It’s been 10 years since she turned her back on the glitz and glam of showbiz and these days people in the neighbourhood know her more as "Max’s mom" than veteran entertainer Patricia Lewis.
But that doesn’t mean she’s lost her sense of the dramatic – even today, as the doors to her three-storey mansion swing open, she appears at the top of the stairs, one knee bent, smile in place, signature blonde locks tumbling around her shoulders.
She doesn’t grant many interviews anymore but she’s invited us to her luxury home on the Zimbali estate near Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast for a catch-up.
Patricia’s life has calmed down significantly since a decade ago, when she was performing as often as 30 times a month.
"Even here at the seaside, I couldn’t stay away from a microphone for long. Now this is my stage," she says, gesturing to the ocean glittering in the sun beyond the window in the bar area.
"Put it this way: Patricia is singing for the dolphins." But in the next breath she reveals she’ll be making a return to the entertainment world and plans to release a new album later this year – and possibly return to TV too.
"I’m making a comeback, baby. I’m final ly ready for it – readier than I’ve ever been before."
Patricia (52) stepped away from her career when it was at its peak, deciding enough was enough. Record deals, TV shows – the whole shebang.
Everything was turned down or cast aside. Because, she says, behind her bubbly appearance she was suffering from burnout.
"I was exhausted. For 30 years I’d lived every single dream. There had been times I just couldn’t carry on – my hair fell out, my skin broke out, my voice disappeared.
"I didn’t want to travel anymore and be away from home for weeks at a time. I wanted to be there for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s.
"I wanted to be a mom to Max – pick him up from school, help him with his homework. I needed to stand back and say, ‘I’m just going to be a woman – not Patricia Lewis’."
It was when she received shocking news about her health in 2009 that she finally decided enough was enough.
Patricia was faced with the prospect of having her voice, her greatest asset, stripped from her. "It was terrifying," she says.
Doctors found six polyps in her thyroid gland, which required surgical intervention to remove. There was a real risk that she’d never be able to speak again, never mind sing.
"I simply had to slow down." She didn’t want the surgery, Patricia says – she felt the risk was simply too great.
Instead, she opted for alternative therapies including antibiotics from Germany and the so-called SCIO (scientific consciousness interface operation) frequency treatment and now, it seems, she’s completely cured.
"It was never clear if it [the condition] was related to my hectic schedule," Patricia says. And now, seated on her balcony as waves crash onto the beach a few metres away, she says she has no regrets.
"I’ve never regretted turning my back on it all. Not for a single moment am I sorry I chose myself, my husband and my child. My only regret is that I sometimes eat too much dessert – but that’s it. There’s nothing else."
Her home at the seaside is where she found peace and healing. "Johannesburg had become too hectic for us. There were so many hijackings, there was so much fear. My approach was this: I already had the fame and the glory, now it was simply a privilege to just be a mom."
Max is now 16 and has grown up with a full-time mom – well, sort of. Soon after moving to Ballito, Patricia and husband Mark Whitfield (53) started developing properties in the area and they’re now equal partners in a company.
Patricia is always on the move, always doing something. “I commandeered a group of about 50 women to form a walking group. We call ourselves the Walky Talkies. It’s wonderful. Among them, I’m just Max’s mom and Mark’s wife.”
But when she sets foot in a shopping mall she’s still besieged by people who recognise her, Mark says.
"You should see it,"" he says. "’Patricia, can we get a picture? Please, Patricia, we really want a picture’."
Patricia laughs. It’s their shared sense of humour that keeps their 17-year marriage strong, she says. "Every single day, no exceptions, I thank the Lord for this man. I’ve had my share of heartache in the past. Then he showed up – and I’m still as in love with him as that first day."
A LONG-AWAITED COMEBACK
She’s had a wonderful decade but she’s ready for the next big decision in her life, Patricia says. Max is in Grade 10 so her diary has plenty of space in it – but that doesn’t mean she’s going to work as frenetically as she did before.
"I thought about it for a long time, especially about the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to burn out again, and I don’t want to be constantly travelling. I want to be selective about my next projects, such as a new album filled with the songs I grew up with.
"And I want to have my own haircare range. People always say I have extensions, but feel this," she says, shaking her head.
"There aren’t any." Patricia also wants to return to TV.
"Television isn’t easy. It’s 16 hours at a time. I’ve been approached to present so many times but every time my answer has been, ‘No thanks, but thank you very much for still being interested in this fossil’."
Now she’s finally ready to re- enter the showbiz world.
"The old memories kept coming back and they woke something inside me. Now I’m all set – loading Patricia Lewis, part two."