Feature: Wiveliscombe author reflects on life in apartheid South Africa - plus living with Bruce Willis (From Somerset County Gazette)
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Feature: Wiveliscombe author reflects on life in apartheid South Africa - plus living with Bruce Willis
Controversial author Neil Gevisser talks to MICHAEL MARSH about being chased out of South Africa, mingling with Hollywood movie stars and his new life in the place he calls the Beverly Hills of England... Wiveliscombe.
FROM South Africa to Wiveliscombe via Hollywood, Neil Gevisser has witnessed first-hand the best and worst of the world.
Exiled out of apartheid South Africa aged 21, the poet discovered a rosier side to life working as a masseuse for some of the biggest names in show business.
Neil's exit was aided by his controversial anti-Government poetry book, Picking up the Pieces of Yourself, condemning the racially-segregated country's apartheid regime.
His poems rose to fame on the South African University campus and were banned by right-wing leaders. Six months later, Neil was given eight hours to leave South Africa to avoid facing jail - or worse - and it wasn't until 2005 that his passport was returned to him.
Some 40 years on, Neil has finally penned his first novel of his experiences living in Cape Town's notorious District Six as a teenager in the 1970s.
“The book is a microcosm of what goes on in the world,” says Neil. “There have been many books written about South African during apartheid showing behaviour, but I thought behaviour is one thing, and psychology is the study of lying.
“If you watch a person's behaviour it's not always going to tell you what's going on, so I saw this as an opportunity to write a book on how people think, before they behave.”
The Tyranny of Trust is based partly on a year living on the fringes of the district in 1972, seven years after it was cleared by the apartheid Government.
Neil mingled with fighters, political activists and hippies until the situation became too dangerous and he left.
Neil said: “I rented a house in District Six in the early 70s and there were very interesting characters.
“Out of these characters I decided that I would listen to their different stories and write something fictitious based on real conversations.
“There were people both left and right of the political spectrum in the same house and I saw the hypocrisy; the left and right could have been the same person.
“You think they would be opposites but they weren't. The book could have been called The Tyranny of Appearance because things are not as they seem and people are hypocrites.”
One of the reasons it took 42 years to complete is because Neil admitted he had not been mature enough to digest one what gone on.
“It was written by a 19-year-old but edited by a 60-something year old,” Neil explained.
“The book is not politically correct. All the myth-forming we have in terms of what a person is like this way or what a person is like that way, this book turns on its head.
“The stereotype is turned upside down.”
Neil Gevisser, left, with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.
After fleeing South Africa when his mother was privately tipped off that her son would go to prison for his anti-Government blast, Neil found himself in the US after brief respite in Israel.
And, as he was born into a family with a history of massage therapy, Neil found his calling in glitzy Hollywood, earning a living through manipulative massage.
Among his list of clients and friends are movie stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, as well as greats of the sporting world Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl.
“I was fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest sportsmen in the world, develop with them and grow through word of mouth,” said Neil.
“Life was much different for me. The lifestyle abroad was an entirely different thing to District Six, especially dealing with alpha males and alpha females at the top of their professions.”
These days, Neil, 62, and partner Emma, an artist, split their time between London and the place he calls the Beverly Hills of England - Wiveliscombe.
He followed in the footsteps of his mother, Zena Zulman, who once ran the largest modelling agency in South Africa and founded Oil of Olay.
“My mother was always anti-apartheid and when she retired she decided to come back to England, because she was English but married by South African father,” said Neil.
“She heard of Wiveliscombe because of her secretary, who was Irish and also retired here. I wanted to be with her in her declining years so I moved here too, and I believe if you take all the factors, Wivey is the Beverly Hills of England and we love it.”
The Tyranny of Trust is available at amazon.co.uk and on Kindle.