The white couch, the glossy bob, the immaculate makeup, the manicured nails, the determination to make her family successful . . . You could be talking about Kris Jenner, and that suits this glamorous grandmother – or “glammager”, as she calls herself – just fine. “I’m absolutely like Kris Jenner – just better,” Lynn Forbes says, sipping coffee in the lounge of her home in Douglasdale, Johannesburg.
She’s wearing a sexy black silk robe that displays the legs her 60 000 Instagram fans so often see.
“I don’t understand why people say I have nice legs,” she says. “I actually think they’re skinny. I just have a very good photographer who knows how to capture them.”
Lynn (50), mother to hip-hop star Kiernan “AKA” Forbes, close friend to his partner, DJ Zinhle, and “glammy” to their child, three-year-old Kairo Forbes, welcomes us into her home with her signature “seven-second hug”. It’s her way of showing trust in people, she says, and focusing on “the simple things in life”, like human connection.
Lynn describes herself as a mom, motivator and lifestyle influencer and is the first to admit she wouldn’t be this well-known if it wasn’t for her famous 31-year-old son. “If Kiernan wasn’t who he is and I still wanted to do this, I could’ve tried but it probably would’ve been way more difficult. My son being successful created a platform for me to elevate myself to a place where I could be of service to others.”
What she’s mostly concentrating on, however, is building Brand Kairo. Her cute, sassy granddaughter has over 500 000 followers on Instagram and is a growing social-media star much in demand for shoots, advertising campaigns and appearances at gigs and events. She’ll also soon be releasing branded merchandise online.
“If you can think Kylie Jenner, that’s what I want for Kairo. Kairo has taken over my life in many ways. Kairo is my job. I’m her brand manager, I do all the deals, I run her Instagram page. I do all the social media – if anyone wants to do anything with us, speak to me. I’m that person.” Kris J, you’ve been warned.
Lynn’s life hasn’t always been staged photo shoots and trips to the hair and nail salon. She grew up in the small Free State town of Koffiefontein in a family of teachers. She decided to go that route too and enrolled at the University of the Western Cape when she completed high school to study education.
However, things ground to a halt when she became pregnant with Kiernan in her first year. She and her boyfriend, Tony Forbes, got married and had a second son, Steffan (26). Lynn managed to qualify as a teacher and taught for six months before moving to Richards Bay. “Tony worked in IT and I was a stay-at-home mom before we moved to Joburg in 1994. I worked for Tony’s business for a while and we’ve been here since.”
Lynn and Tony split amicably after 20 years of marriage and Tony moved to Cape Town where he remarried and had a daughter. Meanwhile, Kiernan’s career was starting to go places. In 2011 he won the Metro FM best hip-hop album award for Altar Ego, plus two other awards. A year later he won best male artist at the South African Music Awards and became one of the biggest artists in the country.
Then in 2015 he and Zinhle had little Kairo – and her birth, Lynn says, also meant the arrival of the glammy. But it also triggered her to face demons in her past. As a young girl she was sexually abused by a family friend, a secret she kept for 38 years before she finally opened up on her blog, According to Glammy, in 2017.
“The first time I saw Kairo in hospital I thought, ‘I have a granddaughter now, I have to tell my story’. The whole idea that ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was not going to exist for this child.” After her blog post Lynn was in demand for interviews and motivational talks and is always searching for ways to inspire others – such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate her 50th birthday last year.
“I had a book about Kili as a child and it always represented a place you could escape to,” she says. She called the organisers of Trek4Mandela, who arrange for hikes up the mountain to raise money for charity, and a day after she turned the big 5-0 she set off for Tanzania to climb Africa’s highest peak.
“It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done – and the hardest,” she says. Lynn admits she couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement of her sons. They’re her biggest cheerleaders and protectors, she says, and that applies to life “in this crazy industry”. She tries to ignore the negativity that comes with social media but admits it’s hard when it comes to AKA.
“Kiernan is good at handling the attention but he can also be short-tempered and he hates being disrespected – people need to realise we’re human too,” she says. Lynn faced a lot of criticism herself after Zinhle and AKA broke up in 2015 and she was seen to be siding with the mother of her granddaughter and not her son. It wasn’t the case, she says.
AKA and Zinhle are back together again now and Lynn is thrilled – but if they were to split for a second time she would remain close to Zinhle. “When my kids are happy, I’m happy. I’m happy for them as a couple, I’m happy for us as a family because we all get along so well and I’m happy for Kairo because who wouldn’t want that?
“Zinhle and I are friends and confidantes. She’s a very, very special person in my life and even if Kiernan and Kairo weren’t in the picture, she would still be in my life. Even if they don’t stay together in the future, that’s okay. Life happens. We will always be family.” The rumour mill has been swirling lately that Lynn is a taken woman and she wants to set the record straight right now: she is “so single” and “so looking”.
Still, you can see why people might have thought she was off the market. A hunky Peruvian photographer called Xavier Saer has been accompanying her on her travels and featuring in plenty of loved-up Instagram posts – but there’s nothing going on between them. He’s her best friend, she says, and she’s still very much open to finding love.
“People always think we are a couple, but we’re not. So please, include this in your article or else I’ll never find a boyfriend because everyone thinks Xavier is my boyfriend! We always say to each other, ‘You’re my best friend but also my worst enemy because of this’.
She and Xavier have a vlog, Passport 2 Life, where they showcase everything from travelling and going on safari to simply hanging out. But nothing beats the energy she puts into building her granddaughter’s profile. When Kairo turns four next month, Lynn wants to really push Brand Kairo so it can be a starting point for the little girl to become independent and “know the value of her brand and money”, she says.
“Obviously her parents will have to be investors of the business initially but I want her to be able to pay them back when she’s ready,” she explains. “I want to teach her about money. I want to teach her about being independent and strong. I want her in healthy relationships. I want her to register her company, have a bank account, have a photographer and a team of people. The day she turns 21, I want her to be a wealthy young woman.” But it’s not all business, Lynn adds, and they enjoy spending plenty of “Glammy and Kairo” time together, going shopping, visiting the park and eating out at kid-friendly restaurants.
Lynn has lots of time for a lot of things but there’s one place you’ll never find her, and that’s behind the stove. “Cooking isn’t my forte. If there are leftovers, we’ll have them, otherwise we’ll order in. But most of the time I’m somewhere else for supper – I could be at Zinhle’s house. She has the best nanny who cooks. “I have meetings and a lot of my life is doing Kairo’s stuff. But I don’t cook. I do my nails, I do my makeup. That’s my life. That’s the Glammy life