Once a darling of South African TV, Nadia Bilchik remains a beloved public figure in Atlanta, which has been her home for 25 years. By Allison Cooper
Nadia Bilchik was born in Johannesburg in 1964, the same year that Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Fast forward to 1996, Nadia, then a well-known M-Net presenter, hosted the opening of the SOS Children’s Village in Cape Town with the then President Mandela. “It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life,” she says
Nelson Mandela is merely one of many globally recognised celebrities – including Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon and George Clooney – that the internationally renowned television personality, communication and professional development training expert, keynote speaker and author has met during her fascinating career. Passionate about people, relationships and being inclusive, Nadia’s tagline is simple: “Everyone is welcome at my party.”
An inspiring life
Nadia’s childhood was a happy one. “I was lucky to have a stay-at-home mom who was always available to me. I grew up in a suburb with lots of children my age and there was a lot of camaraderie. I’m grateful for these relationships, many of which I still have today.
“My parents taught me that girls can do anything and that I should play to my strengths. My three siblings are physicians, but my strengths are in the arts and drama. My mom took me to endless play rehearsals, which shaped my career,” says
Nadia. This set the scene for her next adventure – obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree, with majors in Drama and English, from the University of Cape Town. She later obtained a Licentiate in Speech and Drama from Trinity College in London. Nadia started out as an actor, featuring in various movies. It was while she was being interviewed about her role in Act of Piracy that she realised she would rather be the interviewer and not the interviewee.
“I auditioned to be a presenter at M-Net, where I worked until 1997 when my husband, Steven, and I won green cards and moved to Atlanta in the US.”
The move, with two young children, was a difficult transition and it took a while for Nadia to adjust. That said, she secured a job at CNN within two months. As luck would have it, the head of security at CNN Airport Network knew Nadia’s colleague at M-Net and distributed her videotape, containing a variety of her M-Net segments, to the right person at the network.
She has since anchored and hosted feature programmes for CNN International, reported for CNN Weekend and was the editorial producer for CNN’s weekend morning programme. Nadia is now predominantly a professional speaker, communications trainer and freelance editorial producer for CNN.
“I have a dual career. All of these roles engage a different part of me,” she says.
With clients such as The Coca-Cola Company, Samsung and Porsche, to name a few, there’s no wonder she’s one of the most sought-after professionals in her field.
A proud South African
Nadia says what’s happening in SA with regard to corruption and load-shedding is tragic. “But no country is Nirvana. I’m impressed by how South Africans find their way around all of the disruptions.” She was recently in SA and visits the country at least twice a year.
“My mom and mother-in-law live in SA and I love the energy of Johannesburg and the people. I’m always impressed by their resilience, energy and kindness. South Africans have a unique ability to connect. They are generous and lack scepticism. There’s also always a sense of trust and familiarity when you interact with them,” says Nadia.
As for SA traditions, there are always great celebrations in Nadia’s house when the Bokke win. “We braai, and call it a braai, not a barbeque, and Steven makes biltong.”
Living with purpose
Nadia says her greatest impact is having a purpose. “I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning at least once a year. For me, it’s about determining what kind of person you want to be and how you contribute. I believe if you can change one person’s life, the world will be a better place. This drives me more than anything.”
Her greatest personal milestone, she says, is raising two kind, compassionate purpose-driven daughters, Lexa (31) and Julia (28), who are independent, appreciative and contributing members of society. Life has taught Nadia that nothing stays the same. “You have to be constantly relevant, stay current and stop wanting what you had in the past. It’s not easy, but we have to be open to change.” Her philosophy is to deal with conflict masterfully.
“Life is so much easier when you deal with conflict in a positive way. Your relationship with yourself is where everything starts. If you are ill at ease with yourself, work on that.”
In her downtime, she enjoys watching Netflix, sometimes in different languages. She is also a keen walker and enjoys good wine, friends and talks. “Steven is an avid cook and, fortunately, I also love good food,” she says. As for her happy place? Being in a Johannesburg coffee shop with friends or having a cappuccino with her daughters at Atlanta Daily Chew, a restaurant owned by Julia.