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Women in Wheels | South Africa’s most acclaimed motoring journalist – Charleen Clarke

2020-08-28 07:30

Leo Kok

Charleen Clarke

Image supplied by Charleen Clarke

• Charleen Clarke is SA's most acclaimed motoring journalist.

• She is fascinated with the Balinese people's way of life.

• Trucks are her real first love in motoring.

• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za



Ask Charleen Clarke, editorial director of Charmont Media Global, about how many countries she has visited, and she will answer: "Well, not all of them."

Her answer makes sense when you realise that Charleen is arguably South Africa's most globally accomplished automotive journalist. 

She is a long-serving judge in the prestigious World Car of the Year and the Women's World Car of the Year Award and an associate member of the International Truck of the Year jury. She is also a judge for the international Truck Innovation Awards.

Charleen Clarke

Image: Women's World Car of the Year

You heard that right. Charleen is South Africa's top auto judge, and she is equally comfortable in clipping the apex of turn three on Monza in an Italian supercar as she is in alley-docking a 100 ton loaded interlink in Dubai, and then arguing the merits of each with her fellow global judges.

Back home, she is a past President and Chair of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, and she still finds time to judge the SA Car of the Year. She is also one of three industry veterans who manage the SA Guild's Benevolent Fund, which helps fellow journalists and industry members in their time of need.

Charleen's work jets her from New York to Stuttgart to Beijing and back, but it is her personal travels that make her eyes sparkle. While most of her fellow journalists are only too happy to take a break from travel in between launches, Charleen can be found trekking through the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, finding the best sake in some remote Japanese village or hitchhiking through Bali, her favourite place.

Charleen Clarke

Image: Supplied by Charleen Clarke

"I think I am drawn to the simple philosophy of the Balinese people. Their doors are always open for strangers, and they firmly believe in Karma, a belief that you will get back what you give in life. It really feels like you are close to goodness, to God, when you are in Bali," says Charleen.

This fascination with the Balinese and their approach to life echoes in Charleen's own philosophy and work ethic. Clients and colleagues tell of her incredible work ethic and her well-used slogan, that life owes you nothing.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone that works as hard as Charleen," says one industry executive.

When asked about this famous work ethic, Charleen credits her start in journalism to a time when her looks and blonde hair made the men in the industry question her ability. She was going to prove them wrong, and boy, did she do just that. She moved to Jozi as a junior journalist in 1986, and by 1988 she was the editor of the Randburg Sun. Two years later, as the next decade rolled around, she was the executive editor of five magazines at National Publishing.

"I was determined that I would be the best journalist that I could be. Not the best female journalist. The best journalist," says Charleen.

Charleen Clarke

Image: Supplied by Charleen Clarke

This motto remains at the heart of all Charleen's work, which means that she delivers all her stories on time and with the same energy and insight that previously won her the title of South African Motoring Journalist of the Year. 

"If I could give some advice to young motoring journalists out there, it is that they should remain humble and work as hard as possible. Stick to your deadlines and spend time on writing great articles that focus on other aspects of the industry, including technology and the environment."

And, says Charleen, be humble. 

Despite being South Africa's most acclaimed motoring writer, Charleen remains humbly thankful for every opportunity and completely open and approachable to both friend and foe in the industry.

She also approaches every car or truck with the humble fascination of a true petrolhead who doesn't take her job for granted. When pushed, she will admit that trucks remain her first love. Not only are these beasts way more potent than cars, but more technologically advanced and a more visible representation of the many aspects that make up the automotive industry.

"I remember judging the first self-driving technology on trucks years before it became a thing in cars," says Charleen. Interestingly, her perfect three "car" garage includes a Freightliner Cascadia and a Volvo VNL extra-heavy truck. 

Charleen's openness also makes her a true global traveller. She is known to strike up conversations with strangers in strange places, and she follows her sense of adventure to find new experiences, whether it is watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Thailand on a freighter, after haggling over a ticket at the harbour or sleeping on a sheet of ice in the Arctic.

It is of these adventures that Charleen dreamt while being locked down at home, but be sure, she will be on a plane before you can say "cheese".

"I have meetings in Germany and deadlines to meet," says South Africa's most acclaimed motoring journalist. Not female journalist. Journalist.

Wheels24's Janine Van der Post says: "Charleen is one of those people that has always been an inspiration since the beginning of my own career. The type of the person that makes you say as a rookie, 'that's who I want to be like when I'm all grown up'.

"Probably one of the biggest reasons she rates so highly in my books is because I have always loved trucks, and then I heard about Charleen Clarke who knows so much about it as a motoring journalist. In fact, at the time, I had no idea you could even be a truck journalist, never mind be a judge. And then she's been a role model because never has she allowed her gender to hold her back in a male-dominated industry. She's tough as nails, but has a huge heart. She's an absolute sweetheart, but what you see is what you get. She's worked incredibly hard all her life, and continues to be such a motivation."


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