna was such an inspiration with her stylish outfits and that pixie cut hairstyle we all coveted.
Then going on to present the monumental current affairs show Black Britain; when my drama teacher once told me that I had the potential to become a newsreader, whilst basking in the compliment it was Ms Scipio I daydreamed I’d share a news desk with.
In August 2013 Scipio was diagnosed as four times more likely than the average woman to develop breast cancer so decided to undergo a double mastectomy. Not to let that stop her, fast forward to 2014 Scipio currently hosts and produces the blockbuster Youtube show Rianna Scipio’s Power Shot, with “two cups of spirit and a generous twist of style”. The show is billed as the online version of a vitamin pill, full of spiritual nourishment, natural goodness and with no bad side effects. A pure energy lift that’s safe for you to pop at any time.
I caught up with her to discuss… pretty much everything …
Starting at the very beginning when did you realise that a career in front of the camera was for you?
I started out in broadcasting as a teenager, picking up the microphone at local events, church halls, and fashion shows. Before long I was expressing my multi-passionate love for music and stories, deejaying on a local pirate radio station called Fresh FM. We didn’t have local radio, just a few centralised government-run channels that played mainstream pop. My fellow DJ’s and I got promoted from the streets to local celebrity status and I cut my interviewing teeth on reggae and lovers- rock legends such as Dennis Brown and Janet Kay. The radio station wasn’t licensed, so following police raids and equipment confiscations we’d get calls from the studio manager at least once a week to direct us to new secret locations. I’d be climbing through abandoned council house windows to get into work. Those were fun times and there was a true feeling of community.
If it wasn’t your childhood dream what did you imagine you were going to be when you grew up?
Before I made the move into media I was a freelance make-up artist and also worked the main account for Fashion Fair in Harrods. It was while working on a fashion shoot that I met Patrick Berry and Neil Kenlock, co-founders of Choice FM, who were heading up their first media venture, Style magazine. Neil encouraged me to get my natural talent for broadcasting seen on the small screen and so I followed his advice. I boldly applied to an advert that the BBC had posted in The Times newspaper and my unwavering self-belief paid off. So impressed were the powers-that-be, that one year on from the initial application, they created a post especially for me, inviting an unknown to join the media giant as presenter/producer in training.
Who was your inspiration during your time as a presenter?
The lone television role model for black women at the time was Moira Stewart and I still have copies of the letter I wrote to Moira asking her if I could shadow her. Moira never did reply to that audacious letter, but later on, I felt honoured to be able to call her my friend.
You were renowned for being the beautiful short haired ‘sassy’ black woman on our screens, what was the climate like for black people in the entertainment industry during your time on television in the UK?
I feel that the late 80’s trend of political correctness that ushered me and other black producers, directors, and talent through the doors of the BBC has sadly long since died away, as soul-less PC trends have a habit of doing. Most of my black contemporaries of the time have sadly left the industry altogether. At first full of hope and enthusiasm at being the first true generation of Black Brits, who we believed could transform the media from the inside out and by the end of the road, many of us were burnt out, disenchanted and battle weary. Fighting to tell the uncomfortable truth of our stories and being trumped at every turn.
How important was the Black Britain series and what was its most important legacy?
When I was asked back to the BBC many years later by Pat Younge to be the anchor of Black Britain, the first News & Current Affairs series to be produced by the department that brought us such groundbreaking journalism as Panorama and Horizon, it was a truly proud moment. It’s ironic that the job was initially offered to Moira Stewart and when she declined, I was next in line. Needless to say, I bit their hands off so to speak. A team of premier black journalists from around the UK, we broke global stories such as the underground adoption of African children to working-class white women in England, who it was believed by their colonially brainwashed birth parents, would offer those children a better start in life. The reality was that those children often ended up isolated and mentally, spiritually and physically lost to a system in which they never could take root. We proudly won a Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) Race In The Media Award for that series.
I’ve interviewed Deepak Chopra and being a spiritual seeker myself that was pretty high up on my list of things to do before I die. But my proudest interview moment of all time is a tiny-framed lady with the brave-heart of a lion, Doreen Lawrence, mother of slain teenager Stephen Lawrence, who singlehandedly changed the face of British justice. The sheer grace and dignity of that woman as she quietly stared down a formidable system until they had no choice but to give way, was without doubt the most powerful display of spirit in action that I have ever witnessed. She’s my British female Mandela for sure. Yes, I’m very proud to have hosted that one-hour special interview as main anchor of Black Britain.
British AfriCaribs feel they have to flee to the States to find work. Was your move to LA for similar reasons?
I decided to take a back seat from my television career whilst raising my two children. I believed that to give my full focus in either arena I would have to give up one. When I was ready to re-enter the workplace in 2010 I asked myself what I should do. I often say to people who ask about this game: “if you can bear to do anything else then do it.” It’s not a cynical brush off from me – this game is not for the faint-hearted. When I asked myself that question the answer was loud and clear. I have broadcasting in my blood. I simply can’t feel alive doing anything else. Believe me, I have tried. I looked up and didn’t see any black faces on UK television screens, not even Moira Stuart was left. I felt that to stay in England and fight my way back into the industry would be to fight my way upstream. On the other hand, I didn’t know what might happen if I left for the United States and that meant I had a shot.
So you’ve launched Love & Fame what’s the inspiration behind this?
The Love & Fame brand has been through a few evolutions. It started off as ‘Hints & Tips on How To Make It In Media And Entertainment’. The second incarnation came closer to home, closer to me: ‘Stories of Wild, Courageous, Wholehearted Stars I Meet Along The Way’. Both of those creations had the message of spirit behind them. The intention has always been to subtly investigate together with our audiences, the spiritual principles of living joyfully. I thought I could be clever with it. I thought I could hide my passion for spiritual living. But with the making of the two series came the crystal clear knowing that I had at last to ‘come out’ with my life long love affair with spirit.
What were the steps you took to get it off the ground?
Getting the online series off the ground has been a new learning curve for me. During my many years at the BBC we had huge budgets and every department imaginable to hand. If a computer broke down you called tech, they appeared within minutes and replaced the broken one with one that worked. Editing machines cost hundreds of thousands back in the day meaning that only a few were trained to operate them. If you wanted something edited you booked an editor, sat next to them and called the shots. Everyone got paid. Everyone went home happy. But the web is such fertile, open ground and technology is now so affordable that I’m excited by the prospect of saying what I want in any way I want to. I can be un-censored.
I decided to go back to school in the United States to retrain and learn the technical side of program making. I am an independent rebel at heart. I work hard to design the sets, do wardrobe, conceptualize, write, shoot and edit the content alongside my “chaotic genius” Head of Production Lynette Hartouni. I encourage a culture of making mistakes at the Love & Fame Studio, as long as my associates are willing to correct their mistakes and to learn from them. I encourage each of my associates to be passionate about their department and I call them associates instead of employees, as I believe in a sense of investment in the brand. Still, it’s a challenge to find and keep key staff, so I deliberately trained myself to be competent in all technical departments so that production doesn’t halt if someone doesn’t turn up that day, which sometimes happens.
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
Speaking of mistakes, I’ve made a ton of them with these two strands. The result is that I know how to produce my brand in my sleep, with maximum efficiency and sustainability and that’s key with an art form that’s as potentially expensive and definitely as labor intensive as mine. It’s been trial and error but I’ve always been willing to get close enough to put my heart into the process and yet detached enough to get back on the proverbial horse and start all over again.
My proudest moment with the brand to date is the growing enthusiasm of my beloved online audience of 10,000 plus. I’ll always be a black Brit or at least a black Londoner, which is truly my geographical identity. I so admire what you’ve done with The British Blacklist and your mission for legacy that I identify strongly with, in recognising black talent, who have contributed so richly to the fabric of Britain and to the world and yet so often go unrecognized, undocumented and uncelebrated. Humble, mindful and glad to be a part of it.
How do you see the Love & Fame brand expanding?
So that’s how I’ve come into this next phase. I’ve moved the studio to the heart of Hollywood, which is truly exciting. We’re based about 10 paces from the Dolby Centre where the Oscars are held. I learned some more about branding along the way and taken to heart for the first time (although I’ve heard it said many times before) that ‘people buy people not products.’ So I’m using my own name for the first time ever and putting a lot more of myself into the branding. It’s closer to home than ever before.
Rianna Scipio’s Power Shot is the media version of a vitamin pill full of spiritual nourishment, natural goodness and with no bad side effects. A pure energy lift that’s safe for you to pop at any time. Binge consumption is encouraged. Although the content itself is spiritual nourishment plain and simple, I’ve mixed it up with my passion for the art of make-up (of course) and personal style. The tagline for The Power Shot is “two cups of spirit and a generous twist of style”.
How hard is it to keep up a production like this and what are the highs and lows you experience?
Happiness takes hard work and I truly didn’t know conceptually until someone recently said it out loud. Balance for me is healthy body, healthy mind, healthy spirit, so I work out two hours most days knowing that if I aim for 7 I generally get 5 days in. I have the most beautiful canyon just about 15 minutes walk from my studio (which I consider my back garden) and I trek for an hour up and down it almost every day and then do yoga outdoors for an hour in a field at the foot of the canyon. At the end of my group yoga session I find a moment lying on my back, looking up at the blameless blue sky fringed with glorious palm trees to recognize how very blessed I am. I also meditate for 20 minutes every morning and evening and say a quick prayer to ask how I can be of service for that day.
I’ve had fun times partying hard in London which by the way I wouldn’t trade for anything and I party just as intensely now but in a healthier happier way. My favorite thing in the world is travelling with my two children Yasmin and Etemi and I recently did NYC with my daughter and, speaking of partying hard, we partied for 10 hours straight in Central Park and then out again clubbing in Greenwich Village at night. I have to say that life is better than I ever imagined and as for the bad times I have learnt that just like good times (and the British weather) “this too shall pass”. I try for the most part to keep sight of that.