Thursday, July 08, 2004

Nick van der Leek - Biography

Nick van der Leek, (born on 19th January 1972 in Bloemfontein, South Africa), is an accomplished writer and photographer. He is recognised as one of South Africa’s most successful and diverse freelancers, writing for a wide range of national and international publications and media houses.
His written portfolio includes:GQ, Finweek, Fitness, Country Life, Marie-Claire, Sawubona, Destiny, Go!, Getaway, Leisure Wheels, Car, Afropolitan, Explore, YOU, Huisgenoot, Financial Mail, AbouTime, Shape, Longevity, Brainstorm, ABSA Capital, Deep, Cycling Weekly, Bicycling, Ironman, Triathlon Plus, Your Family, Blue Train, Mercedes Benz Truck, MBLife, Rhodes Journalism Review,  Sports Illustrated (SA)*, Sarie, South, Franschoek Style, True Love, i Magazine (City Press), Tour de France magazine, Newsnow and FH&L. His newspaper contributions include; The Cape Times, The Times, Rapport, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Independent, Weekend Argus, Free State Times, Volksblad, Pretoria News, The Star and City Press.Van der Leek has also freelanced for OFM radio, and the Free State Provincial Government.  He has assisted in the provision of content (text and images) for books, brochures, private clients, professional athletes, businessmen as well as marketing initiatives for big brand companies. These include: Lonely Planet (two guides), SKA, John Williams (Mercedes Benz), Harmony Gold, Plettenberg Bay Tourism, Discovery Health, Mobile Money Africa, Cell C Tour of SA, Toyota Cheetahs, Highway Africa, Cape Epic and the OFM Classic.
*Commissioned only

FAMILY BACKGROUND__________________________________________________________­
Coat of Arms of Leek
village in the Groningen province
 in the northeastern Netherlands
bordering on the Drenthe and Fryslân provinces.
Tinus de Jongh painting
the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Nick van der Leek is the great grandson of Tinus de Jongh, one of South Africa’s most popular painters in the 1920’s.Tinus de Jongh was a contemporary of J.H. Pierneef.  In his lifetime de Jongh sold hundreds of oil paintings and etchings and is ranked South Africa’s number five top selling artist by volume [Source Auction Vault]. Thinus de Jongh place, a cul de sac in the upmarket Bloemfontein suburb of Waverley, is named after him (though misspelt).                     Petronella van der Leek (né de Jongh), Nick van der Leek’s paternal grandmother was the daughter of Tinus de Jongh, and sister of well known artist Gabriel de Jongh (Tinus de Jongh’s son).Nick van der Leek is the son of Cornelis van der Leek and Leonie Elizabeth Goddard (1947 –1989). His father, a retired property developer, built Bloemfontein’s Hoffman Square, the Wynand Mouton Theatre, Vista University campus, a school in Ventersburg and another (Hoerskool CR Swart) west of Bloemfontein, a police station, a church, and Bloemfontein’s second Townhouse Complex.  The latter was built when the concept was still in its infancy. Cornelis’ father, Nick van der Leek’s grandfather, was also a builder, along with his father, all successive generations of artisans, all involved in the building industry as far back as Cornelis (known as ‘The Baron’) who was born in 1876, and from Enkhuizen, Holland.    
2 Paul Roux Street in Waverley, Bloemfontein
is a Dutch-styled house

designed and built

by Nick van der Leek's grandfather.
Amongst numerous building projects Nick van der Leek’s grandfather both designed and built two steep roofed houses in typical Dutch style at 117 Waverley Road, and 2 Paul Roux Street (right next door) in Waverley, Bloemfontein. 

He acquired three paintings directly from the Belgian artist, Vader Claerhoudt ("the painting priest"), and gave each as a gift to his three children (Joan, Paddy and Cornelis).

Nick van der Leek’s father owns a small farm in the Free State, and the family enjoyed many adventures there, canoeing and fishing the river, camping in an enormous wooden tree house overlooking the Renosterspruit River, rafting when the river flooded, hiking the nearby hills, bird watching and studying the endemic wildlife (otters, jackal, lynx, porcupine, Egyptian cobra, Fish Eagle etc).  Unusually, the farm was populated at one time by a large mustering of peacocks. 
Nick van der Leek's mother was Leonie Elizabeth Goddard. Goddard was born on 3rd February 1947.  She was head girl of Brebner High School in Bloemfontein. She was also an aspiring actress and model. She acted alongside and was romantically linked to Wilson Dunster.  Goddard won a bursary to study at university, at a time when bursaries were scarce.  This award was published in the local newspapers. In the Free State University's annual beauty pageant, Leonie Goddard was made First Princess. Based on her own account, she used her vote to vote for the Rag Queen (who ultimately won the title by a single vote).  She also won a Miss Teenage Personality competition. Goddard interrupted her studies to marry Cornelis van der Leek.  A student and a part time model, they met at a fashion show. Nick van der Leek was close to his mother and considered her his confidante At the time of her death in October 1989, she had been married for 20 years. It occurred just days prior to Van der Leek’s final Matric exams. Van der Leek was 17 at the time.
Nick van der Leek’s paternal aunt, Joan Schrauwen is also a well-known artist and author.  In 1992, Schrauwen, compiled a coffee table book, West Coast – “A Circle of Seasons”.
His uncle (mother’s side), Jackson Reilly, provided specific guidance, tutoring him in reading and writing, during Nick van der Leek’s formative years.   Jackson Reilly's wife, Marie Reilly, Van der Leek’s maternal aunt, and Leonie Goddard's elder sister, was an accomplished dancer and ice-skater.  Their son Christopher Reilly, is a professional photographer and picture editor. Christopher Reilly gave Nick van der Leek driving lessons, whilst he was in the South African Air Force in Valhalla Pretoria.
In 1990, Nick van der Leek’s father gave him his late mother’s Ford Escort. However, a friend (also an airman), who was driving the car since Van der Leek did not have a license, crashed it in Bloemfontein’s Brandwag centre parking lot. Soon after that, the same friend also crashed the replacement vehicle (a Datsun pick-up), which Van der Leek’s father had loaned to them, so they could return to base.
Nick van der Leek seriously injured his knee and smashed the windscreen with his head during the second accident (a head on collision) at an intersection on the outskirts of Pretoria. Van der Leek recovered sufficiently to participate in triathlons, including the 2005 Ironman in Port Elizabeth. However as his freelance writing career developed, his training decreased and the knee injury from 1990 became an increasingly negative factor in his life.
Nick van der Leek’s brother, Casey van der Leek, despite holding degrees in Electro-mechanical and Civil Engineering, pursued a career in art and currently sells his work to local and international clientele. He has also completed several Ironman triathlons. In 1991 Nick van der Leek, his father and both siblings rafted the Zambezi River.
All four Van der Leeks have climbed Compassberg, at 2504 metres, it is the highest peak in South Africa outside the Stormberg-Drakensberg massif.  Both brothers and their father have summitted Mount Aux Sources (3050m and one of Southern Africa’s 2nd highest mountains) and in 1996, Kilimanjaro (5895m). They accompanied South Africa’s Bergklim Klub to Tanzania.  After a successful ascent, a photo of Nick van der Leek on the summit with a Tanzanian guide alongside was published on the front page of the local daily, Die Volksblad. It was thought that he was the first Kovsie (student of the Free State University) to do this.
Candice van der Leek, the youngest of the three van der Leek children, is currently studying architecture at the same university.

Nick van der Leek and his brother were compulsive artists, even as young children. Their first years as infants were pre-television, which allowed them to spend more time with the creative arts.  Television was only introduced to mainstream homes in South Africa in the late seventies. At kindergarten, Van der Leek was painfully shy and spent the first few weeks at David Davidson nursery school (in the shadows of Bloemfontein’s Naval Hill) drawing pictures. This propensity to coyness caused concern for his teachers and parents.  He was gradually weaned from drawing and painting at David Davidson and persuaded to socialise with other children. As youngsters, both Van der Leek brothers worked hard to perfect the rounded forms of all the “Walt Disney” characters, making endless renderings, along with depictions of animated television characters, including all the children’s favourites: “Pinocchio”, “Heidi”, “Maya the Bee”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Adventures of Nils Holgersson”,etc.The introduction of television animated series, science fiction (“StarTrek”, “Battlestar Gallactica”, New Zealand’s early 80’s“Under the Mountain” series and Robotech), documentaries (“The World at War”, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier) and nature series (such as the famous “Survival” series produced by Anglia, and those narrated by Sir David Attenborough) had a profound impact on both young artists.  When animated movies appeared, such as Disney’s “Peter Pan”, or “The Rescuers”, both boys eagerly set to work to capture the same vitality on paper. The same could be said for groundbreaking movies such as Star Wars.  At the time when there was very little entertainment media (in then, Apartheid South Africa) these innovative narratives afforded the young boys a license to dream, and dream big. Nick van der Leek was particularly captivated by the vivid artwork of the famous Belgian artist, Marcel Marlier.  The world Marlier created in “Johnnie and Sophie on Holiday” was one that reflected on Van der Leek’s childhood, and it had something of the spirit of the early Enid Blyton books he read as a child.  They were all about individuated children, allowed to run wild and have their adventures without the interference of grownups. In primary school at least two of his drawings won first prizes at the annual Bloemfontein Show.  One, featured in the newspaper, depicted “Maya the Bee”, another was a more complex picture, a packed rugby stadium in the background with players on the field in the foreground. While his brother successfully transitioned to other tools, such as scalpels and paintbrushes, oils and water colour, Nick van der Leek (younger and less skilled at the time), was frustrated, preferring vivid pencil sketches.  His favourite were the “Colleen” brand - As a student Van der Leek, envious of his brother’s success as an oil painter, sought out his own style.  While his brother painted in the style of their great grandfather, Nick van der Leek, took a different route.  Taking a cue from a school friend’s Japanese print (they discerned several possible figures in the prints chaos of shapes), Van der Leek embarked on his own style.  These were very colourful abstract works, the whole taking the shape of an apple, or golf ball, while the interior of the construct was dedicated to many interwoven amorphous shapes.
He went on to sell an entire collection of framed pencil drawings to a doctor while he was still a student at university.  The doctor declared that these would “eventually become very valuable”.While teaching in South Korea in 2002, a Korean colleague – and fellow illustrator - compared his work to the father of abstract art, Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky. This was the first time Nick van der Leek had heard of Russia’s Kandinsky, and upon viewing his works was disappointed that his own work could not be considered original. He subsequently stopped drawing entirely.  

EDUCATION __________________________________________________________________­
Nick van der Leek centre,
Casey van der Leek, far right.
Nick van der Leek attended Grey College, a public school for boys in Bloemfontein. He started as a four year old, an unusual age at the time, in 1977. He was at Grey College from Sub A to Matric. Van der Leek was in High School during the tenure of Hansie Cronje, who was head boy in 1988. Van der Leek swam with Bloemfontein Seals, and was coached by Penny Prideaux and Simon Gray.  Gray swam for Britain in the Commonwealth Games and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.  Gray also coached the multiple Olympian, Ryk Neethling.  Van der Leek and Neethling both attended Grey College and both represented the Free State team during the 80’s as youngsters.During his formative years at Grey College, Van der Leek was a talented swimmer, soccer player, athlete and artist.Many of his drawings were put on the walls of classrooms in both the primary school and High School.  In one case Van der Leek returned to a former classroom after some years and asked if he could have his drawing back, but the teacher refused. Unfortunately, art was not offered at high school and this was when he turned his creative energy to express himself through writing.Van der Leek’s academic performance was well above the average during most of his school career. In 1983 (Grade 6),his results were 10-15% higher than the class average.  By 1987 this gap had narrowed to less than 4%, and in the first term of his matric year his average fell to 6% below the class average.   He excelled academically in Geography, History, Biology and English, often achieving distinctions.  However his academic record contrasted sharply with his brother, Casey who would earn several distinctions in matric, notably in Mathematics and Science.   Despite his mother’s untimely death, Nick van der Leek achieved a university pass. Prior to his involvement with journalism, Nick van der Leek attained a Degree in Economics at the University of the Free State, although he also studied Law and a BSc in Quantity Surveying.  In 2001, he received a Post-Graduate Diploma in Brand Management, at AAA School of Advertising, in Cape Town.

STUDY OF ECONOMICS_________________________________________________________­
Drawing from his qualifications and experience in Economics and his study on energy markets, Van der Leek was aware of the impending credit crunch as early as 2004. As an 'ignorant outsider', he forewarned senior members at various banks as early as 2007, arguing that too much wealth and leveraging was based on ‘eternally appreciating’ property markets. Van der Leek believed this was unsustainable, but until that time, there was no reason to expect the markets – which had seen their most lucrative and profitable periods in economic history – come off the boil.The financial crunch was seen by modern media as an event that couldn’t be predicted. At the time, a majority of people invested in the market were “Pollyanna’s”, and called the likes of Nouriel Roubini “doomsayers”. See The counterargument was that property markets form a small fraction of the United States Economy; but in fact, Van der Leek reasoned, “when one adds all the associated services and industries, the market comprises about a third of the world's largest economy.”  Thus, faltering property markets (and bad) debts could (and did) become a global economic game changer, as Van der Leek and other Peak Oil commentators, and Cassandra’s, such as Richard Heinberg, and Scotland’s Colin Campbell, predicted.Nick van der Leek is proponent of open ‘laissez-faire’economics, i.e.: allowing the free market to allocate via an 'invisible hand' with minimal government interference. He believes that the balance of markets can be abused by traders, especially through enormous unregulated markets devoted to the trade in derivatives (selling and repackaging poor U.S. mortgage contracts), which caused the credit crunch in 2008.Van der Leek was blogging warnings and predictions well in advance of the economic collapse that finally took the world and global media by complete surprise in 2008.  E-mails to his editor and others at AVUSA on this issue were apparently ignored. In 2007, Van der Leek wrote a blog outlining his concerns,on  Richard Heinberg’s views are highlighted here. The credit crunch fully manifested more than a year later.In other e-mail alerts, concerned with energy economics, Van der Leek also predicted the current energy premiums long before it was the norm.  Much of this was informed by so-called Peak Oil alarmism (and prior to the advent of fracking), which he considered only a temporary game-changer. Also see  Nick van der Leek communicates regularly with the author James Howard Kunstler.  In 2009, Van der Leek met the American author and artist at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, South Africa. The prestigious architectural firm Osmond Lange (the designers of Melrose Arch) had invited Kunstler (a proponent of ‘New Urbansim’), as guest speaker.
Kunstler gave two autographed copies of his bestselling books (“The Long Emergency” and the “Geography of Nowhere”) to Van der Leek, although he had already read the first of the two books at that stage. Kunstler subsequently mentioned his encounter with Van der Leek on an episode of his radio show, the “Kunstlercast.
Nick van der Leek has written extensively on climate change economics, including the impact of rising climate-related claims on insurance behemoths and its increasing attrition of global GDP. In 2013, his abstract on “The Economics of Climate Change” was accepted, and he was invited to present it at a Symposium, attended by climate scientists and researchers at London’s Oxford and Cambridge Club. In 2014, Van der Leek interviewed South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology,Derek Hanekom, on the subject, as well as Britain’s climate attaché, Sir David King.Van der Leek has also written extensively on Electric Vehicles, and supports research showing automobiles as the number one anthropomorphic cause of climate change.Van der Leek has attended several meetings conducted by the Cape Town chapter of ASPO-SA, chaired by energy economist, Doctor Jeremy Wakeford.  Wakeford is another vocal Cassandra, who writes for Engineering News, and has to some extent influenced Van der Leek in his economic rationales.
Van der Leek is also influenced by Doctor Hugo van Zyl’s views on sustainability. Van Zyl, a doctor of economics, specialises in impact studies and is former classmate and friend of Van der Leek’s.
Nick van der Leek is an advocate of greater public transport, urban bicycling, a denser urban fabric, less driving, recycling and limiting population growth as solutions to the global climate and resource problem.  Van der Leek sees climate and energy (food and fuels) not as disparate issues, but an integrated self-reinforcing mechanism. He believes these, and resource wars, will be the defining issues of his and future generations.

Nick van der Leek circled circa 1985,
Ryk Neethling bottom left.
At age four, Nick van der Leek was able to swim 50 metres Butterfly. He has held Provincial Colours in Swimming, Biathlon, Triathlon, Life Savingand Soccer, multiple times.Nick van der Leek and his brother often enjoyed sport together, mostly swimming and soccer, but also tennis, horse riding, hockey and golf. In 1984 – 1985, van der Leek was the number one Free State 50 metre swimmer, earning his Provincial Colours in Freestyle.He also achieved Provincial Colours for Butterfly. On one occasion Van der Leek broke an inter-primary school relay record with three teammates by 10 seconds. He was also awarded a floating trophy by Grey College for ‘Most Dedicated Swimmer’.
At Grey College,he was usually asked to swim the 100 metre Butterfly event at every gala by the High School coach (even though van der Leek considered himself a specialist Freestyle swimmer).
After a mandatory year in the South African Air Force, at Valhalla Pretoria, (Van der Leek remarked after basic training that he had been fitter before basic training than after). He began his university career in 1991. At the same time, he started a triathlon.
Clifton 4th Beach,
Barker Rock Open Sea Swim 1991.
Van der Leek learning from race organiser,
 Cassar, that no more
swimming caps were available.
In December, on Boxing Day in 1991, Nick van der Leek swam the 2 miles (one mile out and back) from Clifton’s Fourth Beach to Barker Rock.  
He completed the swim but suffered acute hypothermia. After collapsing on the beach lifeguards carried him and placed him under a hot shower.  The incident was documented at the time in a Cape newspaper.  
Van der Leek had failed to eat breakfast, and could not borrow a swimming cap.  Both these factors, and his low body fat, meant the 9 degrees C water compromised his efforts.Van der Leek returned the following year to complete the swim, this time with a wetsuit.
He made the Free State Team in his first year, and competed in the sprint, Olympic and Ultra distances.  At the same time he participated in many clinical trials, as a guinea pig, to raise money for the expenses involved in his pursuit of triathlon. His low heart rate, as a result of high training volumes, often set off the alarms of machines (with 38 bpm as their lower limit) used to calibrate blood pressure and heart rate.  In his early twenties a cardiologist measured his heart rate at 35 bpm.
In 1996, at 24 years of age, van der Leek achieved his best Olympic Triathlon time (averaging over 40km/h for the bike leg and running 37 minutes for the 10km leg). He was able to complete the event in exactly two hours. His best result was placing sixth (in his age group) in the South African Triathlon Championships. Conrad Stolz and Raynard Tissink competed at the same time.
Van der Leek has also swum with wild dolphins off South Africa’s East Coast, near the Hagga Hagga resort. His father, watching the incident through binoculars, commented afterwards that the school, though heading head up the coast, was also circling back and passing alongside the swimmer, presumably curious.  When Van der Leek headed back to the beach, a few individuals broke off from the school, and accompanied Van der Leek through the first sets of breakers.
In June 2004, Van der Leek came first in his age group, and won a small cash prize, at an Olympic Distance race in Tongyeong, South Korea. This event was held together with an international ITU World Cup.In July 2004, Van der leek completed a half Ironman in 4:54:41.  
He was in 2nd place, behind the only elite athlete, at the end of the bike leg, which he rode in a credible 2:21 (37km/h average).In 2005, after two failed attempts at racing Ironmans, both in South Korea, Van der Leek completed his first full Ironman in Port Elizabeth in a time of 12:41.
As a university student, Van der Leek also set up a mountain-bike route through his father’s farm, and then held a race which was attended by the first wave of Mountain-bikers, but before the sport went mainstream.  This event, which he perceived as a failure, occurred a few years before the inaugural Cape Epic.Stemming from his own personal athletic accomplishments, abilities and fitness, Van der Leek has interviewed several Olympians over the years. These include Triathlon Olympians Kate Roberts (also from Bloemfontein), Richard Murray and the Olympic Butterfly champion, Chad Le Clos. He has also interviewed expert doctors and scientists in the sporting community, including Professor Tim Noakes and Dr Ross Tucker.
Discussing barefoot running with Prof Tim Noakes
On the 15th of August 2013, at the Discovery Health Summit in Johannesburg, Van der Leek posed a question in front of a capacity crowd to Tyler Hamilton, at one point the world's number one cyclist. 
Based on Van der Leek’s research into Hamilton’s career, he asked Hamilton whether he suspected if his blood had been sabotaged, along with a slew of other top Tour riders associated with Dr.Eufemiano Fuentes (including Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, Joseba Beloki, Ivan Basso,Frank Schleck and several others).  The unspoken suggestion was whether Lance Armstrong, fearing his multi-year monopoly of the Tour de France was about to be eclipsed, paid off Fuentes to sabotage the blood bags of half a dozen rival riders who fell ill that year. If Armstrong was implicated, Van der Leek reasoned, he was nevertheless immune from retribution from other riders, because at the time his team, (US Postal) were the exclusive clients of another doping doctor, Michele Ferrari.
Tyler Hamilton responded to the question of intentional sabotage, saying it was a "great question" and that it was "suspicious". Hamilton said: "I thought about sabotage. I paid this guy up to $50 000 a year to take care of my blood bags.  He was basically the professional blood doping doctor.  After the first blood bag went bad the second ended up getting lost. So yeah, it was a little suspicious for sure. But that's all I know.  Does it make me scratch my head?  Absolutely. Do I know any more than that?  Not really."

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL___________________________­

Nick van der Leek has travelled extensively within South Africa and the subcontinent, and internationally. Between 1997 and 2014 he travelled to the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Germany, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. In Africa Van der Leek has visited Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and Tanzania, often combining photojournalism with ordinary travel and exploration. Some of his travel writing from the Far East appears in two Lonely Planet Guides.
In 2007, Nick van der Leek had a successful photographic exhibition in Westdene, Bloemfontein. The theme of the exhibition was ‘Light Magic’. This included black and white photos of Ryk Neethling's sister Jean Marie Neethling (who, together with her sister Else Neethling) attended the packed one night exhibition. The sales of the exhibition covered all costs, but Van der Leek did not make any money. Van der Leek’s failed attempt to sell large printed canvases of his photography on one occasion at the Rosebank Craft Market, did not discourage him. He went on to make a number of private sales of sunflowers, beachscapes and landscapes, through many requests on Facebook. During the elections in 2009, he photographed former South African president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and subsequently photographed Morgan Freeman, Olympian Kate Roberts, presenter and radio personality Liezel van der Westhuizen, Professor Tim Noakes, Tyler Hamilton, Daryl Impey, Willie le Roux and Heinrich Brussow.  He also recorded a video interview with the Academy Award Winning director, Gavin Hood, for his work on X-Men Origins: Wolverine for publication on Men’s Health online platform.  In September 2011, for a photo of sunshine streaming through tree branches tree and water spray on the grounds of the National Afrikaans Language Museum, Van der Leek won a highly commended prize. The awards were made at Oliewenhuis Art Museum as part of the annual Freshford House competition. His sister, Candice van der Leek exhibited her own photographic work at the same exhibition. One of Nick van der Leek’s recent portraits was part of the 2014 exhibit at Artscape, Cape Town, titled, “20 years of democracy”. Sonja Hibbers, Project Partnerships &Operations Manager at World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 attended the opening and subsequently wrote the following anecdote:
“[The] opening address delivered by Minister Ivan Meyer was to the point and reminded us about Madiba reuniting all people - "your" culture, "my" culture, "our" heritage, always in this order. To illustrate this, he mentions one particular picture that has touched him. It is a photo of a man and a boy on a horse, the man looking ahead, into the future and the boy looking back, also into the future - "our heritage"! Congratulations, Nick van der Leek, it is a great photo. This is building the future, not brick by brick, but photo by photo.”
Nick van der leek was also the accredited photographer for Cell C Tour of SA, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Press Tour,the Cape Epic and Super Rugby (2013).  In 2013, he was the official photographer for South Africa’s SKA. He was also commissioned by the Plettenberg Bay Department of Tourism, Northern Cape Department of Tourism, Gondwana Collection and the Blue Train for photographic work. Van der Leek also regularly shoots models for an online magazine's Girl of the Day section.

WRITING CAREER______________________________________________________________­
As a young child, Nick van der Leek was a voracious reader. He started with children’s fiction, such as the popular paperback series written by Enid Blyton (The Famous Five, Secret Seven and Blyton’s Adventure Series). He also read the entire series of youth fiction by authors such as Franklin W. Dixon and Williard Price, before venturing to non-fiction writers likeGerald and Laurence Durrell. He gave his nephew a list of books to read (including I,Robot by Isaac Asimov, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 1984 by George Orwell, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Carrie by Stephen King, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach and many others). As a teenager Van der Leek sent drafts of writing to his uncle, who taught English, to critique. He was often nominated by teachers and classmates to read to the class. He enjoyed writing essays at school, and was good at them. His extensive reading soon led to an interest in writing. His essays were often read by teachers to his classmates as models of good writing. On one occasion a confused English High School teacher asked Van der Leek’s permission to have a university lecturer analyse a particularly recondite essay he had written. Van der Leek consented.  The teacher later conveyed the news: the lecturer had pronounced the essay sensibly symbolic and well written. Although his general academic results faltered through High School, his essay results were usually the highest in his class.  Many ambitious classmates who wanted to secure distinctions in English, came to him for advice.  One, Gustav Strandvik, a younger boy from a different grade, also asked for mentoring.  Van der Leek acquiesced but said the simplest advice was simply to “read a lot and write a lot”.  Strandvik subsequently became a doctor. Van der Leek was lonely and unhappy in High School, in part because his brother (they were also best friends) was sent to Saint Andrews Grahamstown in 1985. In the same year, his best friend Francois Muller, unexpectedly announced he would stay behind in standard five and repeat the year.  The same year Van der Leek was forced to wear an external neck brace to shift his teeth. This external ‘prosthesis’ remained in place until after matric and had the effect of muzzling the youngster. His sense of personal crisis was deepened, because in addition to all of the above, Van der Leek decided to give swimming a break. Since the High school did not offer soccer, or art, he took a long time to ‘find himself’. Van der Leek’s earliest attempt at completing a novel, started in 1987, at the age of 15. He began writing the first chapters in longhand, then took possession of his mother’s old Olivetti typewriter and by 1989 was using a computer to type the same manuscript. 
This was his first attempt at Bloodline, a post Apocalyptic Dystopian story set in the Scottish Highlands, and inspired in no small part by the 1987 movie Highlander, starring Christopher Lambert.  In his last year at school he would often bring rewrites of the opening chapter to school and have his classmates assess them.  Bloodline took him two years to complete. He finished the last sentence on the morning of his matric final science exam (and achieved a subpar E as a result).  Van der Leek felt the narrative was in some ways precognitive, because he wrote the death of the protagonist’s mother shortly before his own mother’s death. Later, during military service in the South African Air Force, Van der Leek lost the manuscript when his belongings were stolen during a weekend ‘Pass’. After offering a reward for his precious manuscript, the missing copy was recovered, but eventually lost again sometime later. In 2013 Van der Leek finally began the process of resurrecting the Bloodline narrative that had been lost.  It remains a work in progress.

Nick van der Leek lived abroad, two years in London, and four years in Ilsan, the latter a satellite just north of Seoul. In Ilsan he taught English as a second language.  Whilst abroad, in 2004, he started a blog which has subsequently [updated July 2014] attracted over 1.459 million page impressions. The same blog was ranked 10th in South Africa’s News and Politics blogs in August 2008. His encounters as a blogger and citizen journalist in South Korea 2002 – 2005, and his knowledge of the world leading Korean internet – amongst the fastest and least inexpensive – proved of practical use later in his career.  Van der Leek’s experience in South Korea put him at the forefront of a new wave of emerging online media, including blogs, forums, LAN gaming and other precursors to modern social media. When he arrived back in South Africa in 2005, he was one of only a handful of active bloggers.  Internet connectivity at the time was also tediously slow and prohibitively expensive.

CITIZEN JOURNALISM___________________________________________________________
Nick van der Leek is regarded as one of South Africa’s first and best citizen journalists.  His work was published almost daily on along with 216 articles published over three years on ohmynews, a Korean citizen journalism site. Subsequently, both sites shut down permanently during the run-up to the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In 2006, as a result of his experience online, and due to his background as a blogger in particular, he was invited to represent the cause of ‘Citizen Journalism’ to the Highway Africa Digital Citizen Indaba, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.  This was arranged by an editor (and Van der Leek’s future boss) at AVUSA.  The editor chose Van der Leek based on his contributions to the South African citizen website,where he was the most active and consistent contributor. The digital editor of the Sowetan and Saunders facilitated with Rhodes University that Van der Leek represent at the conference and report on it, which he did.  Less than a year later, he was working directly for Saunders as a Communications Specialist for a stable of online brands, including the Sowetan and Sunday World.  During his service there, these two sites were the fastest growing websites in South Africa. The digital team, including Van der Leek, were rewarded with cash bonuses by the company for the rapid leveraging and acquisition of these print brands by online users. Unfortunately, at the same time, he was persuaded by Saunders to abandon citizen and other efforts at journalism.   

INITIAL FREELANCING___________________________________________________________
Nick van der Leek’s writing and editing acumen, developed specifically through consistent daily blogging over several years in South Korea, and subsequent citizen journalism, led to his first journalism post.  In 2006 he returned from Seoul to take over as Editor of Heartland Magazine.  His role would involve the conventional editorial dictates.  Whilst waiting for the job, based in Bloemfontein, Van der Leek wrote two articles for Heartland. Following a trip through Lesotho and the Underberg in January 2006, Van der Leek converted the experience into content and submitted five pieces.  Due to the amount of content under his name, in a single issue, half were submitted under pseudonyms. The issue had a ‘Mountain Theme’ and one of Van der Leek’s standout stories was a groundbreaking analysis on the ten year anniversary of the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy and subsequent Krakauer/Boukreev controversy. In 2009, Weston DeWalt (author of The Climb) wrote that Van der Leek’s account of the incident, “was the clearest he had ever read”. His encounters as a blogger and citizen journalist in South Korea 2002 – 2005, and his knowledge of the world leading Korean internet proved of practical use in managing the content of various web brands placed in his custody. As of July 2014, Van der Leek allowed his membership with SAFREA (The South African Freelancers Association) to lapse, having been a member for 2 years.  

COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST___________________________________________________
Van der Leek was hired as a Communications Specialist for Rosebank-based Avusa Media (situated in Johannesburg, South Africa) in June 2007. Here Van der Leek drew on his knowledge of statistical analysis, Nielsen’s and Google Analytics. He was mandated to assess the efficacy of Group Brands in general, and more specifically, find the value areas within the sites reservoirs of online content. He designed and distributed newsletters on behalf of various web brands, liaised with media clients and sourced new clients for Online Competition pages.  These include Gallo Records and Nu Metro Cinemas. He also provided a series of articles at the same time for Touchline Media’s Bicycling magazine. At the same time national and international newsrooms were being overhauled, initiating a long period of transformation from print to print and online.  Much uncertainty existed for the future and the business case for online media.  It was part of Van der Leek’s mandate to address this. Working for major up and coming online brands such as Sowetan and Sunday World (SA’s fastest growing websites at the time), Van der Leek applied his experience in digital (or online) reporting. He introduced the brands under his influence to the emerging social media, and managed to arrange Facebook access for himself and a few colleagues (when this was generally discouraged in the newsroom). He also set up the original twitter accounts and blogs for these sites. Commenting on news pages, while Van der Leek’s suggestion, was not introduced during his employment but subsequent to it becoming an industry standard, the Sowetan finally adopted this practise (one of the last to do so). In spite of his struggles as a freelance writer, and despite Saunders actively encouraging Van der Leek to abandon writing, he continued to submit works to publications during his employment.  Van der Leek’s attempts to publish his writing were stifled by contractual clauses which meant any written work produced whilst an employee necessarily fell under the copyright claims of his employer, a common restraint of trade in most Media Houses. When Van der Leek was disciplined for publishing work outside of the company, he responded by publishing work within the company.  Van der Leek’s editor (Saunders) published two pieces during his two years working under her at AVUSA Media. Van der Leek was eventually dismissed in August 2009 from the company on an accusation of ‘pretending to be a journalist’.  He challenged his dismissal, hired an attorney and subsequently won a large settlement.

FULL-TIME FREELANCING___________________________________________________
Nick van der Leek has achieved prominence in South Africa’s media milieu as a freelance photojournalist.  He has a particularly extensive print media portfolio in magazine writing. After his dismissal from AVUSA Media, Van der Leek travelled to Australia to cover Broome, a story contracted by the Australian Tourism Commission.  Van der Leek subsequently circumnavigated the island continent.  He returned home to Johannesburg in March. A visit to his brother Casey van der Leek, a freelance artist, encouraged him to pursue writing full-time. Realising he needed to drastically cut his expenses, he moved to Port Elizabeth.  There, with no more limitations on who he could offer his work to, Van der Leek’s career as a full-time freelancer gained traction for the first time. Between 2010 and 2012, Nick van der Leek was regularly published across a stable of media platforms, notably through ITWEB’s Brainstorm (and other custom publications), Touchline Media’s Bicycling, Ramsay Media’s Getaway, Car and Leisure Wheels, Caxton’s County Life (for whom he still writes a series on popular South African landscape artists) and Your Family, as well as Conde Neste’s GQ magazine. In 2013, Van der Leek was regularly published in Media24 publications, including South Africa’s number one and two selling magazines, Huis Genoot and YOU, Finweek and many others.  He was also published in numerous in-flight and travel magazines, including Sawubona, AbouTime and Blue Train. Recently Van der Leek has tackled South Africa’s publishing industry, as a cause célèbre.  He has written either reviews or articles on the financial health of the industry itself, in part to understand its inner dynamics, but also familiarise himself with key role players.  Recent reviews cover Jacques Steenkamp’s The Griekwastad Murders Ron Irwin’s Flat Water Tuesday. He has also interviewed Lauren Beukes, Deon Meyer and many others involved in the publishing industry. His title sentence of his review published on GQ’s website of the Steenkamp book was subsequently published on the back cover of Steenkamp’s bestseller (Griekwastadis South Africa’s In Cold Blood – GQ). In 2014, Van der Leek was published for the first time in Longevity, Travel Ideas and Travel Namibia.  In the same year he published three noteworthy cover stories. Firstly for Marie Claire on Reeva Steenkamp.  Second, a cover article on Chad Le Clos for GQ’s August issue. At the same time he published a cover feature in Tour de France magazine chronicling the life of Daryl Impey, a professional internationally ranked cyclist.  His most recent article is his artist’s series for Country Life, covered the life and times of Gregoire Boonzaier.

FICTION WRITING___________________________________________________________
Nick van der Leek’s efforts at magazine writing were not perfunctory, but a means to an end.  Van der Leek’s main goal is to be a bestselling author of  cinematic fiction.  Further, he hopes his published novels will be made into movies, allowing him a ‘back door’ into this industry. His strategy – writing for mainstream media publications – was intended to improve his word craft and gradually introduce his name to prospective readers, editors and publishers. After losing his first novel, Van der Leek subsequently made several additional attempts at fiction, including a manuscript written whilst studying at Free University (Fly By Night), a second whilst living in Bristol, England (Under The Star) in 1998, two more during his four years teaching in South Korea (The Half Full Moon, Heaven is in your Heartand two written during his employment at AVUSA Media (Holiday, The Devil Smokes Dunhill).Van der Leek has been heavily influenced by the philosophies and books of Joseph Campbell, Simon Schama (the British historian) and Ernest Becker, the Pulitzer prizewinning anthropologist and author of Denial of Death. In 2012, Van der Leek decided to resurrect his first attempt at fiction writing (which he began as a 15 year old at Grey College) and, although he did reconstruct much of the original from memory, Bloodline (slated as a three-book series) remains a work in progress.  Some mention of his progress with Bloodline is made on his personal website under the title ‘Confessions of a failed author.’ In terms of mainstream fiction he is partial to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Series, since it is similar post-apocalyptic dystopian material to his own Bloodline mythos.  Recent movies reinforcing the same subject matter, mentioned numerously and recently on Van der Leek’s blog, are Highlander, Prometheus, Oblivion, Vikings, Thor and Christopher Nolan’s soon to be released Interstellar.

NON FICTION WRITING_________________________________________________________
Book #5 of Van der Leek's
Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial Series
In June 2014 Van der Leek, following a meeting with Vernon Baumann, a local crime fiction writer, published his first eBooks, a series covering the Oscar Pistorius Trial, to mostly favourable reviews on The first, “Reeva in her own Words” reached #31 on Amazon’s Bestseller list (for biographies) and “Recidivist Acts, named after a passage in columnist’s Jani Allan’s Letter to Oscar, reached #40 on the same chart. Following a 90 minute interview on OFM, a Bloemfontein-based radio station with Johrne van Huysteen, Van der Leek's 3rd eBook Resurrection gained traction.  Overnight it reached the #8 Ranking on Amazon's Bestseller list for biographical non-fiction (July 2014). All three books (in a planned series of five), are based on the life and death of the late South African model, paralegal and reality television star, Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot and killed early on Valentine’s Day by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, the well-known Paralympian. In June 2014 an article titled Reeva Steenkamp inspirasie vir BFN-skrywer was published in Bloemfontein’s Courant newspaper.  The writer, Maricelle Botha, mentions Van der Leek’s mother in the following quote:
“Ek dink haar storie het by my aanklank gevind, eerstens, omdat ek weet hoe geweldig luuks die wêreld van modelle vir mense daarbuite lyk, maar agter die skerms sukkel dit om huur te betaal en dinge by te bring. Verder was my ma ook ’n aktrise en model wat op ’n jong ouderdom oorlede is,” vertel Van der Leek.

ROMANTIC LIFE___________________________________________________________
In 1997 Nick van der Leek dated Samantha Flint. Flint attended Eunice, a school situated on the boundary of Grey College.  At school she was a prefect, first team hockey player, model and Miss Eunice.  Flint is a cousin of ex-Miss South Africa, Nicole Flint.  The two traveled to England, France and Austria. From 2005 – 2009 Van der Leek was in a serious relationship with Fransa Nel, whom he met in a gym in Bloemfontein prior to completing his first Ironman. In 2011, whilst researching a story on Claerhout in the Free State, he met and photographed Maria Bekker.  A relationship developed and he subsequently moved from Cape
 Town, where he was living at the time, back to Bloemfontein.

In 2007, Van der Leek was prevented from competing in a cycling race overseen by Free State Cycling (the race was part of a series riders had to compete in order to be selected to the Provincial team).  Van der Leek did not have a license, and having recently cycled 1000km over a period of just a few days in preparation, took exception to being prevented the opportunity to compete. He subsequently appealed to high ranking officials at CSA, but was mostly ignored.  The South African Cycling Championships were held in Bloemfontein that same year.  A similar licensing issue developed with the professional cyclist David George, but George was allowed to compete. Van der Leek subsequently took to The Hub Cycling Forum to vent, under the Avatar ‘Sunblock’.  However most riders did not support his cause.  In a bid to make amends Free State Cycling offered to restore Van der Leek’s club and CSA membership, or sign him up to a club of his own choosing.  See 
With Phil Liggett, Cell C Tour of SA 2011
In 2010, Van der Leek broke the story in Bicycling magazine that CSA was about to launch a national road tour. He controversially quoted a CSA administrator who implicated a colleague for alleged pilfering of money.  This led to threats of legal action against the magazine editor, Van der Leek and Carinus Lemmer, who had been quoted in the article, by the accused party. This led to further mudslinging. In 2011, Van der Leek covered the Cell C Tour of South Africa as an accredited photojournalist alongside Phil Liggett.  The Tour infamously had to cancel the second stage through the streets of Johannesburg due to poor planning.

NOTE: to arrange your own online biography click here.