Career

Suzanne Paul talks about why life is finally going to be all about her

New Zealand’s infomercial queen has changed her name and moved into a new home - now she's looking forward to what's next.

By Sebastian van der Zwan

As the Weekly pokes around Suzanne Paul's roomy, light-filled new home on Auckland's North Shore, we're flooded with nostalgia.

Her dressing room is decorated with the infomercial queen's old Weekly covers, while the mirrorball trophy she won on Dancing with the Stars in 2007 takes pride of place in the kitchen.

But it's a loose piece of paper beneath it that's the reason we're here to chat – a certificate declaring that Suzanne Paul has officially changed her name to... Suzanne Paul.

You see, until now, that's never been her name. The beloved star was born Susan Barnes in Wolverhampton back in 1956 and "Suzanne Paul" was simply a name invented to promote her Natural Glow make-up in the '90s.

The public and media latched on to it, but it's only now, 26 years later, that Suzanne has decided it's time she officially embraced it too.

"I've got to the age where it's all about me now," she explains. "For the first time in my life, I've really only got myself to think about. Before I had my mum, my husbands, and various dogs and cats, but now it's all about what makes me happy."

And one of those things is leaving behind the confusion that comes from never knowing which name she's booked in under for flights and hotels.

Suzanne (61) laughs, "Everyone at the check-in counter recognises me as Suzanne Paul, but my passport says Wilson, so I'm always being told I'm not booked in or that they would've given me an upgrade if they'd known it was me. I'm missing out!

"But the main reason is that I travel for work every week and I feel like I spend half my life explaining the same story. I've been Suzanne Paul in so many people's eyes for 26 years now, so it's time I really was, with a driver's licence and passport to prove it."

Her eyes sparkling cheekily, Suzanne adds, "And it sounds awful, but what are they going to put on my headstone? I could pop my clogs at any time and it does make me think who I want to be remembered as. What if fans of mine make a pilgrimage to the cemetery and can't find my grave?!"

Her various names represent different stages in her life, tells Suzanne, who was known as Sue in her younger years.

"Sue Barnes was that working-class girl. She carried that stigma of being common and council-housed. I never could imagine Sue having her own TV show or being on the cover of magazines."

In her thirties, Suzanne asked her friends and family to call her Susan. "It was a class thing," she explains. "I was working with all these university graduates and I thought, 'They're all smarter and richer than me, but if I'm Susan, they might think I'm posh too.'"

However, it was only when Suzanne moved to New Zealand in 1991, arriving in Auckland with just $18 in her pocket, that she was truly able to rebrand herself.

"I went up a notch," she smiles. "The accent was still there, but nobody knew what it meant. While most British people could tell I was from the rough end of Wolverhampton as soon as I opened my mouth, Kiwis just thought I had a funny voice. I was reinventing myself at 35."

After a stint selling vacuum cleaners door to door, Suzanne got a job promoting Natural Glow at expos and malls for a company called Prestige Marketing. The beauty product proved so successful, they tried to expand into pharmacies, but shops baulked at the name.

Suzanne explains, "Compared to Elizabeth Arden and Estée Lauder, Prestige Marketing sounded like some crappy old make-up made in Otahuhu, so it was my business partner's idea to take my first name, Susan, and his first name, Paul, to make it sound more international. But at that point, I was going out with a Frenchman who called me Suzanne and I thought that sounded better."

Jude Dobson and Lana Coc-Kroft had been earmarked to present Natural Glow's first TV ads, but due to a lack of funds, Suzanne fronted the campaign – and a star was born. Although she confesses, "I was so nervous, I was throwing up in a bucket on set. It was the worst experience of my life."

Regardless, Natural Glow took off and the name Suzanne Paul stuck. She spent years trying to correct people but eventually gave up. After all, she owned 20% of the company – and she tells, "As Suzanne
Paul, I was louder, funnier and more entertaining. I eventually changed my first name by deed poll. When I was Suzanne, my life changed for the better."

Indeed, Prestige Marketing went from strength to strength, and soon Suzanne was on primetime television, with shows such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, How's Life? and Celebrity Treasure Island.

She continues, "I'd just got married to my first husband, Dean Kilworth, then we had an offer we couldn't refuse. A big American company wanted to buy us out and I became a millionairess overnight.

"Suzanne Kilworth had more money than sense. I was given shares on the New York stock exchange and told that money would always be there, so I built a clifftop mansion, bought the big yacht and went all over Europe on the Orient Express.

"I was rich and famous, but after eight years or so, Dean and I drifted apart. A lot of that was to do with the IVF. I went through eight cycles and when it didn't work, I plunged into a deep depression."

She became Suzanne Wilson after marrying second husband Duncan and not long afterwards, the US company ran aground. Suzanne was bankrupted and forced to sell her mansion, moving into a smaller home with her new husband and mother.

"It was an awful time," recalls Suzanne. "We took on lots of jobs and grew most of our own food."

Things started looking up when Suzanne went back into business with her old friend Paul, working on new make-up range Thin Lizzy with his company Brand Developers, but her 11-year marriage fell apart in 2016.

She explains, "We had a lot going on with losing all the money and our home. I also lost my two cats, my dog and then my mother. I lost my marbles after that – and I was going through the menopause."

Now working full-time for Brand Developers, Suzanne smiles, "Changing my name and moving into a new home have really helped me remember how funny and crazy I used to be. I've reinvented myself again.

"I like to think I could meet someone one day, but that's not my priority. I'm all about making myself happy and the name is a big part of that. Suzanne is back! It's a new beginning."

read more from