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Half-Brit hosts of ‘Juan Direction’ embrace Filipino lifestyle and culture

The hosts of TV5's 'Juan Direction'. From left, Michael McDonnell, Charlie Sutcliffe, Daniel Marsh, Brian Wilson, and Henry Edwards.

They are five handsome British young men, and their name is an obvious pun on the world’s biggest boy band. But Juan Direction is as unique as can be.

How often do you find a group of British-Filipino ramp models who, despite their obvious foreign looks, proudly embrace the Pinoy lifestyle? Notwithstanding their funny accented Tagalog, these Juan Direction boys have no qualms about dirtying their hands as they try out the most menial jobs and embark on various quests to immerse themselves in the Filipino culture.

In the course of doing News5’s socio-experimental show “Juan Direction” — which airs on TV5 every Saturday at 9:30PM) — Brian Wilson, Charlie Sutcliffe, Daniel Marsh, Henry Edwards and Michael McDonnell have had first-hand experience on what it’s like to be a “common Juan”.

As Michael explains, Juan Direction can be translated as “the Filipino way” – hence their pursuit to show the richness of the Filipino culture and express their own appreciation of the race they are proud to be part of. For despIte their being “half breeds” and their predominantly Caucasian features, they admit that they are Filipinos at heart.

These Juan Direction men probably have had more Pinoy experiences than most full-blooded Pinoys. For the show’s pilot episode, they mingled with a community living “along da riles”, personally drove (pushed being a more apt term) the common mode of transportation there, built their own railside shack and even tried fitting inside the claustrophobic makeshift house for as long as they could.

Other episodes showed them being jeepney drivers and barkers, exploring the streets of Quiapo, visiting cemeteries and talking to people who actually live there, and even trying out the sepulturero’s job of opening and cleaning a tomb. They also visited different provinces to highlight the distinct heritage in each area and also to show that wherever they go, their encounters with the people make each trip so much more memorable.

Let’s meet them one by one:

The ‘Bad Boy’

If there is one who can be tagged as the common friend among these Juan Direction boys, it would be 25-year-old Charlie, who first met Daniel and Michael in a modeling gig in Cebu.

After he and Daniel were picked as the top male models during a go-see for Fashion Week, the two of them flew to Manila where Charlie met Brian in another fashion show.

He later met Henry in a TV comedy show where they appeared as models. Though he stayed in Cebu after Charlie and Daniel flew to Manila, Michael followed suit, met the rest of the gang, and the rest – as they say – is history.

Since Charlie was five months old up to until he was eleven years old, he came to the Philippines on vacation every year. However, he and his father stopped visiting the country when his parents split up. “I finished college (graduated in Sports Science) in England and then [four years ago, when I was 21] I came on a four-month vacation here in the Philippines to visit my family and live with them, to really get to know them better. I ended up staying because I started modeling in Cebu and I actually I enjoyed it. It’s not quite the same as living in England working a 9 to 5,” he shares.

Charlie discloses that he was not particularly keen on their group being called Juan Direction when he first heard about it.

“I was back in England at the time [they discussed the TV5 show], and then I came back and they told us this Juan Direction. I didn’t really like the name. I guess that’s why they call me the ‘bad boy’ because I was the only one complaining about stuff. But it came out really good, and I admit I was kind of wrong in not agreeing with it at first. I really enjoy every moment of working with the TV5 team. There’s never a dull moment with them, really.”

Fans remember Charlie most as “the guy who got sick while eating balut” because when the guys did the challenge of selling and eating the exotic Filipino delicacy for their YouTube channel Island Media Asia, he was the only one who kept throwing up.

“I really tried swallowing it but every time I did, my body just kept rejecting it,” he explains. “But at least I tried. I also dread eating the chicken intestine isaw and anything with liver or blood. But if they make me eat those, I’ll try everything once.”

Reluctant ‘Crush ng Bayan’

Daniel is the one who gets teased by the rest of the group as the “Crush ng Bayan” but he thinks it’s just because he’s the only single guy among them at the moment and they want to market him as the “rebellious single man who’s out there to get lots of women.”

Though people say he’s the most attractive one in the group, he quickly brushes it off by explaining that they each have different looks that cater to different people’s tastes. “I wouldn’t say I’m attractive. I’m just me,” so says the Irish-Filipino Tom Cruise lookalike.

Born and raised in Ireland, Daniel came to the Philippines for a visit in 2007, at the age of 16, and ended up settling in the country.

“I came here for a vacation and I kept extending that vacation. I’ve been here for almost seven years – the first three years I stayed in Cebu in my mom’s house and almost four years now in Manila. I love it here and, obviously, over time my life became more rooted into the Philippine culture. My work and my life just kind of settled more to the Philippine side than in Ireland. Also, my parents moved to the Philippines in 2009, which firmly planted me here,” he says.

He admits that what he loves most about the country is its “Old World charm” and the resiliency of the Filipino people.

“I find it comfortable here in the Philippines because you get the sun, you get to travel for a much cheaper price, you have Boracay and all the beaches. We do have various situations here, but that’s the challenge. I mean, I don’t want to live in a society that’s structured too much, where everything is expensive and there are so many rules. The Philippines still has its Old World charm, and we have people who tend to be very resilient. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much they lose, Filipinos don’t ever give up. They’re very persistent and their charm is to be happy. I think it’s a brilliant trait.”

In doing Juan Direction, Daniel is glad to be highlighting the best qualities of being Filipino.

“I feel a sense of achievement in doing this show because I really want to make the Filipinos proud of their roots. A lot of people bypass the local vendor, the taho vendor – and these are little charms that you don’t want to lose. Also, I have learned that every island here really has its own distinct culture. The fact that we have 7,000 islands is reason enough to explore this country. If you don’t want your regular routine, monotonous, book-a-hotel-stay-in-a-hotel vacation, come to the Philippines, get out to the beach and start to really experience life, experience different cultures within one country,” he notes.

Next: Brian Wilson, Michael McDonnell, and Henry Edwards.