Tessa giving us a glimpse of her colorful personality by striking a pose
“You know who I am—I’m really a shopper. You can put it there—I’m a shopaholic!” says style icon and philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes while touring us through her museum of travel memorabilia.
Tessa Prieto is a woman of all seasons (or all hairstyles, depending on who you ask). She’s an interior designer, a columnist, a TV host, a triathlete, a businesswoman, a mother to four children, a wife of 22 years… with a heap of hobbies in between. But when asked about her true passion, she replies, “My passion is life. When I do something, I’m super all out there. I cannot single out anything.” But her iconic flamboyant aura wasn’t always there.
“I think it started almost 23 years ago… when my older brother died in a motorcycle accident,” she recalls, shifting to a more somber tone. “You refocus everything on what you think you value in life. Before that I was so concerned about what other people would say. I didn’t want to create a difference—I just wanted to blend in. I didn’t wanna create chaos. But then…” She suddenly lights up and waves down her dress. “I guess my outlet was to dress up and look like this [laughs] and it snowballed into being weirder and bigger!”
With her extremely busy schedule, Tessa stresses the importance of not having to worry about her finances–something that she has found with Security Bank. “I don’t have to worry about it, which for me, is what banking should be. I am so busy—can you imagine with all the stuff I do? I don’t have to worry about that. Because I’m secure that it’s being taken care of.” She also appreciates the personal touch the bank has given her. “It’s the comfort that there’s a person from Security Bank that’s taking care of me… I’m treated like a person, not some random customer number.”
Despite being a self-confessed expert in spending, Tessa makes sure that she shares her blessings. “Ever since we were young, my mom was always telling us to be a blessing to others and share so we’ve always had charity in our blood.” The philanthropist holds an annual Red Charity Gala for her Assumption Batch ‘81 foundation and is a benefactor to the Philippine National Red Cross.
In balancing her life of spending and giving, she is guided by a simple spiritual doctrine. “I’m a very prayerful woman also. I guess people don’t know that. I really believe that things happen for a reason and you’re given stuff because you deserve it or you prayed for it. And if it doesn’t come, it’s not yet meant to be—or something like that. By this you create your own destiny.” She is also fascinated with Feng Shui and karma—something that she learned from chatting with the Dalai Lama himself.
“I’m so enlightened now because I just met the Dalai Lama last month!” the 53-year old exclaims. He spoke about some basic stuff about karma—karma is a (expletive) but of course he didn’t say that exactly. He said that you have to live like you are living for the karma of your next life…” She pauses for a moment and then says “After that I went shopping! I was so enlightened but I’m still materialistic so I don’t think I’ll become a Buddhist any time soon [laughs]. Maybe in the next life, maybe just in the next life.”
That can be really long [laughs]. I’m a mother to 4 children, married for 22 years to Dennis Valdes. I am a columnist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I have 2 columns—on Sundays I have a lifestyle column and on Saturdays I have a property column. I am an avid yogi, triathlete, golfer, scuba diver, and I do as much as I can!
I really live an active lifestyle. I have a group called Girls Run for Breakfast every Friday and we meet to do our long runs, but normally the breakfast is longer than the run [laughs]. I’ve done 2 marathons, which are full 42k runs—one in new York and one in Paris and I’m thinking about doing a Tokyo marathon but I think I worried that at my age maybe I should just take it easy. It’s really really gruelling and strenuous. And of course, who cares about my finishing time? I have the most photos and the most glamorous crossing of the finish line! [laughs]
I’m primarily an interior designer. I graduated in the US and I have my own design firm—Tessa Group—and we’ve been designing commercial and residential for maybe close to 20 years now. Aside from that, I also have a TV show. It’s called Philippine Realty TV and it’s about real estate. It’s fun because I get to shop as well! [laughs] When it comes to business, I also have an online Feng Shui shop with my sister-in-law called Frigga Home with our partner Marites Allen.
I’m sure somewhere down the line I’m going to remember something else and you know my husband is somewhere there [laughs].
I think ever since we were young, my mom was always telling us to be a blessing to others and share so we’ve always had charity in our blood–doing good, helping, and improving lives of other people who we’re not related to.
I have an annual Red Charity Gala, which is a big charitable fund-raising event for my Assumption Batch ‘81 foundation that helps a lot of sort of small livelihood communities. We have already built over 40 homes in Samar, which is an area that was stripped by Yolanda but got no aid at all because everything was given to Leyte. We also give to the Red Cross. The gala is happening on October 8 and so I’m looking forward to that because all my friends have no choice but to donate! [laughs]
I really help the arts as well. And I’ve been like a fashion plate because I support Philippine fashion talaga. I mean this Red Charity Gala is always in support of Philippine fashion—we have a designer. It’s a fashion show wherein we have an auction to raise money and we showcase one designer every year.
Shopping! [laughs] My passion is life. I cannot single out—to see me, you have to take me as I am. I cannot single out anything. It’s like children—you love them all differently but with the same intensity and that’s how I am. I do everything with passion. When I do something, I’m super all out there and that’s why it’s so hard for me to always accept responsibilities because I’m all out all the time.
Well you know… Thank God that I had supportive parents [laughs]. Even from school, they already said like, “You can choose whatever career you want. We’ll be here to support you.” I was taking Architecture in UST for two years, and then I got pregnant—oops! At that time it was a scandal! Oh my god, I was like 19. That’s why the gap of my kids is like—the eldest is 32 now and my youngest is 12—a 20 year gap! Then my parents sent me abroad, and it was an embarrassment. Nowadays when you have a kid, it doesn’t really matter.
So I shifted to Interior Design, which was also really what I think more fitting to me and my personality. And so from there, they’ve been supporting everything. I was sort of a single parent but I was living with them. They were like the parents to my child. So it’s nice that you’re continuously evolving—which is what I’m telling my kids right now.
My two kids—one’s taking Astrophysics. The other one’s taking Film. I mean they’re totally different. And I said, “Why don’t you just take something like Business or something normal?” But of course, you know, it’s their own. It’s what they want, and I’m practicing the same sort of parenting style as my parents. Talking about supportive parents, I have a supportive husband. I mean it takes somebody to be married to me, believe me (laughs). I mean to find somebody confident enough, that’s hard.
Because in the end, the girl will always love the guy no matter what as they get older. But the guy really has to be extra loving—and he is.
He keeps joking, like, he’s married to a different woman every night. One day I’m blonde, one day I’m brunette, you know? We have this thing eh. We have our own interests, but we also share some of the same… like we play golf and we love the water–we go scuba diving and we swim a lot. And like I said, he lets me be. He loves me more than I love him. That’s how it works. The guy has to love you more for a guy to keep a relationship. Because in the end, the girl will always love the guy no matter what as they get older. But the guy really has to be extra loving—and he is.
We have—sort of—conditions with Dennis. The weekend is always family time. Wednesday is always “no cook day.” We eat out as a family! So that’s with my mother-in-law, and then on Sundays we have dinner with my parents.
Once a year, we go to a place that we’ve never been before. We love Africa—we’re like Safari junkies so next year we’re taking the kids for the first time. …My husband is so into photography so you know I keep saying “Take me, take me, but he’s busy shooting animals [laughs]. And we make sure that on weekends are really just for the kids. Once a year, me and my husband do something without the kids.
I think more than anything I have all these so people think I’m really tall. Without the shoes—without this outfit—I’m really small set. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s a complex of mind that I was born small and stuff. So I love to draw attention, and if you don’t look at me, fine…
But you can have my picture! I love people asking me for photos. I oblige them, and you know… I love making people even smile or laugh. I just love that my energy is passed on to you. And maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be—a clown. Because my brother died, you value and focus more on things that—like what they say, half-empty or half-full, right? I always say, “It’s full!”
It’s the truth (laughs).
I just love shopping. Throw me anywhere—Ethiopia, whatever—I’ll find something. And you know, I have a memorabilia wall with all my travels whether it’s a mask, mirror, or something like that. Because as an interior designer, I love collecting stuff for the whole room. Like you know, this is sort of my African room, so we have all these stuff. Like this one (points to the table) is a super one-of-a-kind Kenneth Cobonpue piece. And this (points to animal skin rugs) is not real—just kidding. Basta I love shopping.
With Security Bank, you’re secure that whatever purchases or checks that have been made from that account is solid
I guess the way to put it is that our joint account keeps me not having to worry about stuff—you know how nowadays there’s so many bank fraud and security issues. With Security Bank, you’re secure that whatever purchases or checks that have been made from that account is solid. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s really peace of mind that you don’t really have to worry about the account that’s supposed to take care of the family expenses.
I don’t have to worry about it, which for me, is what banking should be. I am so busy—can you imagine with all the stuff I do? I don’t have to worry about that. Because I’m secure that it’s being taken care of. It’s the comfort that there’s a person from Security Bank that’s taking care of me… I’m treated like a person, not some random customer number.
Secret. I’m gonna have a boob job—what about that [laughs]? I wish! I can’t run with big boobs.
What’s next? Well, we’re really looking forward to our Africa trip. I want to do more travels with the family. This year is like a decision-making year when it comes to doing another marathon. But parang no more. I don’t know—cute kasi the Tokyo Marathon—people are running in costumes! There’s like a sushi running—so me!
I think if I can leave a legacy or something, I just wanna live each day like it made a difference to yourself, to your family, and to others. I think that’s the way I want to share the love.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity
Photography by Andrea Beldua