Udy Umondak: 61, fabulous and God-filled

Udy Umondak: 61, fabulous and God-filled

Udy Abasi Umondak has seen and done it all; acting, fashion designing, television host, first lady etc. Remembered by many as the glamorous lady who f

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Udy Abasi Umondak has seen and done it all; acting, fashion designing, television host, first lady etc. Remembered by many as the glamorous lady who featured as one of the lead characters in one of the most successful soaps on Nigerian television in the early 80s, ‘Mirror in the Sun’, she would later take the fashion industry by storm with her fashion label, ‘Colours’. A very colourful character, Udy as she is fondly called, who was the former First Lady of Akwa Ibom State between 1991 and 1992 is still a head turner even as she inches towards 60 later this year. Having successfully run the faith based television talk show, ‘His Word Made Flesh’, a TV programme that regaled audiences with inspiring stories of conquest of the human spirit over seemingly daunting circumstances, for six  years, she decided it was time to rebrand with a self styled talk show, ‘The Udy Factor’. She explains what the show is all about and overcoming trials.

What is ‘The Udy Factor’ all about?
‘The Udy Factor’ is a television programme that provides information to people about issues that many naturally shy away from. Nigerians sometimes get entangled with certain issues that they have little or no knowledge about and ours is to furnish everyone with the right information irrespective of whether you are involved in that kind of situation or not because you never know when such information can come handy. For instance marriage under Nigerian law; most people do not know what the Nigerian law says about divorce. Most people are unaware that it is whoever that is stronger financially in the union that will pay the other alimony and several other unknown things on certain issues. Also most people are unaware that when a man is legally married under the act and then goes on to take a wife under native law and custom, which is quite common these days, that marriage is null and void abinitio, you don’t have a marriage. It takes this kind of programme to expose certain unknown issues so that at the end of the day, one doesn’t keep wallowing in ignorance.

What prompted you to come up with this kind of programme?
Ignorance on the part of most people. Also, I read a lot; I pick up old newspapers and read voraciously. I read about menopause when I was in my early 20s, so when menopause came, it didn’t take me unawares. Unfortunately, a lot of people are ignorant about so many issues and the sooner this kind of programme, that imparts people with information gets hyped, then the more common sense that society will be basking in. ‘The Udy Factor’ airs on AIT on Wednesdays at 9pm.

Since ‘The Udy Factor’ went on air over a year ago, how has the reception been?
It has been wonderful, extremely fantastic. I bring in experts in the field that I am discussing about per time and we explore every area that most people are afraid to talk about.

This is obviously a clear departure from the Christian programme you anchored for six years, His Word Made Flesh. Why did you stop the programme in the first place?
Sponsorship basically. I was paying for the programme from my pocket. No one wanted to invest in it because it was a Christian programme. But I thank God I did it for six unbroken years and was able to touch lives and impact people and make people realize that it is not every difficulty that you go through that is orchestrated by a witch because the bible said all things work together for good. So if God allowed it, then it means that he intends for it to glorify him at the end of the day. When I could no longer afford it and I wasn’t getting help anymore, I knew it was time to close ‘shop’.

Isn’t it ironic that we are a deeply religious country yet people shy away from identifying with anything that has to do with religion?
I really don’t know why. You can imagine that some organizations with Pastors at the helm of affairs, refused to sponsor the programme.

Would you say the programme was as a result of the very traumatic period you went through when your fashion house, COLOURS was gutted by fire?
Well, yes and no. When the fashion house got burnt, I asked God ‘why me’ but I soon discovered that God never answers that kind of question, rather, he answers the question, ‘what now’. And when I began to ask the question, He took me through a process that gave birth to the programme, His Word Made Flesh, and in God allowing that, I realised there was a bigger picture that I didn’t see initially.

Your fashion house was the ‘it’ place back then. Why didn’t you revive it after the fire incidence?
I tried several times. I did all kinds of things to bring it back, even sold my properties but all came to nothing until I realised that God had actually finished with that chapter of my life.

How long did you run it for?
I ran it for six years, between 1993 and 1999 but long before I opened the fashion outfit, I was already sewing in my house.

What were some of the high points of your time as a fashion designer?
I participated in a lot of fashion shows and was the first Nigerian designer to participate in the maiden edition of the Face of Africa pageant and I made some of the clothes that the eventual winner, Oluchi Orlandi wore. A lot of the things I made then were quite unique and I still own some of them. When I come across people who I made things for in the past, they keep asking me to go back to fashion as they don’t seem to know anyone who makes clothes quite like me. But that part of my life is over for now until I hear clearly from God again in that regard.

Your first time on television was in the 80s as an actress in the soap, Mirror in the Sun and then you went off the movie scene almost immediately. Why didn’t you pursue your acting career further?
I went to America after my time in Mirror in the sun. I had gotten married, my husband was off to war college and I went back to school. By the time I came back, fashion was all I thought about, I didn’t really care about acting anymore. Fashion actually stared after I took my fabric to a reigning tailor in town at that time and the dress got damaged the dress. So I got a sewing machine and started to sew my dresses myself. And from there I began to get orders to make clothes. I had to employ tailors when I couldn’t cope with the orders coming in.

Would you consider taking up acting again if you get a good script?
I keep getting scripts but if I get a good script, I would probably prefer to play a rural woman’s role, a local 90 year old woman.

Did you ever think you would be back on television after His Word Made Flesh ended?
I thought coming back on television would be bringing back His Word Made Flesh really. One day I had come to my wits end and just when I had finished celebrating the sixth anniversary of His Word Made Flesh, I needed to raise money to get it back on television but I wasn’t getting any lucky. I just sat in front of my dressing mirror and said, ‘Lord, you said I will not come to a road junction and not know where to turn’. At that point, I realized he wanted me to have another talk show and I was like, ‘talk about what?’ He said, ‘Ageing gracefully, I have given you youth’. But seeing that I may be boxed into a corner sooner or later, exhausting every sub-topic under ageing gracefully, I decided to talk about everything  and anything.

You seem to have a way to connect with people, to get them to listen to you. Would you say it is a rare gift you have?
I think so. Maybe because I laugh a lot and I come across as a friendly person. No matter how important an issue is, I find the time to laugh about it. Life is very simple but human beings complicate it. On the programme, His Word Made Flesh, I cried with people who cried and laughed with people who were happy. People just take to me. Even when I go though airports, I sometimes almost miss my flights because people will walk up to me, telling me their pain and I will sit with them, cry with them, comfort them.

In all of your experiences, what would you say must have significantly shaped you to be who you are today?
My relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. When I came to know him, I read the bible cover to cover and got the understanding that we are absolutely nothing without him.

You have gone through the ‘refiner’s fire’ yet you don’t look dowdy and long suffering like most people who found God. You have remained yourself in outlook; you still wear your signature gold hair which is quite loud.
When God gave me the revelation for His Word Made Flesh, the first question I asked God was if I should change my hair and he said no. He said, “I want to use someone like you to reach people like you.” I retained my funky and psychedelic look when I went on air. There were people who told me they tuned in on the first day of the programme just to look at my shoes, my dress but that the moment I opened my mouth, they were so captivated and wondered how anyone who looked like me could know God. That was what actually pulled people to the programme. I did get a mail in the early days from someone who said, “Anytime I look at you on that programme, I just remember Jezebel because of the colour of your hair.” Others embraced my look and it made it easier for them to worship God seeing that one doesn’t have to look dowdy or long suffering to love God. I tell people that my bible tells me that God is a beautiful God. Look at the giraffes, the peacocks, the mocking birds etc. God created these creatures beautiful. So if God is the author of beauty, why should I look ugly? I always like the shock on people’s face when they hear me speak and realize that I am not empty. The power is in the grace of God and not in the way I look.

You will be 60 in a few months yet you don’t look anything near your age. No wrinkles, no fine lines. Is there a fountain of youth you drink from?
It is just the grace of God. Some have asked me if I did plastic surgery. I am yet to do it.

Is it something you would consider in future?
If there is a need for it, I will, but right now, there is no need for it. I look young because God told me he will renew my youth like that of an eagle. That being said, I eat all kinds of things but I work out every day. I am an exercise freak and by my 60th birthday, I intend to release my exercise DVD.  I also take care of my skin; I scrub with sugar and olive oil every Saturday and I don’t joke with moisturizing.

Do you still get hit on by men?
Oh yes. I just laugh and tell them I am old enough to be their grandmother

Are you thinking of giving marriage another shot?
My flesh doesn’t want to remarry but I don’t know what God has in stock for me.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement in life so far?
My daughter gives me joy and my greatest joy comes from my grandson.

What was the experience like back when you were the First Lady of Akwa Ibom State?
It was just an opportunity to get to know my people.

Were you like the typical Nigerian first lady?
Definitely not. I was a non conformist, I was like any other person, no airs because all that first lady office thing wasn’t just my style because I knew that one day I will come down to the real world. You can only be there for eight years maximum by the grace of God and after that, you come back to reality, to those same people that you built a barrier against when you were in first lady. As first lady, I would come to Lagos and drive myself. Even when I was in government house, I went to the market or supermarket myself even though I usually had security which I had to accept as they won’t let me out without security. People will see me in town and be wondering if it was actually me.

How do you let off steam?
I have this scrabble game on my phone that I play till late into the night

What are some of your fashion fetishes?
I don’t have any. I love everything. Ok, maybe shoes, I have tons of them.