Jimmy Gathu used to be a hotshot on radio, back when Nation FM was in its full glory. Then one day it shut down and he was out of a job. And for a man who had been working all his life, it was a tough break. Fast forward to three years later, he still has that familiar infectious laugh that once boomed over the airwaves. He is now older and wiser, and a cool grandpa who announces the birth of his grandchildren on Facebook and once interviewed President Uhuru Kenyatta in sheng.
You have been known for your constant innovation and self-improvement. What is the one thing you are currently working on improving?
My physical fitness. I used to have a potbelly but for medical reasons, I had to stop having it. I have a condition called sciatica (back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve), and you can have it surgically sorted out. But I would rather not have my body opened up. So I went with option B which is to live with it and manage it. One way is to make sure that the weight around your lower back isn’t too much. So I cannot afford to have a potbelly because I would not be able to stand up. I always have to consult my chiropractor about what sort of physical exercise I should do and it also involves physiotherapy. It is very tedious but necessary.
You were the big media guy, then you weren’t. But soon you may be again. Excited?
Very. I never knew that a show like this one would come. Just like I never knew that one day I would be told I was not needed any more. Nation FM shut down and we were told to go home. By that time I had never been out of a job for 27 or 28 years. I had never been fired. I was always poached, then one day at the top of my career I was told time was up.
That must have been tough…
It was. If it was not for my wife Cathy, I am really not sure I would have made it. At some point, I was ready to take any job for whatever salary, but she said, “You know what, don’t worry, I will handle it. I will shoulder you but you have to be sure what you want to do.” Even when it was tough for her, she was there. That was when I started my communications company.
What do you feel you could have done better, back in the day?
I wish I knew then what I know now about building brands. I’d probably be a billionaire! I got into the industry at a time when there wasn’t any mentorship, no one to tell you how to handle yourself and what to expect. So I made a lot of mistakes because I had no mentor. No one taught me how to handle the public, how to handle criticism, the legal aspects of copyright and intellectual property. I created and produced a lot of content, some of which is still in existence, so imagine how far I would be if I had known that there was something called intellectual property and laws that defend content development?
What do you consider your major accomplishment?
My family, definitely. I think family is the nucleus of everything. If your family is not happy then nothing else will matter. We all strive to be the best that we can and the only people in any situation who will urge you on or help you pick up the pieces and not judge you or anything is your family. The biggest challenge for anyone, especially one with a family is having an intact one. Money is easily got and easily lost. Careers come and go. Jobs come and go as I have experienced, but family is always there. Your family lives on. Your children inherit you and they continue with your legacy. Your family is your legacy. It is not the music programme, it is not Club Kiboko, it is not anything else. It is your family.
Is this a revelation that you learnt over time?
Saying my family is my biggest achievement is because despite all the challenges I have been through and my ups and downs, successes and lack of them in my career, my family has remained constant. They have been there through thick and thin, they have been there through my ups and downs and with how career can be difficult, there are times I do not see them for a while but they understand. They will call and say they miss me and say things that mean the world to me. They will ask how I am doing, say they miss and love me. It is great.
For a while, you were known as the “Achana na mpango wa kando” guy. Did that mean you couldn’t be caught out doing the bad things? I did not come up with the slogan. I auditioned and got picked to do it. It actually also had an impact on my marriage life, because I knew if I was caught in a bad situation I would have single-handedly destroyed an extremely expensive campaign, so I had to walk the talk. That was also another turning point in my brand. At some point, I had stagnated, and that came and took me to another level.
How did you meet your wife Cathy?
We met through a play. I was in the play, and she was watching the play. I guess it is true what they say that you marry your mother. My wife is a very tough woman! She has an interesting way of telling you to stop feeling sorry for yourself, pick up the pieces, get up and go. I don’t know… when I talk about her, I get emotional! I don’t know where to start. What I can tell you is there were moments in my life when I did not think I would make it. I did not think much would happen and she was my only cheerleader. We have been married 21 years this year and we have been together for 25 years so she knows me very well. She knows when to be tough, she knows when I am bruised and I need to just chill and she just knows exactly what to say. Both positives and negatives, ups and downs, in our lives has helped me be a better and stronger man.
You are the typical grandpa on social media, sharing updates of the little ones. That must be exciting for you.
Yes it is! My grandson is now climbing stairs on his own and when that happened, my granddaughter called me up to tell me. It was so sweet. I have three daughters; Chantal (26), Jasmine (17) and Wambui (13). I believe Jasmine will one day be famous – she will probably take the music business of the family further than any of us could. I tell her “You carry the Gathu name. You will not be a mediocre artist. Otherwise, I will change your career myself!” Chantal and Jasmine sing like angels. Wambui cannot sing to save her life but she can act very well.
Are you the typical tough dad too?
Nooo! Cathy and I are both bad cops. We realised that the good cop/ bad cop style of parenting does not always work. Both of us are very tough on our children. We always say that there are some positives and negatives about how we were raised, so we don’t want to deny our children the positives that we got, and one of them is discipline. We have no favourites and we tell them we are their parents, not their friends. We will prepare them for life and once they are ready they go.