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They escape political and economic chaos — and rise as sommeliers – NPR

In a new documentary, four refugees from Zimbabwe compete in an international wine tasting competition. NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka about “Blind Ambition.”



MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It sounds like the setup to a bar joke or maybe a pitch for one of those comedy drama films – four guys escape political and economic chaos in their home country of Zimbabwe, face harrowing journeys to get to neighboring South Africa – where they slowly rise in the restaurant world – and then somehow meet up, become friends and compete for international recognition as – wait for it – sommeliers. Really. It also happens to be true. Their story is the subject of a new documentary called “Blind Ambition.” It was released in theaters and streaming services this month. Tinashe Nyamudoka is one of the four sommeliers profiled in the documentary, and he is with us now to tell us more about it and his story. Tinashe Nyamudoka, thanks so much for joining us. Welcome.

TINASHE NYAMUDOKA: It’s a pleasure, and thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I think I’m on firm ground here when I say I think it’s the rare youth who grows up and says, I want to be a sommelier when I grow up. Did you know what a sommelier was when you were growing up?

NYAMUDOKA: Geez, I didn’t even know there was wine. I knew there were grapes and eventually knew there was white wine and red wine, so the profession was something that I’ve never conceived growing up. It’s only something I found out when I went to South Africa.

MARTIN: So how did the love affair with wine begin in your case?

NYAMUDOKA: In my case is like when I migrated from Zimbabwe and turned up in a refugee in South Africa. It was difficult to find jobs. And the most accessible and easy ones were working in restaurants, and I typically got a job polishing glasses and cutlery at the back. But I was so fortunate that the restaurant manager saw some enthusiasm in me and some eagerness to learn and kind of pushed me towards the direction of hospitality service and which included food and wine. So with that enthusiasm and going to wine school, that’s where I discovered there’s a profession called a sommelier, which was just waiting for me.

MARTIN: I have to say, I was floored at the level of knowledge required for this international competition, which some call the Olympics of wine tasting. And I’m just going to play a short clip from the film where the group of you are testing yourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “BLIND AMBITION”)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I believe the wine is old, probably a Gruner Veltliner, possibly 205 to 207.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So you’re going to Austria?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But I’m not convinced.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: It’s – it’s, for me, it’s just…

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Seven minutes is going to be up just now, guys. And the wine is a mystery. 2007…

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: You’re expected to know what’s the varietal, like, what country is it from, what vintage? Like, I just – I’m just amazed that you can know that just from tasting the wine blindly as the title of the film says. I just – how do you learn all that?

NYAMUDOKA: It’s got to do with, first of all, you know, learning and reading, understanding the grape varieties, the regions they come from on a theoretical basis. And the difficult part, I think, is to relate taste to those variables you pick up. And believe me, I think on the competition itself, we are tasting an average of 60 wines a day, different wines, and trying to nail down the intrinsic which gives you pointers, you know? For instance, we all know if you’re smelling a bit of a cat’s pee in a wine, that’s definitely New Zealand. If you smelling horse manure, that can lead you to a, you know, a Grenache or Garnacha from, you know, Rioja. So with experience and associating and memory, you kind of have clues then nail it down to its final region and origin.

MARTIN: You know, look. At its heart, this is – it’s a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a story of kind of triumph over adversity. It’s – there are a lot of stories kind of tied up in your story. Is there some message that you see in it that you would want to share?

NYAMUDOKA: It’s a story of millions of migrants around the world. I know it’s pressure to the host country, but, you know, if managed well and treated well and integrated well, I think we can do much more to the economy. And we’re not the first, you know? You look at the big businesses in the world or some bright, brilliant innovations we have all over the world is coming from migrants. So I think for me it’s important to realize the importance of it. And that just – it’s a global wall. It’s a global economy. It’s a global thing. And, you know, the most difficult thing is I never, you know, intentionally wanted to leave Zimbabwe, but I was forced with pressures that are not in my control, you know? If I had my way, I would have loved staying there, but sometimes, you know, as ordinary people, we forced away from our homelands. And, you know, it’s just acceptance and really fitting in and respecting where we going, the host country, which is important for me.

MARTIN: We know that there were times in which migrants from Zimbabwe to South Africa were not as well treated. I mean, initially many were welcome, but then subsequently, as conditions in South Africa became more difficult, many people were subjected to violence. It was frightening, I think, at times.

NYAMUDOKA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And yet, you know, I don’t know if you experienced any of that.

NYAMUDOKA: We experienced – it was two phases. The first time I arrived in South Africa, 2008, and the second year was 2014, which was even worse. And I remember working. They actually told us not to come to work for a week until everything subsides. So it was really, really frightening to be honest, and we still bearing the scars.

MARTIN: But also, the other thing that was interesting about the film is it also showed you had allies in unexpected places. Like, I was interested to see how some of the restauranteurs were really – they were really pulling for you. Do you know what I mean?

NYAMUDOKA: Yeah.

MARTIN: I didn’t know how that all happened, but it just seemed in many of the cases in many of your stories, there was somebody who just said – like you were saying at the beginning – they saw something in you, and they just wanted to help you. And I wondered if you were surprised by that or what you make of that?

NYAMUDOKA: Geez – it was the most heartwarming feeling I’ve ever felt, you know? We needed to raise, like, 6,000 pounds, and every day I would be checking our – you know, the crowdfunding going from zero, 5%, 10%, 20%, 30%, and even going to 127%. So for us to feel like it was us they were supporting, but I think it was the idea and our passion and our willingness to change the world that we were really supporting. So it was like a good testament that we’re doing the right thing and very overwhelming as well.

MARTIN: And I want to mention, you are a winemaker yourself now. How did that (laughter) – I’m sure that’s its whole interesting story, but…

NYAMUDOKA: Yeah. I think that was pretty much me being not rebellious in the context of where I was. I got introduced into wine, you know? South Africa – it’s not a hidden fact; it’s still a white-dominated and mostly male. And I found that really challenging because whenever you got to tastings, everything was so foreign to me – might be in the Afrikaans language or the way they spoke about wine, you know, blackberries, blackcurrants, cassis. I’ve never seen a blackcurrant tree, and I’m supposed to pick that up in wine. But with wine education, when you learn that they’re actually not putting strawberries in the wine when they speak about it, it’s more of association and relating to what you were used to.

And that took me back home, you know, growing up in the village, in the mountains, picking up fruit, what my grandmother used to cook. So I related to that. And I felt the wine world didn’t accept or – not accept, but there wasn’t any language that spoke of my upbringing, my culture. And I felt Kumusha could be a vehicle for that because I knew there were millions of people like me that might not be in Africa, but somewhere else in the world – we will struggle the same way I do. And I wanted to be that vehicle of saying wine is very universal. You know, wine is just a beverage, but you have to connect it with your culture, your upbringing, and your beliefs.

MARTIN: Tinashe Nyamudoka is a winemaker. You can watch him and his team represent Zimbabwe in the World Wine Blind Tasting Championship (ph) in the documentary “Blind Ambition.” It’s available now to rent or buy on all major streaming platforms in the U.S. Tinashe Nyamudoka, thanks so much for talking with us.

NYAMUDOKA: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tom Hardy To Narrate Upcoming Sky Original Nature Series Predators – Sky Group

Image is available on SEAC

28 September 2022: Sky today announces that actor and producer Tom Hardy will narrate Sky Nature’s upcoming Sky Original series, PREDATORS.

The thrilling natural history series follows five apex predators face the ultimate test of survival in drastically changing environments across the globe. Marking Sky’s first co-production with Netflix, PREDATORS is produced by True to Nature and Sky Studios and will launch on Sky Nature and streaming service NOW in December 2022.

Trailer: Link here

Sky’s Director of Documentaries and Factual, Poppy Dixon, said: ‘This series celebrates some of the most exhilarating and impressive animals on earth, whilst recognising the impact of climate change on their lives and habitats. To bring PREDATORS to life with one of the UK’s most gifted and reputable talents, who has a passion for environmental causes, is a great pleasure.’

In this compelling new blue-chip nature series, five apex predators face the ultimate test to survive as their rapidly changing world impacts both their own lives and that of the wild kingdoms over which they rule. Those at the top are now being challenged. Territories are being redrawn and new relationships formed.

In this ever-shifting landscape, each predator must overcome new challenges and grasp new opportunities. For polar bears in Canada, wild dogs in Zimbabwe, pumas in Chile, lions in Botswana, and cheetahs in Tanzania, this is the ultimate power struggle. The stakes have never been higher – who will win and who will lose?

We follow the stories of these five apex predators at a critical moment in their lives as they attempt to secure the future for the next generation. Grappling with multiple responsibilities these are deadly hunters, caring parents, and cunning survivors who hold secrets and thrilling stories in their quest to survive.

As an Academy Award® nominated actor and producer, Tom Hardy has quickly become one of today’s most versatile and sought-after talents. He is best known for his leading roles in The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend, all of which led to him being honoured with the prestigious British Actor of the Year award by London Critics’ Circle in 2015. Over the years, Hardy has earned widespread acclaim and recognition from critics and audiences alike for his transformative performances and extensive range across film, television, and theatre.

In 2018, Hardy was awarded a CBE in recognition for his services to drama. Hardy currently serves as a Trustee for REORG Charity, a global non-profit organization that supports the mental health and well-being of veterans, active military and first responders. He also serves as an Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. In the past, Hardy also served as the President of Hari Budha Magar’s Gurkha Everest Expedition, as well as a Patron for Expedition 8848, which aimed to educate today’s youth on the effects of climate change and protecting the planet’s future.

The series was commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content, and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual. Predators is executive produced by Wendy Darke. Showrunner for the series is Vanessa Coates and series director is Dan Smith. Produced by True to Nature and Sky Studios, in association with Netflix. The series is distributed by NBCUniversal Global Distribution on behalf of Sky Studios.

For further information please contact: Marina Forsythe marina.forsythe@sky.uk / Patricia Deveer patricia.deveer@sky.uk

About Sky 

Sky is Europe’s leading media and entertainment company and is proud to be part of the Comcast group. Across six countries, we connect our 23.4 million customers to the best entertainment, sports, news and arts including our own award-winning original content. Sky Nature is the home of breath-taking natural history programming and is dedicated to exploring the beauty and wonder of the natural world and inspiring us all to do more to look after it.

Our technology, including the market leading Sky Q, connects people to everything they love – with entertainment from Sky TV, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer, and apps like Spotify, YouTube, BBC Sounds, Highbrow, Peloton, Fiit, and more, in one place, easy. Our streaming service NOW brings viewers all the enjoyment of Sky with the flexibility of a contract-free service.

Through our new B2B broadband provider, Sky Connect, we offer superfast broadband with business-grade 4G back-up to small businesses in the UK.

Building on the success of Sky Originals like Chernobyl, Gangs of London and Brassic, we are doubling our investment in original content by 2024 through Sky Studios. Sky News provides impartial and trustworthy journalism for free, Sky Arts is the UK’s only dedicated free-to-air arts channel making the arts accessible for everyone and Sky Sports, our leading sports broadcasting service, brings customers some of the biggest and best global sporting events from the Premier League to Formula 1 and everything in-between. Our new TV and movie studio, Sky Studios Elstree, which will open in 2022, is expected to create over 2,000 new jobs and generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK over the first five years.

We believe that we can be a force for good in the communities in which we operate. We’re committed to being Europe’s first net zero carbon entertainment company by 2030 and we’re proud to be a Principal Partner and Media Partner of COP26. We take pride in our approach to diversity and inclusion: we’ve been recognised by The Times and Stonewall for our commitment to diversity and we’ve set ambitious 2025 targets to continue to increase diversity and representation. We’re also committed to investing £30million across our markets over three years to improve our approach to diversity and inclusion, and to tackle racial injustice.

About NOW

NOW is the home of brilliant entertainment. Join in for the latest movies, critically acclaimed shows and biggest live sports on over 60 devices – including our app.

With a Cinema Membership, access the latest blockbusters and unmissable collections with over 1000 movies on demand.

With an Entertainment Membership, enjoy award-winning dramas and the best of HBO – plus Sky Originals and epic kids TV.

With a Sports Membership, stream all 11 Sky Sports channels including the Premier League, International Cricket, Formula 1, golf and more.

Members can also enjoy an upgraded experience with Boost – ad-free* streaming in VOD, Full HD and Surround Sound on up to three devices at once.

For super-fast broadband, enjoy a contract-free membership with Brilliant Broadband, Fab Fibre or Super Fibre.

*Ad-free excludes live channels and trailers promoting NOW content. Boost features available on selected content and devices only. See here for full details.

Learn more: nowtv.com

See what’s on offer: nowtv.com/offers

Follow us: facebook.com/NOWTV

Go behind the scenes: Instagram.com/NOWTV

Join the conversation: https://twitter.com/NOW

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High Point Theatre Proudly Presents: HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr – Yes! Weekly

Oct 7, 2022 – High Point Theatre Proudly Presents: 

HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr

– A True Story of Hollywood Glamour & Scientific Genius –

The 24x Award-Winning, Internationally Acclaimed NYC Play

Written & Performed by Heather Massie & the Hedy Lamarr Film Festival – Oct 4-6, 2022

High Point Theatre – High Point, NC – Oct 7, 2022

“Hedy Lamarr, glamorous siren of the silver screen, was more than ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in the World’. She invented Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology that makes the world of wireless communication tick. From Austria to Hollywood, WWII, torpedoes, ecstasy, and intrigue to the very cell phone in your pocket, Hedy Lamarr is there!” 



Hedy Lamarr graphic_updated.jpg

High Point, NC High Point Theatre is proud to present the play HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr on Oct 7, 2022 in High Point, NC. Fresh off her tour of the show in South Africa and Egypt, Fulbright Specialist and New York City artist Heather Massie will deliver her 24x Award-Winning, Internationally Acclaimed New York City show. The show celebrates the unexpected scientific genius of Viennese-born Hollywood screen siren and inventor Hedy Lamarr. Known as the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in the World’, Lamarr defied expectation by inventing technology for torpedoes during WWII.  Also known as Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Portraying 36 characters in this solo play, Massie enchants the audience as Hedy Lamarr, along with Jimmy Stewart, George Sanders, Louis B Mayer, and more! Hedy is summoned to unearth the truth behind how a glamorous actress could create an invention which launched today’s wireless technology revolution! The show’s mission is to inspire audiences to make the world a better place, especially to encourage young women in science and technology, and to establish Hedy Lamarr as a role model for intelligence, ingenuity, and invention

Playing Friday, October 7, 2022 @ 7:30PM (Doors Open @ 6:30 PM) for the 90 minute show, followed by a Q&A with artist and Fulbright Specialist Heather Massie. Tickets: $10-$15.

Tickets & Information Here: https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-the-life-inventions-of-hedy-lamarr/

(A 60 minute performance of the show for area schools will also be presented on Thursday, October 6 @ 10 AM – for information please contact High Point Theatre at (336)887-3001.) 

In conjunction with the performance of HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr on Oct 7, 2022, High Point Theatre is proud to present their inaugural classic film series, the Hedy Lamarr Film Festival from October 4-6, 2022. Film screenings will be at 7 PM (Doors Open at 6 PM) each evening. Tickets: $9.37.

Ecstasy – Tuesday, October 4 @ 7 PM – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-ecstasy/

Sampson & Delilah– Wednesday, October 5 @ 7 PM – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-samson-and-delilah/

Ziegfeld Girl – Thursday, October 6 @ 7 PM – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-ziegfeld-girl/

Following each film there will be a Q&A/talkback with Heather Massie, Fulbright Scholar and the writer/performer of the HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr production on October 7.

(Descriptions of each film are included below.)

WHAT: HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr

WHO: Written & Performed by Fulbright Specialist Heather Massie

PRESENTED BY: High Point Theatre

WHEN: Friday, October 7, 2022 @ 7:30 PM (Doors Open @ 6:30 PM)

WHERE: High Point Theatre, 220 E. Commerce Ave., High Point, NC 27260

TICKETS: $10-$15

SHOW TICKETS & INFORMATIONhttps://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-the-life-inventions-of-hedy-lamarr/

BOX OFFICE: (336)887-3001 – 12-5 PM, M-F

SHOW WEBSITE: www.HeatherMassie.com/HEDY

Show Blurb:

Hedy Lamarr, glamorous siren of the silver screen, was more than ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in the World’. She invented Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology that makes the world of wireless communication tick. From Austria to Hollywood, WWII, torpedoes, ecstasy, and intrigue to the very cell phone in your pocket, Hedy Lamarr is there!

The Show:

HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr celebrates the unexpected scientific genius of Viennese-born Hollywood screen siren and inventor Hedy Lamarr. Known as the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in the World’, Lamarr defied expectation by inventing technology for torpedoes during WWII.  Also known as Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Portraying 36 characters in this solo play, Massie enchants the audience as Hedy Lamarr, along with Jimmy Stewart, George Sanders, Louis B Mayer, and more! Hedy is summoned to unearth the truth behind how a glamorous actress could create an invention which launched today’s wireless technology revolution! The show premiered Off Broadway in 2016 on Theatre Row in New York City, and has since toured throughout the United States, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Egypt, Sweden, Ukraine, Italy, Iceland, and Finland, and virtually in Germany and Switzerland, garnering 24 awards and critical acclaim. Written and performed by Fulbright Specialist Heather Massie, its mission is to inspire audiences to make the world a better place, especially to encourage young women in science and technology, and to establish Hedy Lamarr as a role model for intelligence, ingenuity, and invention

The Performer:



Heather Massie Headshot scan Square.jpg

Having studied Astrophysics with dreams of becoming an astronaut, Heather Massie marries her loves of art and science in the person of Hedy Lamarr. She studied Astrophysics at the University of Virginia before studying Theatre Arts in the Virginia Tech School of the Arts and becoming a professional actress in NYC and throughout the US. She has toured the world with her show HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr garnering 24 awards and international critical acclaim. She brings the show to theatres, arts festivals, science festivals, science centers, technology conferences, museums, universities, schools, Jewish centers, STEM & STEAM Events, and cultural and scientific organizations throughout the United States and around the world.  In 2019 she served as a Fulbright Specialist with a tour of the show through South Africa sponsored by the US State Department, World Learning, and the US Embassy South Africa. 

High Point Theatre’s innaugural classic film series: The Hedy Lamarr Film Festival will feature October 4-6, 2022 at 7 PM (Doors Open 6 PM). Tickets: $9.37.

All screenings will be at High Point Theatre, 220 E. Commerce Ave., High Point, NC 27260. Following each film there will be a Q&A/talkback with Heather Massie, Fulbright Scholar and the writer/performer of the HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr production on Oct. 7.

Ecstasy – Tuesday, October 4 – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-ecstasy/

Come see what all the fuss was about in 1937 in this renowned but infamous art film shot in Prague. Banned by Hitler and denounced by the Pope, audiences of the day were enthralled by Hedy Lamarr in this film directed by Gustav Machatý.

Eva (Hedy Lamarr) has just gotten married to an older gentleman. She leaves him, and one day meets a young man and they fall in love. Fate brings the husband together with the young lover that has taken Eva from him.

As part of this art film night, the short film Ballet Mécanique will screen before Ecstasy. This is an avant-garde film by artist Fernand Léger. It has a musical score by the American composer George Antheil, who was Hedy Lamarr’s co-inventer of technology for torpedoes during WWII. Come learn how the concept of a player piano was key in their invention!

Sampson & Delilah – Wednesday, October 5 – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-samson-and-delilah/

When strongman Samson (Victor Mature) rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah (Hedy Lamarr), she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret.

Samson and Delilah is the romantic biblical drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It depicts the biblical story of Samson, a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair, and his love for Delilah, the woman who seduces him, discovers his secret, and then betrays him to the Philistines.  

Ziegfeld Girl – Thursday, October 6 – https://highpointtheatre.com/event/hedy-lamarr-in-ziegfeld-girl/

In the 1920s, three women become performers in the renowned Broadway show the Ziegfeld Follies, where they find fame, love, and tragedy.

Ziegfeld Girl stars James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Tony Martin, Jackie Cooper, Eve Arden, and Philip Dorn, and features musical numbers by Busby Berkeley.

HEDY! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr

Reviews:

“Captivating.”  –  The Huffington Post

 

“Effervescent” – Silicon Republic 

“Fascinating”  – Belfast Times

“Highly inventive”  – The Irish News

“Richly realized”  – Blogcritics Magazine 

“Highly entertaining”  – Splash Magazine

“Magnetic performance”  – Theater Scene

“Exceptionally talented”  – MD Theatre Guide

“Lively & enlightening” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“Remarkable”  – Theatre in the Now

“Gorgeous”  – Total Theater

24 Awards Including:

US Embassy Sweden Grant – Sweden

Mid Atlantic Arts – Turku, Finland

UMEZ – Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Grant – NYC

US Embassy Iceland Grant – Reykjavík, Iceland

The Maine Award – RVK Fringe, Reykjavík, Iceland 

Audience Choice – IndyFringe, Indiana

Sold Out Award – IndyFringe, Indiana

Fulbright Specialist South Africa

Best Performance – PRO.ACT Fest, Ukraine

Character Actor Award & Maine Award – RVK Fringe, Iceland

Oscar Award & Magna Cum Laude Award – PortFringe, Maine

Best Actress – Galway Fringe, Ireland

US Embassy Zimbabwe Grant – Intwasa Arts Festival, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

US Embassy Zimbabwe Grant – Harare International Festival of the Arts, Harare, Zimbabwe

Outstanding Performance – Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, NYC

Best Actress – SaraSolo Festival, Florida

Audience Choice – Shenandoah Fringe, Virginia

Festival Bestseller – United Solo Festival, NYC

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Berlusconi bounces back with return to Italy’s parliament – Newsday

Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian right-wing coalition’s resounding victory in Sunday’s general election marks a return to parliament for former premier Silvio Berlusconi, nine years after he was kicked out over a tax fraud conviction.

Berlusconi, who turns 86 on Thursday, won more than 50% of the votes in a Senate race in the northern constituency of Monza, where the billionaire owns a villa and the local soccer club, newly promoted to the Serie A top division.

“I’m going to try to act as playmaker in the (next) government,” Berlusconi told supporters after casting his vote, indicating his desire to stay in the political front-line despite his age and frail health.

Berlusconi had major heart surgery in 2016, became badly ill with COVID in 2020 and has been in and out of hospital over the last year with various ailments. He often slurs his words and appeared to have trouble walking at a Rome rally last week.

In parliament, he will be joined by his girlfriend, Marta Fascina, 32, who won a seat in Sicily. Fascina is set to take up a seat in the lower Chamber of Deputies, while Berlusconi was elected to the upper house, the Senate.

He will have to give up a seat in the European Parliament, which he won in 2019, as serving in both the Italian and EU assemblies is not allowed. Some have speculated he might seek the presidency of the Senate, despite his health worries.

In other high-profile races, hard-right leader Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party and likely new prime minister, trounced rivals as she took more than 51% of the vote in the central constituency of l’Aquila.

The election seemingly ended the short, but fast-paced career of outgoing Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who also has served as deputy prime minister, labour and industry minister over the last five years.

In the previous election in 2018, Di Maio led the populist Five Star Movement to a stunning victory, with around 33%. This time, he was defeated in a constituency contest in Naples, and his small breakaway party took less than 1% nationwide.

Defeat came despite some inventive campaigning, which

saw Di Maio re-enact a famous scene of the “Dirty Dancing” movie, with a group of pizza-makers lifting him up in a flying pose to the soundtrack of “Time of My Life”.

Emma Bonino, another former foreign minister and veteran civil rights campaigner, also missed out on re-election after losing in Rome, while Lazio soccer club’s colourful chairman, Claudio Lotito, was luckier.

Lotito, whose campaign pledges included a promise to “compensate” local team Campobasso for a 1987 third-division relegation at the hands of Lazio, won a Senate seat in the southern Molise region for Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party.

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