No one wears the pants in the McLean-Bailey household

5 Jan 24 | Profiles

When an internationally recognised television personality, emcee, speaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and a former Manchester United legend and England goalkeeper, soccer commentator, presenter and global circuit speaker team up, one can only expect fireworks!

Dynamic duo epitomise the phrase ‘power couple’

Michelle McLean and Gary Bailey make a formidable team – both in their personal lives and professional careers. The couple met 20 years ago when Gary was working at SuperSport and Michelle as an M-Net presenter.

“We only started dating 12 years ago, after we had both been divorced for six years. The timing was perfect,” says Michelle.

It was their make-up artist who suggested they meet. At the time, Michelle lived in Cape Town and Gary in Johannesburg. Arnie Gertz, who worked with Michelle on her golf day for the Michelle McLean Children Trust, gave him her number. “We courted for four months, checking each other out, until I moved with my son Luke to Johannesburg a year later,” says Michelle.

They had a small, intimate wedding in KwaZulu-Natal on March 9, 2013, followed by a blessing ceremony in Namibia, for Michelle’s family and friends. “It was beautiful to have two opportunities to share our vows,” says Michelle. Seven months later, they moved to Boca Raton in Florida with Gary’s three children – Lara, Jenna and Ross – and Michelle’s son Luke. “Three teenagers, one adult child, and only a few months of being step-parents… Immigrating to a new country was challenging, but we had fun along the way,” says Michelle.

As they have both always been in television – Gary as a soccer commentator and Michelle as a lifestyle host and emcee – and both are motivational speakers, they were keen on a new adventure and expanding their careers internationally.

“We also were excited for our children’s opportunities to study at US universities, and all the work options available for them here,” says Michelle.

“Our quality of life is amazing in the US, but it was an incredible journey to immigrate, with many challenges. Moving with four children, not having credit, having to use cash for the first two years, the cost of health and other insurance and buying cars for all of us at the same time,” adds Gary.

The couple arrived in the US as freelancers, looking for work in television and media. They didn’t have jobs secured. “Although we were optimistic and connected, we still struggled for months to land positions! It was really scary and we watched the money we brought over diminish rapidly. As all immigrants know, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

“That’s why it is so great to have this amazing Saffa community, to stand together and share our stories of heartache and success,” says Michelle. It’s the SA sunsets they miss most. And, Michelle adds, her discussions with the Capetonians on the streets of Cape Town.

She recalls a greeting that calls to mind the Mother City: “Jayyy, jy met die bene!” “Oh, the laughs we have had… We miss braais with buddies and the same sense of humour. And SA wine, although we are grateful to be able to buy it here.” The couple miss their friends back home and Michelle misses her family in Namibia. But, working as an investment and tourism consultant for the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board, in the president’s office, and as the international business officer for the Ohlthaver & List group of companies, she’s fortunate to travel to Namibia every two months for work and to see her family.

“It’s such a blessing to be able to see my family and friends and to never feel disconnected from our roots in Southern Africa. And, I get to do what I’m so passionate about – promote Namibia, South Africa and my philanthropy projects through the Michelle McLean Children Trust, and our other community and conservation projects,” says Michelle.

The couple love to travel together when Gary is not commentating in the soccer season. Gary says they love to go on safaris, be in the bush and feel ‘that wonderful warm African sun on our faces’.

Christmas, they say, is about being with family. “We have four grandchildren in the US. We alternate every year, between family in SA and Namibia and the US. Last year was with my sister Hale, in Ireland. It’s never about big gifts and money spending, it’s about time with the family that is the real gift to us.”

From racing around the track 
to revving hearts

If there’s one thing you didn’t know about one of the most beautiful women in the world, it’s that Michelle McLean wanted to become a racing car driver, not a beauty queen! The 1992 Miss Universe, sharing some little-known information with Saffa Mag, says she was told she was ‘too tall to drive competitively’.

Another thing you probably didn’t know about the fun-loving, loyal and protective Leo is that she can sand ski – on two skis – really well. “I was taught by one of France’s top skiers, who spent time in Namibia training in the early ’90s.” Born in Windhoek, Namibia, Michelle spent the first four years of her life in Davenport, Iowa, where her father was studying to become a chiropractor at Palmer College. She then lived in Windhoek until she was 13, when she started modelling. “Between schooling, I travelled throughout Europe on assignments. I finished my final two years of schooling in one year, at Boston House College in Cape Town. By 16, I was working full-time as a model in SA and throughout Europe.

“It was magical growing up in Namibia and travelling the country – my parents loved to take us on educational holidays, exploring Namibia and SA. This is where my passion for community work, conservation and love of nature was ignited. The peacefulness, then and now, the open spaces and endless starry night skies make the desert my favourite place!” Michelle, who is also a social butterfly but not one for gossip, honours people with integrity and a positive attitude to life. “This is the reason I love Gary so much. He’s such an amazing man! I’m blessed!”

An inspirational philanthropist

Other than winning Miss Universe for Namibia, Michelle cites her greatest professional milestone as establishing the Michelle McLean Children Trust 32 years ago. It has since raised over N$40m for community and education projects. She has had the privilege of working with inspiring people, such as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Michelle has appeared on the Nasdaq building in Times Square, for the International Association of Top Professionals, and has been honoured for her humanitarian and entrepreneurial work. She’s driven by her passion for ensuring equal rights for children and women. As for the future, she will continue her work with the Michelle McLean Children Trust and continue her work in investment and tourism, to grow the equality of wealth in Southern Africa, specifically for marginalised communities. In December, both Michelle and Gary will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Top Professionals and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. They will both appear on the Nasdaq building in Times Square, NYC for this award.

Nearest and dearest

Among her greatest personal milestones are being a mother and having the gift of her son, her stepchildren and grandchildren. “There is no greater feeling of personal achievement than seeing your children flourish and grow in their own right as beautiful people.” She enjoys being anywhere her family is, but the Namib Desert and the red dunes of the Sossusvlei call her name. She’s at her happiest in the bush on safari. Michelle’s philosophy is to never take anything for granted. “Gratitude is the most important thing in my life. Love, health and our loved ones and friends come first. Material wealth, success in business or celebrity standing will never take precedence.”

Legendary goalie is 
a keeper!

Once an unassuming civil engineering student at Wits University on a football scholarship, who puttered up Jan Smuts Avenue on his 50cc scooter, Gary Bailey went on to become an international football legend whose expertise is highly sought after in the commentator’s box.

While South Africans automatically link him with SuperSport and English football, a little-known fact about Gary is that he’s a vegetarian and totally against harmful farming. “I am also a qualified conservationist,” says Gary, whose favourite place is on the beach. Gary was born in Ipswich in England and emigrated to South Africa when his father Roy Bailey left England to play soccer in Johannesburg.

He went to King Edward School and then Rondebosch Boys’ High in Cape Town, but it was at Wits University that his goalkeeping talents were noticed. He became their regular keeper when he was just 17.

Thanks to his dad’s expert coaching, and the support of Wits coach and former Manchester United star Eddie Lewis, Gary earned a trial at Old Trafford. His life was transformed when Manchester United decided to take a chance on him. It took a year, and injuries to the top keepers, before he got his chance to start for the first team.

Coincidentally, it was against his dad’s former club, Ipswich. Unfortunately, Gary had two of the greatest keepers in English history – Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence – in front of him for the 10 years he played for England. This severely restricted his international opportunities.

A Manchester United Legend, he played 375 first-team games for the Red Devils in the late ’70s and ’80s; and for England from 1979 to 1986, including winning two Football Association Challenge Cups, in 1983 and 1985.

He currently commentates on both women’s soccer in the US and the USL men’s second division league for Vista in Fort Lauderdale. He also does play-by-play commentary on Ligue 1 in France for BeIn Sports in Miami.

TV fame

Following his football career, he became a TV presenter and host, mostly with SuperSport in SA, for 25 years. He hosted his own chat show, produced soccer programmes and was the head of soccer for five years. Gary was also a global circuit speaker, focusing on achieving success under pressure. He spoke at many top companies, such as Microsoft, IBM, Nike, Coca-Cola, AON, Mercedes-Benz and SAB Miller. He was recognised for his speaking success by being inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame in 2010. After retiring in the UK, Gary returned to South Africa and, after resting his knee, decided to return to play for glamour club Kaizer Chiefs. The team went on to win the then-National Soccer League (NSL) in 1989 and amassed five trophies in two years.

Exciting journey

Gary, who describes himself as a dedicated, fun family man, is grateful for life, love and opportunities. “My childhood was fun, exciting and full of outdoor activities,” he says. Among his greatest achievements are helping build SuperSport into a huge brand in Africa and being inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame in SA in 2010. His personal milestones include continuing to study for his BSc in Physics in Manchester and achieving his MBA at the Henley Business School in Oxford. Not only is he driven by wanting to be the best he can be, but he’s also ‘a big supporter of Michelle’ and the impact her work is having on Namibians’ well-being.

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