Jani Allan is remembered as South Africa’s first celebrity journalist. She joined the Sunday Times in 1980. Soon, she had the highest readership on the newspaper which had a circulation of some four million.
She was raised in Johannesburg’s privileged northern suburbs and read Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. As well as her writing career she was a concert pianist, exhibiting artist, fashion model, high school teacher and part-time closed circuit TV producer. She married Gordon Schachat, co-founder of African Bank and one of South Africa’s most pre-eminent art collectors.
In 1987 she was named the ‘most admired’ person in South Africa in a Gallup poll that was commissioned by her newspaper. The following year she moved from the champagne social circuit to the only arena that had real importance – the political one. As the pulse-taker of the politico, psyche-analyst of the powerful, her Face to Face profile column saw her interviewing the likes of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Pik Botha, Magnus Malan and Beyers Naudé.
She’s credited with the honour of single-handedly destroying the weerstand of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging. Her interview with Eugene Terre’Blanche, leader of the AWB was misconstrued. The fallout and the leader’s increasing obsession with Allan led to what Marianne Thamm has described as a ‘manufactured scandal’. Allan was forced to leave the country in 1989 after a bomb exploded in her apartment.
She would work at the Sunday Times bureau in London before finding work as a freelance journalist. She would publish opinion pieces for prestigious titles such as The Spectator, London Evening Standard, Sunday Express, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Her 1992 libel case against the British broadcaster, Channel 4 reverberated around the world.
She returned to South Africa in 1996 at the insistence of her then-partner, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. Allan lived with the Italian-American constitutional lawyer in Cape Town’s exclusive Camps Bay. She quickly returned to the media scene with Style magazine devoting their cover story to Allan’s return. She was then contracted by M-Web to launch an online column and reinvented herself as a radio presenter of Jani’s World on CapeTalk.
Allan left South Africa in 2001 after being held up at gunpoint outside her home in Clifton. Following an unsuccessful second marriage to an American inventor, Allan began working in the restaurant industry in New Jersey. Twelve years after her arrival she rebooted her writing career, sharing the snobbish cultural reflections of her second existence as a waitress. Her blog My Grilling Life was noticed by former colleagues that enthused about it on social media. Her re-emergence led to the Mail & Guardian commissioning a profile piece on Allan. Rowan Philp’s piece ‘The return of Jani Allan’ was widely celebrated winning industry awards.
Allan also began to enjoy viral success with her columns on other subjects. Her animal advocacy saw her penning an open letter to American trophy hunter, Melissa Bachman. Bachman had sparked outrage by sharing photos of her hunting exploits in South Africa. Allan’s self-published column was widely circulated and read by over 1 million readers. The following year Allan waded into the Oscar Pistorius trial publishing a widely-circulated open letter to the murder-accused comparing him to Terre’Blanche. In the column Allan opined that Pistorius was receiving acting lessons for his court appearances. This was reported on by newspapers and news agencies around the world. Allan addressed the speculation by speaking exclusively to Fox News.
Following the publication of Allan’s celebrated Mail & Guardian profile she was asked by Bridget Impey of Jacana Media to write her memoirs. Jani Confidential was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. Allan supported her best-seller with a widely publicized book tour. There are currently plans for a stage production adaptation with Sandra Prinsloo playing Allan.
Most recently Allan has contributed to several South African titles such as the Daily Maverick, Big Issue, Fair Lady and Dekat.