Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Leilani Basson, and supplied
Few people know that Andrew St Pierre White, former Leisure Wheels contributor and adventure television presenter, started out as a film maker who today happens to film what he loves most: off-roading and exploring Africa.
In 1972 he made his first film when he was just 12 years old: a mini documentary on his family’s first trip to the Okavango Delta in a Triumph 2000 sedan. He filmed his first 4×4 footage in the Moremi National Park when he was 15.
“My first introduction to Africa proper was that holiday in the Okavango in 1972. At the time we lived in Johannesburg, while my father worked for Reuters news agency,” says Andrew, casually seated on the leather couch of his home studio where most of the editing for his videos and television programmes is done.
Model ocean liners in glass showcases (another love of his) decorate the otherwise barren walls.
“There was just something special about the Okavango. We had been to many places while my father worked for the news agency, but we fell in love with Africa.”
After the family moved back to the United Kingdom, the Whites yearned for the African bush. Reuters had no vacancies available on its African desk, so Andrew’s father sold his house, resigned his job, bought a Range Rover and moved the family to South Africa with nothing else but a really cool 4×4.
The Whites resettled in Johannesburg, but there was something they needed to do before starting their new lives: go back to the Okavango – this time in the Range Rover, the 11th one to enter the country. It was on this trip that the 15-year old Andrew made his first 4×4 video and experienced real off-road driving in the bush. He was infatuated.
Immediately after finishing his last matric exam paper, Andrew knocked on the door of a post production television advertising company in Johannesburg and asked for a job as an apprentice film editor. “You don’t need to pay me,” he said.
“After two weeks of varnishing cupboards, I was taken on,” Andrew remembers with glee, talking louder and faster as he recalls the unlikely event.
“I was an apprentice for three years, when one day an advertisement job came in. None of the regular editors was around, so I was offered the chance to have a go. I knew then that I had found my niche.”
At the tender age of 25 Andrew worked on some of the best remembered TV ads of the 80s, including the famous Peter Stuyvesant ads for Razzmatazz Cinema.
“I went all over the world to put these ads together and won the Cannes and New York editing awards for my work.
“Simultaneously, my love for exploring just grew. I bought my first 4×4 — an old Range Rover in nice nick, when I was 22. I spent a lot of time fixing it, even rebuilding the engine, quickly learning how everything worked.”
Andrew took his Range Rover everywhere and managed to do two or three trips a year, including his first mission to Namibia in 1984.
“After fitting a winch to it, I thought I was invincible,” Andrew laughs. “So, of course I got stuck, horribly stuck – entirely due to bad driving and having no 4×4 skills on soft sand. I didn’t even know about deflating tyres.”
Buried in sand up to the chassis, Andrew had to climb out of the window because the doors couldn’t open.
“I was full of bravado. I attached the winch cable to a nearby road sign, and started winching. Without the car moving an inch, the road sign jumped out of what seemed to be solid earth – concrete and all.” And so the real spadework began and an awfully disillusioned Andrew had to dig… for two full hours.
“I came to the conclusion that a winch is a wonderful thing – that only helps if there is another car around,” he says.