Reality TV shows give everyday people the chance to escape from the monotony of everyday life and delve into a world far removed from their own, full of non-stop drama and excitement - so it's easy to see how millions of people get swept into the annual phenomenon known as Big Brother Naija. This year, Mike Edwards, an athlete-turned-entrepreneur, decided it was his turn to step into the BBN spotlight, and after a successful run on the show finishing as 2nd runner-up, Mike left the house with a lot to look forward to. Since then, Mike has been making the most of his newfound fame. He's signed a management deal with EME Management (owned by Banky W and Tunde Demuren), received gifts ranging from iPhones to Rolexes, and has even teased a new shoe collection under his brand "Aireyys". The day we sat down for this interview, Mike was looking forward to his first ever meet and greet in Lagos, followed shortly by another in Abuja, both of which were well-attended by dozens of fans, admirers and well-wishers.
Unlike your average contestant, Mike had no intention of hooking up with anyone inside the Big Brother house. In fact, Mike has already found everything he's ever wanted in a partner, in his wife, Perri. Just weeks before he left for the Big Brother house, Mike and Perri tied the knot during a picture-perfect ceremony in Buckinghamshire. Perri supported Mike tirelessly every step of the way, and continues to be his number one cheerleader. The happy couple have so much in common that they’re both convinced they were destined to cross paths, one way or another. Also an athlete, Perri has been to the Olympics, the World Championships and everywhere in between. Perri isn’t exactly new to the reality TV life either, having joined popular British TV series ‘Dancing On Ice’ as a contestant in 2018. Now, she's taken a little impromptu break from her life in the UK to explore the Nigerian entertainment space with her husband. It's been an interesting year for this hot, new power-couple, so we just had to sit down with them to discuss their relationship, life post-Big Brother, living the Nigerian dream and a whole lot more.
Eniafe: Mike, you got married just before you left to do Big Brother Naija. Why did you decide to do BBN, especially just after becoming a newlywed?
Mike: I went on the show to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to do something like this. We were newly married, there were a lot of bills to be paid, so it was really just a mutual decision between us. We thought it would be a great opportunity for us, for our future, so we decided not to shy away from it. It was obviously daunting, but we were also really excited about the possibilities that could come if it went well and the rest is history.
Eniafe: I mean, Perri, you got married in May, he left for BBN in June so you were apart for months. What was that experience like for you? Were you sad about him leaving or were you just 100% happy and supportive?
Perri: When Mike told me about Big Brother Naija I was all for it. I was like, "these opportunities don't come often, go through the process, see how far you get", and then he got selected so I said "you've got to do this". I was supporting him throughout. Like you said, he left just three weeks after we got married. Our relationship sometimes can be quite distant. Sometimes I'll be in the States training, and he'll be in another country, or he'll be in the States as well but in a different city or time zone. But we always make it work so I thought "this is gonna be easy, it's fine, go for it". Of course, actually going through it was very different. You can't prepare yourself for anything like that. The fact that I couldn't just pick up the phone and call my husband, have a FaceTime chat, the only way I could see him was to open my laptop and watch the show. But you know, I was handling his social media at the time and so just seeing the love and support that he was getting while he was inside the house, I was like "wow, if Mike only knew". I wished I could just call him and tell him how well he was doing. That's what kept me going, knowing that at the end some good would come from it.
Eniafe: So, how long ago did you come to Nigeria?
Perri: Well, I flew out here for the finale of Big Brother to see Mike after 4 months of being apart. My ticket was a return ticket, I didn't know how long I was going to be here for but I booked the trip for just 10 days. A month on now and I'm still here in Nigeria.
Eniafe: So, Mike, had you been to Nigeria before Big Brother Naija or was this your first time here?
Mike: I've actually been back and forth since switching my allegiance in my professional sport, track and field. I made the switch to represent Team Nigeria in 2018. Initially it was supposed to be at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, but I was barred from competing thanks to some transfer of allegiance deadlines - long story for another time. But anyway, I had the opportunity to represent Nigeria at the African Championships, which was held in Asaba in August last year, so I was making a lot of trips back and forth and getting very familiar with the idea of being in Nigeria and the opportunities that were available. So, I took a leap of faith and decided to try the entertainment space and see if it could work out. I figured it would be great for business and would give me the opportunity to move back home, so it was really a win-win. It helped that I'd made all those trips earlier so I knew some of the pros and cons and wasn't just coming here with zero understanding.
Eniafe: So what would you say, more than anything, you were hoping to get out of the Big Brother experience? Did you have any goals in particular or were you just seizing the moment?
Mike: Interestingly I didn't know anything about how the layout of the show was before going into the house. I'd never watched a single episode, but I had seen past stars like Ebuka and watched his success, and just seeing how he was able to position himself as a businessman outside of the show, I thought going in there would be a great chance to teleport into a whole different realm of opportunity. That was how I looked at it. I think most people would go in seeking fame, but I was really doing it to expand and capitalise off the experience. I've always been a minority everywhere I've been in the world, from Great Britain to the USA. But to now come back home, and to identify with my people and for them to embrace me, it was something I'd really longed for, that feeling of belonging and of being at home. So, to be selected, it was almost like a test of my mental capacity. Could I go through sometimes as unthinkable as leaving the UK, going to Nigeria, being on the biggest television show in Africa? The competitor in me gravitates towards challenges like that, the adrenaline, the provocativeness - those are the things that ultimately drew me to Big Brother.
Eniafe: I've spent many years between London and Lagos, myself, so I know how different both places are. Perri, this is your first time here. Would you say you've experienced a culture shock since you've been here or do you feel right at home?
Perri: (laughs) This has not been a culture shock for me one bit. Even though I grew up in the UK I have a Caribbean background and to me we're very similar in a lot of ways. When I landed in the airport here I was like "this is just like back in Jamaica only on a bigger scale" - the hustle and bustle, the traffic, all the things my friends warned me about. I'm used to it already. I've adapted so quickly. All my friends keep asking when I'm coming back, but clearly I'm enjoying it.
Eniafe: So, you could really see yourself settling down here?
Perri: Well, my husband is here, and he needs to be here at the moment. I want to be where my husband is, but other than that I really do see Lagos as a land of opportunity, so I'm really happy to be here right now.
Eniafe: What about you Mike? I'm sure you have a different perspective since you're not Jamaican.
Mike: Actually, it's funny you should say that because my father is Jamaican. I'm part Nigerian, part Jamaican and part American, but the only thing that has really caught my eye in a bizarre way is the unruly drivers in this country (laughs). Sometimes, it's like there are no rules!
Eniafe: Are you used to eating Nigerian food, and what are you favourites?
Perri: Jollof rice, plantains that you call dodo, I love puff-puff, pounded yam, fish... I tried something recently called 'shaki'. I wish I didn't know what it was before I tried it but it did taste good. I love that there's a lot of spice and pepper in Nigerian food.
Mike: My eating routine is a little different from most people because I'm a pescatarian, so I only eat fish.
Eniafe: That must be quite difficult in Nigeria, no?
Mike: Everyone says that, but to be honest there's some amazing catfish, grilled fish. I mean for what you get, the value is unreal. I can feed myself and be content for a long period of time, whereas if I were to do the same thing in any other country I'd be breaking the bank, so I'm very happy with my nutrition, how I'm able to eat at such a low cost but great quality. We live like kings and queens here.
Eniafe: So, being professional athletes, I guess you're not entirely new to being in the spotlight, but I imagine that since Big Brother the attention has increased quite a bit. How are you dealing with the newfound fame and attention?
Perri: I smile when you say that because I love it and I knew that was what would happen. I have experienced it before, I've been to major events, I've presented, done red carpets, been treated like a star among stars, so it's not totally new to me. I always tell my husband he needs to embrace it a bit more because it can go as quickly as it comes so you need to make the most of it while you can.
Eniafe: Would you say you're a little more into the celebrity lifestyle than Mike is?
Perri: Mike is very much a 'home guy'. He does like to keep his life private, which may seem strange since obviously he went on BBNaija, but like he said, the main reason he did it was really to promote his brand, Aireyys. He wanted to get that into the market and he knew the audience being on the show would bring exposure for the brand. But in the end, I think people really grew to love 'Mike, the brand'. Mike always stays true to himself, so even with his new celebrity status we still do normal things - we try to cook for ourselves, we're not suddenly changing everything and hiring people to do everything for us, that's never how it's been for us, not in the UK and not now in Nigeria.
Eniafe: So, Mike, you came out of the house and suddenly you're this huge celebrity, millions of people know who you are, they've just spent three months watching your day-to-day experiences and interactions. How would you characterise your experience since leaving the Big Brother house?
Mike: The experience has been overwhelming at times because even though personally I've been really sure of myself, when you have loads of people who recognise you from all walks of life, it's something that you never really get used to - or at least I haven't. Everyone feels as though they know everything about you, and to be fair, they have been on that journey with you. They've seen the emotions I went through, they've watched me sleep, eat, workout and speak my mind.
Eniafe: Do you find that problematic, that people think they know everything about you? Or do you feel like actually they do know you, in a way?
Mike: I mean, all the emotions and everything that I put out were real. So, yeah, in a way, they do know me because I wasn't acting.
Eniafe: Perri, did you have any concerns or doubts when Mike went into the house?
Perri: Well, I know my husband very well and he knew what he was getting into. He was very honest from the beginning so I really didn't have anything to worry about. I was just proud watching him and seeing the things people said about him.
Eniafe: Well you were certainly very popular during your time in the house. I want to know, what do you think it was, looking back, that made you so endearing to the viewers?
Mike: I think it was my authenticity, and my ability to speak my mind. I was just being myself and I never felt the need to be somebody else, and in doing that I was very unapologetic at times. I just felt very honest. When you're in a gains scenario, there's a lot of things that are fake, so whenever you find something that is real you gravitate towards it. I've always said people fall in love with your personality, not what you bring in or what you have in the bank. Everybody's trying to be somebody else so the moment you're confident enough to be yourself you stand out and I think that's what it was for me. But also, I was a misfit, I wasn't completely polished, I wasn't the most eloquent speaker, so I think my imperfections made me stand out. Maybe people felt like they could relate to that. I'm still yet to see everything that people have seen because I was always living in the moment, but a lot of people have reached out to me since I came out of the house, saying that I helped inspire them and things like that,so if I was able to influence just one person in a positive way then my job is done. In the words of Tupac, ‘I'm not here to change the world but if I can spark the mind who does then that's good enough too’.
Eniafe: What should your fans be looking forward to in the near future?
Mike: Well I don't like to give away all my secrets, but one thing I can say is you'll be seeing a lot of us here in Nigeria and in various African countries, that's a sure thing. My wife and I will be working on different things in the entertainment space, working on our brand, and most importantly our family.
Eniafe: And you, Perri, what are you looking forward to most right now as a couple?
Perri: Building an empire. And with that empire you have family, business, and more. For Mike and me that's been our goal since before the show, building something together. We're a package and we're stronger than ever, so Nigeria better look out for the Edwards!
Photography & Creative Direction:
Eniafe Momodu @eniafemomodu
Styling: Fayosola Aina @fayo_ths
Make-up: Jo'ville Makeup Studio @Jovilleofficial
Hair: KL's Naturals @klsnaturals