It happened all of a sudden.
Neelofa received news her grandfather had accidentally stepped on a ring one day, which resulted in an open wound. The octogenarian, who had diabetes, was admitted to the hospital. The wound was infected and as the bacteria had spread to two of his toes, they had to be amputated.
Unfortunately, not long after the amputation, the infection had spread further to his major organs. Less than two months later, on Nov 20, her grandfather passed away.
“It was a shock to my family,” Neelofa opens up about his demise. “Except for having diabetes, he was healthy and active. He managed a textile shop that he inherited from his forefathers and he would drive himself there every day.”
Neelofa says his death hit her hard as it was the first time she lost someone close to her. “I cried and cried for weeks,” the 29-year-old shares. The ordeal helped her re-evaluate her ways and taught her some valuable life lessons.
“With my grandfather, I have regrets because sometimes when I visited him, I didn’t give him my full attention. I’d be talking to my cousins more. I’ve learned to appreciate every moment with my loved ones. From now on, I want to be more present when I spend time with them. I won’t take things for granted.”
As the year draws to an end, Neelofa caught up with Star2 on family, career and yes, even love.
Her roaring 20s
For Neelofa, the end of 2018 doesn’t just mark the end of another year; it marks the end of her 20s altogether.
“My 20s was all about change, from hosting TV shows to acting in drama series, and then going into the fashion business,” reflects Neelofa, who turns 30 in February. “People say all the successes that have happened to me in my 20s usually happen to those in their 30s. So I’m very grateful.”
Indeed, Neelofa has achieved a lot in the past 10 years. After winning beauty pageant Dewi Remaja in 2009, Neelofa cut her teeth as a TV host on women’s magazine show Nona and entertainment variety show Meletop.
She then found immense success as the star of 2016’s Suri Hati Mr Pilot, which became such a phenomenon, it drew in five million viewers per episode.
As an entrepreneur, Naelofar Hijab – a hijab brand she founded – garnered RM50mil in sales in 2015. Renowned business magazine Forbes took notice and included Neelofa in its prestigious 30 Under 30 Asia list last year.
Having carved such an illustrious career at a relatively young age, she says she is thankful for even the mistakes she made. But there is one thing she wishes she could have a do-over.
“I would’ve asked my parents to send me overseas to study after SPM. It’s important because that’s the time you absorb things and shape your personality.”
The next chapter
In some ways, Neelofa’s dream of having an overseas experience will come true next year. The multi-hyphenate star just signed with two talent management agencies in London and Paris this month.
“They will represent me when it comes to all things fashion and beauty. The agency in London covers the British market and the one in Paris covers the Europe market.”
Neelofa reveals she has been eyeing an international career for a long time. “It’s always been my dream but I didn’t know how to go about it.”
That was until she met a French-born talent manager, Norman, who has experience working in London and New York. “With his vast experience, he is able to understand all markets. So I’ve brought him on as my global manager,” she reveals.
Throughout her process of seeking representation from talent agencies, Neelofa says the response she received has been encouraging.
“Everyone I spoke to, whether it’s creative directors or PR people, the one thing they always highlighted is (they want) a face with hijab, (as) they don’t have many of them yet.
“More and more fashion brands are looking into this as the demand for modest fashion is quickly increasing,” she adds.
If all goes well and the jobs start pouring in, the Kelantan-born beauty will be spending a lot of time working overseas.
Neelofa isn’t the only one levelling up. Her company NH Prima International, which owns Naelofar Hijab, is going through a restructuring exercise.
“It’ll be our fifth year next year. If things remain the same, it will just be another local company. To have a fresh injection, we’re getting more international-thinking people on board. It’ll be a big year for the company. We will be introducing a lot of changes and new directions.”
As for showbiz, Neelofa says she will continue to host weekly live show Meletop, a position she has held for six years.
“Other artistes have to act and do a lot for them to be seen. I’m lucky enough to be able to rely on Meletop to appear on TV on a weekly basis.”
On the acting front, Neelofa, who last acted opposite Zul Ariffin in Ti Amo Sweetheart 100 Hari in June, hopes to star in a film next year though nothing is set in stone.
Last August, Neelofa welcomed baby nephew, Jebat, to the family. Jebat’s father, fellow artiste Sharnaaz Ahmad, even praised Neelofa for her knack in caring for the newborn.
“He could be crying and crying but the moment I hold him, he goes quiet. I’ve been taking care of babies since I was 10. I have a lot of younger siblings so I’m used to it,” says Neelofa, who is the third of nine siblings.
However, she says she’s not ready to start a family of her own yet. Neelofa reveals she is currently single, quashing rumours she has gotten back together with ex-beau Datuk Hans Isaac.
Friends and family members have tried to play matchmaker but Neelofa believes in “letting that person come to me naturally”.
“Honestly, for the first time in my life, at 29, I don’t have to deal with relationship problems, which is one of the best feelings ever. I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve always had someone with me. Now I feel free, calm and flexible.”
Perhaps this newfound freedom and flexibility will help her make even bigger strides in her career.
Asked what drives her to keep outdoing herself, Neelofa replies she’s never allowed herself to feel like she has done enough.
“There’s even a point where I felt like I’m not doing enough, that I’m not adding enough value to myself and my capabilities. For example, I wish I could speak more languages.
“That feeling of doing more and more comes from within, and as an entrepreneur and an artiste, I feel a responsibility to keep moving forward instead of staying in my comfort zone.”