Vanessa ‘OMGNess’ Goodson, winner of The Apprentice Aotearoa, tells Alex Casey about her Covid-19 experience, and why she is using her large Instagram platform to share the realities of life in quarantine.
Her one regret is not bringing her balloon pump into quarantine with her. “I so could have done my balloons out here,” Vanessa Goodson, winner of The Apprentice Aotearoa and balloon-styling maestro, says, gesturing to the small hotel balcony with one perfectly French-manicured hand. “I could have ballooned the whole place so when people pull up with Covid and they are feeling scared, they see the balloons and say ‘oh, it’s fine, OMGNess is here’.”
She’s speaking over Zoom from a quarantine facility in Auckland, where her small family arrived a week ago after Covid-19 began to spread through their bubble. Although she may have forgotten the balloons, Goodson is sharing her experience of catching Covid-19 with her social media audience of thousands, in the hope it will make people feel less fearful of the quarantine process. “You never think it is going to happen to you, and then when it happens to you, you realise: ‘I’ve got a following here, what would happen if I told people about it?’”
So far, her Covid content includes an hour-long Instagram Live Q&A, and a fascinating supercut of her induction day, soundtracked, of course, by Beyoncé. “That day was really overwhelming,” Goodson recalls. “From having to pack up and leave my house in the van, to pulling up here and getting settled into our room, it was easily the most emotional I’ve been.” After a close contact tested positive, she knew it was only a matter of time until they got the call. The phone rang on Monday morning, and she was in quarantine by the end of the day.
“They told me they had booked us a room, the van was coming at 4pm, bring a mask and see you soon.”
Known for a lavish, “bougie” personal brand so pervasive that she penned her own sassy catchphrase “it’s a lifestyle” on The Apprentice, Goodson packed eight monogrammed Guess bags to take into quarantine. She hadn’t tested positive for Covid-19 herself yet, but knew it was likely to happen and would probably extend her stay. “I packed up my whole life – my ring light, my crystals, my makeup, all my cosmetics, all my sponsored stuff that I was being an influencer for in case I had to do some work here, my laptop, five chargers, and all our food from home.”
Despite bringing all their food, the family failed to pack their air fryer – a zeitgeisty appliance Goodson has come to rely on heavily. She immediately ordered another, which was immediately banned on arrival due to fire safety concerns. Ever the hustler, Goodson pitched her cuisine vision to the authorities. “I really had to plead my case to them, like ‘please, I’m grateful for the food but I just want a steak and I promise you I won’t make any smoke’.” Yesterday, they heard her call, allowing her to fix up a pork belly TikTok recipe in the air fryer.
As opulent as the meal might appear on Instagram, there’s one small problem – Goodson can barely taste anything. “I’m trying to eat lemons and oranges to kickstart my taste buds but it is still really bland,” she says.” It’s one of the symptoms of Covid-19 that remains, after four days where Goodson says she “felt like I was dying.” Things went downhill quickly after she noticed a dry, sore throat on her second night in quarantine. “It felt like I had smoked 20 packets of cigarettes, that same feeling after you’ve had a big night and you don’t even smoke cigarettes but you get those flashbacks? That’s what it feels like.”
Then came the headaches, what Goodson first assumed might have just been a mild hangover from the much-needed red wine she cracked open once they had settled into their room. “I had a few glasses with dinner, and then I started to feel really off. I was like – ‘Am I drunk here or what’s going on?’ – and was feeling really confused and irritable.” All of these things, she would soon find out, were Covid-19 symptoms. By the third day she was bedridden, sleeping all day and unable to walk to the door without getting breathless.
Finally returning a positive test, Goodson recalls having a minor “freak-out”, having actively avoided the Covid-19 news cycle and the 1pm updates because they gave her too much anxiety. “I hadn’t been reading about it, I had been trying not to think about it, and then I just realised ‘oh my god, it’s right here – I’m a case’.” In her worn-down state, she could barely process the news. “You’re just weak, super weak. For those few days, I can’t even remember taking phone calls, I couldn’t even communicate properly because I wasn’t feeling well at all.”
One of the people she did manage to message through the fog of Covid-19 was mortgage mogul Mike Pero, whom she has been working closely with since winning the latest season of The Apprentice Aotearoa. In fact, when the nationwide lockdown was first announced, the pair were doing a photoshoot for what Goodson describes as their “big secret plans” for the future. “He was one of the first people I told, because I needed to let him know I couldn’t work through the big to-do list that he’s given me,” she laughs.
Fans of the show will remember the one big expense that Goodson had planned if she won the $50,000 prize: a van for transporting her balloon garlands to events. After their first planning meeting post-show, Goodson says that Pero returned to Christchurch and found a van for her within a day, even taking it for a test drive and negotiating a good price. Although not quite the BMW she dreamed of – it’s a Toyota – the van is one more thing she is looking forward to when she’s released from quarantine, Auckland eventually moves down alert levels, and she can get stuck back into her growing her business.
“Not gonna lie, I’ve lost a lot of money in the last few weeks. We were about to go into like the single busiest event season, with fashion week and all these big huge corporate jobs lined up that I’ve been working towards all year. I’ve watched all this money disappear.”
Goodson is feeling a lot better now – she’s even started wearing false eyelashes again – but remains shocked by the impact the virus had. “If I felt like this and I am like a pretty healthy 31-year-old, then I couldn’t imagine how it would affect someone older whose health isn’t at 100%,” she says. “I was like out to it – it’s a very buzzy sickness.” Her balloon-less balcony overlooks the driveway of the quarantine facility, where she sees the ambulances come and go daily. “That’s what is really sad and scary, when you see that reminder of the other people and what they are going through here.”
While she and her family recover, she will continue to post about her experience in the hopes of demystifying Covid-19. When she found she was positive, she turned to social media hashtags like #caughtcovid and #testedpositive for reassurance. “I wanted to know how real people really feel about all this,” she says. “And then I thought it would probably be quite empowering to share my story. I’m going into this as a parent, and I’m sure there are other parents out there who are freaking out. So hopefully I can use my voice to normalise it, because this is our normal right now.”
It’s not just Covid-19 content creation she is focusing on at the moment. Ever the entrepreneur, Goodson’s time in quarantine has inspired another possible business venture. “I want to make fashion masks, I’ve actually already got a mood board of Fendi, Louis Vuitton and mask jewellery as well,” she says. “I’ve been looking at all the Covid trends while I’ve been in here.” She admits that a few people on social media have asked for t-shirts to be made of her one-liners, including “only bad bitches get Covid” and “it’s a MIQ lifestyle”.
She laughs off the idea of catchphrase merch, for now, but as our interview comes to a close, she drops another gem: ‘Rona can’t stop me, no one can.”