DOUBLE THE MAGIC: Ian von Memerty and his wife Vivienne in ‘Double the Magic’ at the Kenton town hall on Friday night, a show on behalf of Kenton Rotary
IAN von Memerty has the kind of face that you recognise, and a name you remember.
Is it just because he looks like Hollywood celebrity Jeff Goldblum, with the chipped tooth and black framed glasses, or is he that rarity or rather oxymoron, a South African celebrity?
He has been described variously as “a confused eclectic” and as the “English dictionary definition of showbiz”, but after seeing his show at the Kenton-on-Sea town hall on Friday night, one thing is clear, based on 33 years in the industry and his undeniable personal qualities, he has successfully created a personal brand.
But the man himself is, quite simply, just like you and me. Haven’t you ever known someone who can play the piano, sing like a choirboy, dance like a ballerina and stand up and be funny? And that’s just on stage.
Von Memerty also writes his own material and he’s a well-known TV presenter, having presented the South African Strictly Come Dancing and been a judge on South Africa’s Got Talent.
His family variety shows have included his wife, Vivienne, who is a former national ballroom and Latin dancing champion, and his two children, Valeska and Oscar.
The Von Memertys have seen their fair share of tragedy. Oscar suffers from Lamy Marteaux Syndrome although his life was transformed when he obtained a bone marrow transplant. But Ian lost a daughter who died of a lung complication after suffering from the same disease. Perhaps that is what makes it so easy to relate to him.
Von Memerty was born in Rhodesia in 1964 and grew up on a farm outside Salisbury. His parents sent him to boarding school where he began piano lessons at the age of seven. He likes to taunt critics with the allegation that he first learned his love of music while sitting on the potty.
He learned to sing in the school choir which went on international tour and he studied drama as well as music at school, but was already 19 years old when he started ballet lessons with 10-year-old girls, as well as jazz and tap lessons.
His parents had moved to Johannesburg where he attended St Johns, but was not happy. But he met the late Keith Galloway who started an acting company with Delia Sainsbury, and started working as a pianist, teacher and performer instead of going to university after school.
He met a beautiful ballroom dancer, Vivienne, with whom he thought it was possible great things would happen, in 1989, and was proved correct when they were later married in 1991.
In 2006 they moved to a cottage in a forest outside Port Elizabeth.
Convenor Roger Carthew of Kenton Rotary said he had been trying to get Von Memerty to perform for the past 18 months and was able to book him for just one night at a third of his normal price. Von Memerty also performs at Monte Casino, Dubai and on cruise ships.
The dancing was double the magic, but his comic rendition of well-known pianists and songs, from the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder, with a simple change of hats and glasses, was everyone’s cup of tea.
Von Memerty’s style was relaxed and easy, and formed a nice counter-point with more serious and poignant songs like Mr Bojangles, silhouetted in the spotlight.
He also did a rendition of a car GPS voice in various guises, including the DA – “you’re going the wrong way”, the EFF – “get out, cockroach, the taxman wants your car” and the ANC – “honourable speaker, having complied with all protocol, we have reached a consensus and are going to hold another meeting to decide what direction we should go in”.