At 35, Radwa El Sherbiny was standing in front of a mirror trying to remember the person she once was. That was the beginning of her rebellion; a rebellion against herself, against her marriage, and against a society that dictates how women should behave, how they should look and how they should be. Now, four years later, her life has changed dramatically. She has her own show on television, and she has become a force to be reckoned with. eniGma’s Deputy CEO Omnia Zaied sat down with El Sherbiny to learn about her journey of liberation and how, at 39, she has become the queen of women’s hearts.
Radwa El Sherbiny recalls the day, after seven years of marriage, when she looked at herself in the mirror and realised that she didn’t recognise the person she saw. She was not the person she had always wanted to be; and she decided, then and there, that she would change the course her life had taken. Amazingly, just four years later, her life has changed dramatically and she is now basking in the amazing success of her own TV show, Heya We Bas (Only for Her), on the CBC Sofra channel. Mirroring the trials and tribulations of every woman, whether it’s the homemaker struggling to raise her kids, the working woman juggling to find her life balance, or the teenage girl excited to start her adult life, through her show, El Sherbiny has struck a chord with women of all walks of life and has won their hearts in the process.
I first became intrigued with television talk host Radwa El Sherbiny when I started to notice that she was repeatedly being tagged in social media posts about sexual harassment cases. I became curious as to why women experiencing sexual harassment were trying to draw Radwa El Sherbiny’s attention. Why were they seeking her help, in particular? After much research, I was fascinated by what I found out about her. A couple of months later, I was at CBC Sofra’s studios to agree with El Sherbiny’s team on a cover feature and shoot for our magazine.
As I sat in the green room where the show’s guests usually wait, I started chatting with a lady who informed me that she had called El Sherbiny on the air the week before and told her that she needed her help. El Sherbiny called her after the show, and after listening to her story, asked her to come in to meet her in person. “She does that all the time,” says Salma Wahdan, the producer of El Sherbiny’s show, Heya We Bas, adding, “She follows up with way more cases off the air and in person than she does publicly, hoping to help as many women as she possibly can.”
An hour later, El Sherbiny walks into the room where I’m still waiting, reaches out to me with both hands, and says “Hi, I am Radwa.” She then turns to Wahdan and tells her, “Please make sure to stay in touch with that lady. She will come here every two weeks until she is better. She needs someone by her side.”
From that first encounter, I began to understand why Heya We Bas, which airs live at six pm from Thursday to Saturday, has captured the minds and hearts of millions of viewers. Female audiences, in particular, were tuning in because they had finally found someone who talks to them rather than at them. “The show’s success didn’t happen overnight, however,” explains Mohamed El Halawani, Director of Heya We Bas adding, “It took a lot of hard work and it took a lot from El Sherbiny herself to grow this much and become this influential”. According to Wahdan, “If you remove El Sherbiny from the show, and keep all the other elements, I highly doubt it would succeed. Viewers love her, they love the way she looks, they love the way she talks and listens to them.” Not surprisingly, Heya We Bas’ You Tube channel won the Gold Creator Award for a women’s show in the Middle East with the most subscribers.
A couple of months after we first met, I visit El Sherbiny on the set again to conduct the interview. As I wait for my time with her, I watch the powerhouse El Sherbiny as she runs the show, paying attention to every detail, including removing a speck of dust she notices on the table and fixing her guests’ outfits and hair before they go live. During commercial breaks, El Sherbiny suddenly switches to ‘mummy’ mode, calling her kids at home and patiently listening to her daughter as she recites her lessons over the phone. After the show, she huddles with her social media team to actively discuss which parts to share and what the titles for the segments should be. Next, she confers with her team about the coming episode of her show, guiding “her girls,” as she refers to her producers, as they solve pending issues with her.
When she is finally sitting with me for our interview, I get to see a whole other persona than the one I had been watching for the past few hours. She is quite different from the fierce, strong, independent and seemingly undefeated woman running her show. As we chat, she comes through as “just another woman struggling to survive,” which is how she describes herself. She tears up when she remembers something painful, is delighted when I make a nice comment, and is not afraid to make fun of herself.
El Sherbiny’s journey to the top has not been a steady or an easy one. Although her passion as a young girl was to go into fashion design, she followed her father’s wish and majored in media at university. However, rather than work in media after graduation, she landed her first job at a petroleum company, as a Learning and Development Regional Coordinator. Her mother, nevertheless, kept pushing her to try her luck on TV and even got her her first TV gig on El Mehwar, as a co-host in a couple of episodes of a show. Also at her mother’s insistence, in 2003 she joined 50 participants in a training course for TV hosts led by Antoine Kassabian, the famous Lebanese TV Specialist. She ended up as one of the top five and was offered a job at ART. At the time, it seemed as if life had it’s own plan for her, a plan El Sherbiny insists she didn’t want then.
The very first time El Sherbiny was recording her first show, Laialy ART (ART Nights), she had to repeat the intro 38 times, prompting the show’s director to ask her if she was sure she really wanted to do this. While the answer to that question in her head was a clear no, she is not one to accept defeat, so she persisted and managed to keep her job at ART and went on to host the popular show, Propaganda TV for five years. At the same time, she kept her job at the petroleum company, got married and had her first child. She then moved to El Hayat TV briefly, before deciding to put her career on hold and to focus on her family and take care for her toddler.
After seven and half years of marriage, two kids, and enormous weight gain, El Sherbiny, became unrecognisable, even to herself. She couldn’t bear it anymore. She walked out of her old life with her two children in hand, and never looked back. She insists that she has no regrets. “If I was given the chance to go back in time, I would do everything the same way. You are the result of what you have been through. If I hadn’t been through all that, I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.
El Sherbiny recounts how, in the first couple of seasons of her show, Heya We Bas, which catapulted her to fame after she almost gave up on herself, she shared her story with her viewers. She tearfully explained how hard it was for her to decide to get a divorce. She talked about her struggle as a single mother, with no job and no money. She talked about how she lost 31 kilos and regained her self-confidence as a woman. She talked about God’s will, which led her to where she is right now. “I call it God’s will, because I was desperate. I was in a lot of pain. I had knocked on all doors at the time, and there was nothing left for me to do. And then out of nowhere, I got that call from CBC Sofra!” she recalls, tearfully. Even after she shot the promo of the show, she still didn’t believe it was happening. It wasn’t until the promo was aired that she stopped holding her breath. Even now four years later, as she recounts it all, she breathes with obvious relief, and with tears in her big green eyes, says, “it passed!”
When the show started in 2017, it was a simple four-segment show dedicated to fashion and beauty. While it was not planned at the time, opening up about her personal life on the air helped made the show the success it is today. It proved to be cathartic, not just for her, but for her viewers as well. “When I talk about my personal life, it is to show women that I am not any different from them. Just because I am dressed up and in full makeup on TV, doesn’t mean that I didn’t go through a lot, and still do. Everyone has problems in their lives, but we choose how to deal with them. There’s light after darkness. There’s hope, and there is God,” she explains. The effect of that was magical. Viewers were connecting with her, trusting her and loving her.
The unexpected response of viewers to her personal story led to the decision to diversify the content of the show and to start “Ask Radwa”, the part where El Sherbiny answers viewers’ questions and offers her opinion about personal problems, besides lighter issues like hair and makeup. El Sherbiny became a TV sensation and “Ask Radwa” was trending on all social media platforms.
Women were happy to finally find a woman on the air, expressing their point of view and taking their side. Some men were also happy because she was educating their daughters and sisters on how they should be treated. Not surprisingly, others were angry that she was encouraging women to own their power, and to never accept being disrespected, mistreated or cheated on, no matter what their situation was. El Sherbiny’s famous words, “I will help you solve this problem,” and “I will personally get involved in this,” were a source of comfort to women all over the Middle East who felt she genuinely and truly cared about them. “I believe in the power of words. Words can push you forward or set you back. They can make you love life or they can kill you. What comes from the heart goes to the heart, that’s why women believe me. I see myself in them and I tell them what I wish someone had told me. I help them the way I needed someone to help me. I talk to younger viewers as if I am talking to my daughters. Women are smart and they know when someone is genuine and when they are being fake. I have never been fake,” she says.
“She really cares,” El Halawani confirms, adding, “Sometimes I tell her she needs to tone it down a bit because she takes women’s problems to heart so much, she may be misunderstood. But it is who she is, she just really cares.” He adds that, apart from the cases discussed on the show, they receive numerous cases on their social media pages and they spend hours solving them with El Sherbiny. “She doesn’t sleep,” says Wahdan, referring to El Sherbiny’s work ethic. “She is on the phone with her team 24/7, whether preparing for the next episodes or trying to help a case. She is a perfectionist,” both El Halawani and Wahdan confirm. “She is both loved and respected by her entire team. She respects everyone, she listens, she gives credit, she supports, she makes everyone want to give her their best,” they add.
El Sherbiny credits the success of Heya We Bas to her great dedicated team and the support of CBC Sofra. She appreciates the hard work by all involved to make sure the show remains on top. But she also plays a big part, “There was never a guest I haven’t researched before he came on the show. I study a lot for this show. I read a lot. I teach myself and I take courses about the topics we deal with. I look up my guests and watch their videos, and go through their social media accounts, so as to be always prepared. But most importantly I listen. When you learn how to really listen, you learn how to talk,” she says, as she celebrates her show’s fifth season.
Most times, success brings fame and fame often brings trouble in its tow. With Heya We Bas being one of the most viewed TV shows, El Sherbiny became very noticeable and her words came under increasing scrutiny. Both El Sherbiny and the show seem to get in hot water every now and then due to her spontaneity. Recently, this has been happening more often. However, even before El Sherbiny defends herself, her fans are always jumping to her defense. That special connection between her and her fans is proof that she ceased to be just another TV host to them. They consider her a role model and they are willing to support her the way she has been supporting women for the past four years.
While El Sherbiny started her career almost 16 years ago, it is Heya We Bas that has brought fame her way, perhaps a tad too fast. “I hate fame,” says El Sherbiny. “Maybe it is true that when you don’t chase something, it comes to you. I never wanted fame. I just wanted to have a job, make money to support my family, and help women. That is all. Fame is scary, it really is. I don’t want to be a star. Stars are far away, and I am not far away from people. I am one of them,” she adds, as she recalls how surprised she was when she went on a trip to a few Arab countries in 2018 and was recognised everywhere. From the airport to the hotel to the streets, people stopped her to talk to her and take pictures. She also remembers how a friend warned her not to let it get to her head because that would be the beginning of her fall. “Till today, every morning I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself that even if people see me as something big, I am really just a regular person. I do that every day to stop fame from getting to me,” she says.
El Sherbiny takes very seriously that her viewers consider her a role model, which adds to the heavy responsibility she feels. “You have to understand and respect your audience, by putting yourself in your viewers’ shoes, no matter their background, social status or educational level. We receive a lot of controversial stories from women, which we don’t share even though they would be trending on our pages if we did. That’s because we don’t want to jeopardise our viewers’ trust by saying things I don’t believe should be said on TV. That is not the success or fame we want for the show. To us, success is being able to maintain what you do for a long time,” explains El Sherbiny.
And that is why women continue to open up to her about all sort of problems in their life. But, while she looks at helping women as a blessing rather than a burden, she admits that it does take its toll on her, especially when the problems are extremely difficult to solve. “Despite that, I have to admit that I find a lot of joy and peace in helping women. I believe that when you help people, the good you do will find its way back to you. I don’t think I will leave my daughters a lot of money, but I will leave them with the effect of my good deeds. I hope that they will also want to help people, but I don’t want them to be like me, because we get lost when we want to be like anyone else. I want my daughters to become their own role models, to be themselves and to work on themselves.”
Looking ahead to the future, El Sherbiny says, “Yesterday belongs to yesterday, today is mine, and tomorrow is in God’s hands,” adding that while Heya We Bas is “her baby”, and she hopes she can do it for as long as she can, she can’t guarantee the future. “I am happy with whatever God brings my way. I am afraid of nothing. I made peace with myself by letting go of the past and looking ahead. It took a long time for me to learn how to let go. But the moment I did, and I forgave everyone, life opened up to me.”
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