If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the streetwise brand of mild scepticism I’ve come to apply to much of my life, from men to apartment listings. Fezile Mkhize, Top Billing presenter, practising physician, and winner of Cosmo’s Sexiest Man title for 2019, seems a little too good to be true. Except he isn’t. In person, Fez is as charming and genuine as you would expect, and then some.
Sitting down to chat at the pool party Cosmo threw to announce and celebrate their winner, I start with an important question: Who in his life is going to give him the most grief about this? “Listen – every single person in my life is going to give me grief. Nobody calls me sexy, ever. So it’s going to be a lot of torture, being tormented by my friends, but I think more than anything it’ll just show that they support me, as they make fun of me.” It is a funny thing, strange still, to be publicly labelled sexually appealing. To be in the crowd when it’s said is one thing. To be in the spotlight – and a Speedo – when it’s said about you, must be something entirely different, I imagine.
While there are universal (and often non-inclusive, and even problematic) standards of beauty everywhere, attractiveness is still largely personal, and subsequently, subjective. “I think sexy is something that kind of goes further than aesthetic,” Fez says on the subject. “It’s why you can have a range of various sexies. To be honest with you I feel like it’s always an awkward thing to try to figure out what makes me necessarily sexy, but I think I have a lot of things that I am very passionate about, and I go out and try my hardest, even though sometimes I land flat on my face, and for me, that’s kind of the definition of somebody who’s sexy – an attractiveness that goes beyond anything that’s superficial, or about how you look. It’s just that thing inside you that tells you you’re going to do whatever it is that fulfils you. Following that rudder takes bravery, it takes steadfastness and determination, and that all encompasses a sexy individual.”
I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the superficial, because it’s decidedly good to look at, but yes, the courage to march to the beat of your own drum is sexy – confidence has always been attractive. As for style, Fez keeps it simple – “Comfortable, but sophisticated” – and relies on his stylist, Siya at Style Candy, to push the envelope for accolades like this year’s Best Dressed Man at the L’Ormarin’s Queen’s Plate, and some substantial buzz around his SunMET outfit. “People are like, oh, wait a minute, he doesn’t have to be topless to actually maybe get people talking, so I was really happy about that.”
When I ask my next question, one about how he takes care of himself, his perspective makes more sense. Of course he thinks sexy is more about the mind than the body, when staying active is how he practices self care. Killer abs are just a by-product, I guess. “It’s just finding those zen points, those points in the day, in the week, where you are doing that thing that you feel resonates with you. For me, I love being active, moving, active meditation is something that I’ve heard about and I’ve realised is what I practice. So me being physically active, me eating correctly, is me trying to tell my body that I have to live in [you], and I do care about you, even though I have a very busy schedule, that I’m trying to, as best as I can, care for myself.”
As I silently wish my body’s love language was exercise instead of sad music and sleep, I ask him to detail his routine. He doesn’t share a schedule but he does share that, as expected, it’s tedious. “I work out quite a bit,” he laughs, “but I don’t see it necessarily as me going to the gym like it’s this aggressive thing… I’m kind of doing this whole self-taught kind of boxing and I think it’s really interesting how it stimulates my mind to re-enact what I’ve seen… I love basketball because it’s a sport I’ve loved since I was really young. I might do it at least three times in a week with people who love it as well, and it’s quite competitive. And like, everything else in between, in terms of lifting and pushing and pulling very heavy things. But at the end of the day, it’s just me trying to make my body move as best as it can.”
Just like the micro-nutrients and supplements he says are the start and end of his grooming routine – I checked, he’s adamant that he isn’t clued up on skincare – basketball and boxing are paying off. Being “fit-hot” is pretty much a prerequisite for this particular honour, and Fezile’s fellow contestants all fit the bill. They fit it well. Like, really well. And even they agree that Fez puts in the work. Fellow physician Musa commented, “Fez! What a lovely dude. Great guy, awesome doctor, but most importantly sexiest man for 2019, so well done to him! Very fit guy, very health conscious, I mean when he was talking about the vegan nonsense I was just like, oh my gosh, that sounds depressing, but I guess it pays off, I mean he’s spent so much time working on fitness, working on health, it actually shows.”
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Professional funny man Yaseen Barnes had kind things to say about Fezile too, but first, he told me how flattered he was when Cosmopolitan Magazine slid into his DMs. “I was like, me? Cosmo? Yeah, let’s do things! Got the email, and I was very excited because I read the first line: ‘Yaseen we would like to have you for the Cosmopolitan Sexiest Man 2019 campaign.’ Like, I’ve worked on this body for years… I was one of the pioneers of the dad bod. And then I realised that I had to read the rest of the email, and they were like, ‘as the comedic element’… Like, okay, thank you for the steam – the clout was nice for that minute. At the same time, as a comedian, I was just like, it’s another place for me to have fun.”
That was Cosmo’s angle this year: Fun. Because why should that be mutually exclusive from celebrating sexy men? Women have been telling men that funny is sexy for as long as we’ve thought it. Barnes’ approachable humour was a welcome addition to the annual round up, and giving him the task of interviewing the finalists (and playing host and announcer on the big day) gave an ageing franchise, placed firmly in increasingly fraught pageant-adjacent territory, a fresh, believable coat of paint – a laudable achievement.
Speaking of achievements, I ask Dr. Mkhize what else he plans to conquer in 2019. His answer moves us into too-good-to-be-true territory, but his earnestness leaps across in conversation, simply too plain to be faked: Fez really just wants to help people. “Whenever I talk about things that I want to do, especially in the public eye, it’s always trying to, as best as I can, give back. Take whatever light that might be shined on me and kind of readjust it to other things. I’m trying to find a really good charity I can get behind, give the skills that I’ve learned in terms of medicine to go and help out there. So something along the lines of Doctors Without Borders, but we’re kind of putting that together with my team. So I’m hoping it’s going to be a very good year, it’s going to be a year when I give of myself more than I have before and hopefully help change some lives and help them have a great 2019.”
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So how does one balance a career in medicine with a career in television? “Ha! I will tell you as soon as I feel like I’ve balanced it, like perfectly,” Fezile replies, to the question he says he is asked the most. Right now he’s just giving it his all, and for the most part, it’s working out. The cherry on top? Right now, at the end of our interview, would be the perfect time to throw some friendly barbs at his fellow contestants. Instead, Fez has nothing but compliments. For Ryle, his fellow Top Billing presenter, who he calls a brother and a beautiful man who does so much. For Musa, who he applauds for stepping out of his comfort zone and coming through to have some fun while under major exam pressure. “Any single one of them would have been deserving,” he says, but he’s thankful for the votes either way. Handled like a gentleman.