Fanmail, technology, Sertab Erener

Everybody cries in Turkey. They laugh, cheer, shout, sigh, but all the time tears are never far away. Turks, I have discovered, are the most emotional people on earth.

I have always been conscious that my career couldn’t exist without an audience. Like any entertainer, I rely on my fans, and I think of these weekly columns as a friendly letter to everyone who enjoys my shows, an update on what my family has been getting up to.  

The Weekly News doesn’t sell many copies in Istanbul or Budapest, though — at least, I haven’t seen it on the newsagents’ shelves. (Memo to circulation department: please sort out Turkish and Hungarian editions. And while you’re at it, you’d better start thinking about Japan and Russia too.)

Keeping up with the fanmail is a big task for Hanna, Shipi and me, especially as we can’t read Turkish. Since the early Seventies, I’ve been used to receiving messages from all over the globe, often from people with a moving story to tell.

For a while, we employed a secretary, but when you’re constantly on the move it’s impractical to keep someone on the payroll. My beloved Blackberry helps me do that now, as I send emails winging to fans, especially from the United States from Florida to Hawaii and Alaska, who are avidly viewing my European shows on the internet.

Back in the early days of the world wide web, I leapt at the chance to set up a site where I could publish messages to fans. Technology changes so quickly, though, that my head starts to spin at the possibilities now available — podcasts, vidcasts, instant messaging, peer networks.  

The electronic revolution is spinning so fast that I barely raised an eyebrow today when a journalist emailed to ask me about ThunkIt, a telepathic widget which apparently upgrades the hands-free headsets on mobile phones to pick up our thoughts. No need to dial… you just concentrate on a number and your phone dials it.

The makers had announced I was to be the celebrity face of ThunkIt, which was news to me. This had to be a joke… didn’t it? A swift search of the web revealed it was a prank by a tech-minded blogger, but I have to admit I almost believed it.  

And the joke will be on that blogger before long, because there is no doubt that in a bedroom in Tel Aviv or San Francisco, a teenage computer wizard is developing software that plugs straight into the brain.  

I’d love to set up an online community where the millions who tune in to each week’s shows can meet, to talk about the incredible performers and mystifying acts they’ve seen and to compare inexplicable experiences. We’re seeing thousands of mind-blowing videos, often captured on mobile phones, of bizarre phenomena in people’s homes during our broadcasts, with spoons bending, broken watches starting and tables levitating — far more footage than we could ever broadcast.

The best of it goes on the show’s website, and I’ve been urging executives to invent new ways of using that.   

So I was delighted when TV2, our station in Hungary, invited me to present a series of question-and-answer sessions online with fans. Each week I take eleven of the most thought-provoking bits of mail, and record my replies for the TV2 website. Fans’ questions are often more insightful than anything journalists ask, because they really want to hear the answer: no one is paying them to do the interview.

This gave me the chance to repeat the message which is my mission. Wherever I go, I tell this to children, in every language I can master. My Hungarian is pretty good, because it was my mother’s native tongue and we used to speak it around the home, as well as Hebrew and English. To make sure I got my message across, I repeated it as many ways as I could: “I want you all to become positive thinkers. Believe in yourself. Focus on school. Create a target goal to go to university. Never smoke or touch drugs. Engage in sports and think of success.”

The website took an incredible 100,000 hits after I recorded my vidcast. Until the day when all youngsters are wearing ThunkIt headsets and I can beam my message directly into their minds, I’ll keep exploring every new technology to connect to my audience.


What’s the link between Jose Carreras, Ricky Martin and Bob Dylan? The answer is the music of Turkey’s Eurovision Song Contest winner, Sertab Erener. After she achieved international fame with her hit, Every Way That I Can, she recorded duets with both the great operatic tenor and the Latin pop legend, before recording a cover of Dylan’s One More Cup Of Coffee for a movie starring the songwriter himself, called Masked And Anonymous. My producers have been determined from the start to bring her onto the show as a celebrity guest, and the studio audience went wild when she appeared. Sertab is not just a performer — she’s treated as a national hero.  


We decided to use shock tactics for my anti-smoking message in Hungary… and wheeled a corpse into the studio. In fact, the figure under the sheet was a dummy, but the viewers couldn’t guess that because the set-up was so realistic. This segment of the show provoked an outcry, but there is no doubt in my mind that the controversy was justified — it’s common to see kids as young as twelve or thirteen smoking cigarettes on the streets of Budapest. They are robbing their bodies of health and condemning themselves to an early death, and it’s imperative that everyone with influence over young minds, from teachers to entertainers, takes drastic action to stamp out the habit.



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