Our Ri-Ri!Growing up as a child Rihanna often frequented the home of her neighbours Dawn Preddie and Gwendolyn Johnson (at left). (Sandy Pitt)
By CAROL MARTINDALE | Sun, August 26, 2012 - 12:04 AM
Celebrities and the rich and famous are nothing new to the residents of Westbury New Road, St Michael.
After all, they already have a homegrown megastar in Robyn Rihanna Fenty, who has not only been voted the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire Magazine, and one of the Most Influential People In The World by Time Magazine, but who is also one of the top-selling music artistes in the world.
Rihanna, 24, was also ranked the fourth most powerful celebrity in 2012 with earnings of $53 million between May 2011 and May 2012, according to Forbes.
Now throw megamillion media mogul Oprah Winfrey in the Westbury mix.
The two celebs were recently seen “liming on the block” in Westbury New Road when Oprah travelled to Barbados to interview hometown girl Rihanna.
That interview was beamed across the world to millions of viewers of Oprah’s Next Chapter on the relatively new cable network OWN. In fact, that interview attracted the second highest audience with 2.245 viewers.
During the hour-long interview, Rihanna took Oprah to see the St Michael area where she grew up and was home for many years.
In it, Rihanna is seen rolling up in a small jeep, with Oprah next to her in the passenger seat.
Rihanna is happy to show off her old neighbourhood and hails some of the people she grew up with as she drives through the stretch.
“Dhaima!” shouts Rihanna in a sing-song tone in the taped interview, then she turns to Oprah and says “best neighbour” as she shakes to a group of family members liming in the gallery at the house, two down from her old home.
That’s the house where Dawn “Dhaima” Preddie and her family have been living for more than 33 years.
A “shout out” from the superstar is nothing strange to this family as they are accustomed to Rihanna – correction, Robyn – touching base with them every time she is in town.
Dawn has known Robyn from the time she was five years old until she left at age 16, but jokes that she only just met Rihanna.
“It is a great feeling every time Robyn comes home. Every time she comes she visits us. She comes down here and comes in the house and sits with us. She is like part of this family,” she beams.
Admitting she hasn’t quite yet got accustomed to her neighbour’s meteoric rise in the music industry, Dawn said: “I can’t get used to it. It is phenomenal.”
What she loves though is that Rihanna has remained humble.
“She would always tell you good things about yourself. She doesn’t even give you a chance to tell her something nice. She is a good person.”
So it wasn’t surprising when Dawn and some others in the area all received VIP passes to Rihanna’s concert at Kensington Oval on August 5 last year.
Dawn’s mother Gwendolyn Johnson slips away to her bedroom and returns with a small green plastic bag, from which she produced a couple of the same VIP passes.
Aunt Gwen, as she is affectionately known by many, including Rihanna, treasures those passes. She even admits some people wanted to pay top dollar for them but she refuses to part with them, as she puts one around her neck, pressing it against her chest.
“These are like gold to me. In fact, they are more precious than gold,” she said.
These two remember the Saturday evening earlier this month when Rihanna visited her old home with Oprah in tow.
It was around 4 p.m. and Dawn recalls seeing police in the area, quickly followed by a set of cars. She didn’t know that was the day Rihanna would be visiting.
The family circle gathered in the gallery to watch the goings-on at her neighbour’s old house and Aunt Gwen, though excited to see her little darling Rihanna, was even more thrilled when she caught sight of Oprah Winfrey.
“I would always say, ‘Lord, I would like to see Oprah in person’ and I got that chance,” she said, still basking in the joy of that meeting. Aunt Gwen, who was also seen in the interview getting a big hug from Rihanna, was happy she got to shake Oprah’s hand.
Dawn, who by this time has pulled out her personal copy of the Rihanna coffee table book, flipping through some of the pages featuring the multiple Grammy Award-winning singing sensation, reflects on the change she is seeing in Westbury New Road.
“Out here has become a tourist stop. Rihanna’s old home is now a must-see for some tourists who come here. Every week, we see tourists coming through here, sometimes walking or in coaches, and they ask about Rihanna’s home and they want to know more about her,” she said.
She also believes Rihanna’s old home should be made into “a kind of museum” because of all the attention it is getting.
“Rihanna do better than sugar and rum in terms of promoting Barbados. She touches all people, all over the world.”
Dawn herself admits that she has been interviewed by The Sunday Times of England and Brazilian newspapers as well as others across the world, since Rihanna’s fame.
She and her mother Aunt Gwen remember Rihanna singing next door, especially when she was in the bathroom getting ready for school on mornings.
The green house now nestled between Dawn’s home and Rihanna’s old haven wasn’t there in those years when it was easy for the wind to carry the sweet strains of the young girl smack bang into the home of her neighbours.
It was that sweet singing that prompted Dawn’s nickname for the young girl – Robyn Red Breast.
Even though this songbird has flown the coop, neighbours in Westbury New Road say they are happy that she still returns to the nest every once in while and gives them a “shout-out”.
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