Wonderland.

IRENE AGBONTAEN

Starring in Channel 4’s new docu-ality series Highlife, the businesswoman gets candid on Black representation in the media and being so open on TV.

Highlife
Highlife

With Love Island wrapped for another year, there is a gaping hole in our lives that desperately needs filling with some reality TV, and Channel 4 are putting in their bid with their new show Highlife. Apart of their new Black to Front project, the new TV show aims to showcase the Black community in a positive light and improve Black representation on and off-screen. Hoping to amplify the conversations around representation and portrayal, the show will follow a group of ambitious and glamorous British West Africans who are all in search of their own idea of success.

Straying away from the usual reality TV conversation of binge-drinking and consisting partying, the four-part docu-ality series will be an authentic portrayal of British life and how young people deal with the pressures and expectations.

Featuring in the new series is businesswoman Irene Agbontaen, who opens on her fertility journey and shame around not having a partner. Between cultural traditions and negative stereotypes, Irene hopes the show will break down the stigma and stereotype attached to Black British representation, revealing that the show celebrates the culture in an authentic way.

Catching up with us digitally, Irene gives us the lowdown on the new series talking the filming process and why she decided to get so raw on camera.

Check out the interview below…

Highlife S1 Toni, Kamille, Tomi, Cheifer, Bernicia, Cuppy, Kidd and Irene
Highlife S1 Toni, Kamille, Tomi, Cheifer, Bernicia, Cuppy, Kidd and Irene

Hey Irene, how are you? How has this past year been for you?
The last year has been incredibly eye-opening. The universe had other plans. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, I, like many other self-employed individuals had to pivot to a new normal. Every job was slowly being cancelled. When I look back on it now, I am just so grateful for the time. The time to reflect and strip back to basics. I exercised, ate 3 home-cooked meals a day – something I hadn’t done in over 10+ years. I just embraced the change and made the most of the new found time I had on my hands. Just before we went into lockdown, I had recorded the pilot for my podcast – TTYA Talks. The amazing thing about lockdown is that everyone was at home, so I didn’t stress trying to book studio time around guest schedules. I recorded my first season with guests such as Maya Jama, Grace Ladoja MBE, FKA Twigs and Leomie Anderson over 3 days from home over zoom! The pandemic made me appreciate time so much as we saw that it was the one thing not promised to us.

A lot of people tried out new skills in lockdown last year, did you pick up anything new?
I started making my own Shea Butter body whipped body cream! I had so much Shea Butter in the house from a recent trip to Ghana. If I’m honest, I just invested in my well-being during lockdown. I made it a point of making sure I was getting a minimum of 8 hours sleep- something my lifestyle hadn’t allowed me to make a priority pre lockdown. Deep conditioned my hair every 2 weeks religiously, created a self-care Sunday group on Whatsapp, where my friends and I would video call each other to check-in and recommend any beauty products or hacks we were currently using.

How did you get involved with Highlife? What sparked your interest?
I got a call from one of the producers of the show in late 2020, who gave me the top line about the show. I was interested in the show because it would change the narrative surrounding black programming on TV. A lot of it is trauma lead TV i.e. gangs, drugs and often plays into negative stereotypes. Highlife celebrates Black Culture in an authentic way. You see the importance of community, how we navigate cultural traditions and family expectations…its really the first of its kind hence why it was so important for me to a part of this.

The show sees a variety celebrating your own idea of success, what does it mean to be successful?
I think success is all relative to the individual. For me, success is financial freedom, creating long-lasting memories with family and friends and building a legacy around the community. I try to break this down into smaller achievements, and I consciously try to make a point to celebrate smaller wins which add up to the larger milestones.

You address your issues around fertility on the show, what was it like being so honest and raw on camera?
Viewers get to see me going through the egg freezing process. I wanted to share it because, as a woman, there is a tough reality that as you get older, the clock is ticking! Whilst I don’t want children right now, I wanted to ensure I had options and wanted to take off some of the pressure. Sometimes you can find themselves in the wrong relationships because you may feel like time is running out. I didn’t want that pressure. Within my culture, its mind-blowing for you to be in your 30’s unmarried and without a child. I didn’t want to continue that narrative, the great thing about being a woman of today is that we have so many options. We don’t have to conform to societal expectations.

You want to create a community for women of colour in business, why is this important for you?
The ethos around TTYA (Taller Than Your Average) has always been an inclusive space for the excluded girl. Long before inclusion and Diversity have become marketing buzz words. TTYA is dedicated to a lifestyle that supports women of colour in business. Representation is so important, and I want to become the change I dreamt of seeing when I was growing up in the industry. My work as a cultural consultant at the intersection of music, nightlife and fashion has allowed me to connect with so many like-minded people, we share ideas, visions and ambitions. Together we are shaping lifestyle space, providing the next generation with the tools and navigation needed.

What do you hope viewers will learn from the show?
Viewers will see an intimate glimpse into my life. In terms of learnings, the show aims to be super inspiring! You get to see that you don’t have to have it all figured out, and often just being yourself, building with your community and creating your own lane is enough.

Looking to the future, what are you most excited for?
I’ve just bought my first property, so I’m super excited to start the renovation process. It’s been my dream to own my own place, and I can’t wait to strip it all out and transform it! I’m also working on an amazing inclusive shoe collaboration that drops in October, the first of its kind, so definitely keep your eyes peeled!

IRENE AGBONTAEN

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