Cover Iza Calzado and Ben Wintle for Tatler Philippines | Photo by Mark Nicdao. Calzado wears a Monogram Jacquard Gabardine relaxed hooded parka, LV Volt One small pendant in pink gold and diamond, and Tambour Slim Infini 35 watch while Wintle wears Damier crew neck sweater, Appearing Letters Blouson and regular denim pants, all by Louis Vuitton

Husband and wife Ben Wintle and Iza Calzado uplift and support one another through life’s many adventures

When you are faced with a life and death situation, people say it makes you reassess the way you have been living. For Iza Calzado and Ben Wintle, this was their truth. “When I got sick with COVID-19 in March 2020 I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. Everything was so uncertain. It made me reflect and I thought, what can I do better? What do I need to let go of? How can I improve not just myself, but also the relationships around me? I felt awakened to a new me,” Calzado says.

Fans, friends and family were shocked by how badly Covid affected the actress despite her fitness level. “Yes, I was healthy. But I was over training and not sleeping well. I was working too much and not resting. I was not giving my body time to restore itself and was so focused on my work,” Calzado now recognises.

During her healing process the value of time settled in. She accepted the importance of rest, recovery and the ultimate need to enjoy life’s little moments. As of late, Calzado has embraced the pause, relishing this slower pace after almost 18 years of back-to-back projects. “There is a lot of wisdom you can get from taking that pause,” she firmly underscores.

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“Iza’s energy now is more positive, beautiful and she is a lot calmer. Her spiritual development grew by leaps and bounds. The body really follows where the mind is,” says Wintle of his wife.

“Her energy and transformation have rubbed off on me as well,” he adds. “COVID sparked an acceleration of spiritual development in both of us. It is almost like, if COVID did not happen where would we be mentally? It’s a scary thought, but where we are now is such a good place.” While he was fortunately asymptomatic, Wintle stayed by Calzado’s side through each troublesome experience, recalling their frightful hospital stay.

Through this extreme hardship the couple found peace and a new level of happiness. By embracing a more mindful approach to daily life, the Wintles find both their home and work life greatly improved. The path towards healing and self-improvement is not easy and remains unfinished but the lessons along the way seem to strengthen them both.

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The pandemic did not only cause upheaval in the world of physical health but totally devastated industries across all sectors. Wintle, founder of dining platform Booky, explained that all their revenue was derived from people going to malls. “I had to get to work on transforming a company to keep it alive,” he says. Wintle, who stands while he works, had his feet glued to the kitchen floor day-in and day-out as the company worked remotely for 15 months. With the goal of empowering the F&B community to take control of their digital future, he had to act fast since at the time, dining out was no longer commonplace.

To him, great business is defined by crisis, so his company innovated to create the country’s first digital ordering system totally geared for F&B. “One that the restaurants own and are able to integrate into their websites or social media,” he explains.

In a totally different industry, one far from the digital space, comes Calzado. Her realm, of film and television, is dependent on human contact and large teams. “On set, we are used to a hundred plus people per unit. It was a huge change, but we all had to really downsize and adapt to the new normal,” she comments. Pre-pandemic, she reveals that her lifestyle as an actress was unsustainable in that there were no set hours. “Even if you said there was a 2am cut-off, is 2am really a great time to call it a day?” she explains.

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These days, film sets enter controlled environments called lock-ins for safety precautions and strict health restrictions. “I reframe it and call it a bubble. I had to do this for my mental health,” Calzado shares frankly, saying that she actually felt panic prior to entering her first lock-in. “My therapist told me that visualisation matters, and it’s so true,” she says.

Whether it was shooting what was to become a number one hit, Ang Sayo Ay Akin; filming for her own production outfit, Sangre Productions; or working on Maalaala Mo Kaya, one thing stayed constant: a time crunch.

“We used to have so much time on our hands and were able to have many takes, but now we need to be so efficient. With limited takes, we must bring our A-game every day,” she says. While outlining the pros and cons of a set’s new normal, Calzado welcomes a regular sleeping pattern and this relatively relaxed pace, but notes the increased pressure felt by actors and the director.

Over the length of this ongoing pandemic, this actress’ creativity has been tested and stretched to new limits “because of the accessibility of online learning, I did more for my growth”. In fact, she’s taking acting and voice lessons to investigate her limits.

However, with a vast array of options at our fingertips, she reminds us that “our body is our instrument, and we are not machines”.

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“I spent a lot of years so focused on my physical body,” Calzado confesses. She explains how she would zero in on minutiae, continuously belittling herself. “I was obese growing up, then I lost weight and entered show business. That created several layers of insecurity. I would only be comfortable as long as my insecurities were not seen.” Calzado told herself she was a role model for body positivity, that she embraced the concept, but one day at the age of 33, she was hit with a hard truth. “Over the years I would say ‘love yourself and accept yourself’ but I realised that I had not done that for myself,” she says.

Prior to this awakening, she was terrified of revealing her rawness and authentic self. “If a photo showed my stretch marks, I was terrified. I thought, now they know my secret. They see me. And then ... I’m just so done with that,” she exclaims, remembering the empowering and relieving wave of emotions that came with her journey of self-acceptance.

Everyday women on social media who truly embraced themselves had a great effect on her. For Calzado it was not about size, but skin. “I couldn’t accept the skin I was in, like stretchmarks and loose skin, because I guess we don’t see much of that in media. But these women were able to confidently say, ‘I am ok with my body’ and I wanted that. I wanted to be free,” she shares. Her process is not over yet. “I am not totally free from my issues. I work on myself every day. There are days that are more difficult than others, but I am in a better place now,” she says.

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Calzado admits that Wintle was a major factor in her self-love journey. “He really helped me understand that I am fine just the way I am. We were in Phuket and I was obsessing about the other women’s perfect beach bodies. Focusing on my imperfections so much that on day five of our trip, Ben turned to me and said: ‘It’s getting tiring Iza, no one cares.’ I was taken aback and realised... no one else is talking about this but me. It was me creating that energy,” she reveals.

To Wintle, “She is more beautiful because of everything that she is, and because of all that she has been through. Iza’s wisdom is hard-earned and there is so much beauty in that.”

After meeting his wife, he began to value mental health on a deeper level. Today Wintle puts it at the centre of conversation at Booky, ensuring that he and his team are holistically taken care of. “For a lot of business owners, the pandemic became a game of mental stamina. As a leader I believe in leading by example. I feel a responsibility not just to myself but to Iza, and everyone I work with to make sure my mind is healthy too,” he says.

The first step to helping others in a country where mental health is often stigmatised is to acknowledge it loud and clear, Wintle imparted. “Each one of us is going through something,” he says, stressing the importance of being proactive, and even overly communicative with employees.

See more: Why Should Mental Health Be A Lifestyle Priority?

In agreement Calzado says that it’s all about changing the narrative. “I grew up with a mother who had a mental condition. I lost her to suicide at 19. When that is your history, you want to be on top of your mental health,” she relates. “I am so very blessed with my public platform that I feel like it has become my purpose to help normalise the conversation. The pain I felt became part of my purpose.” Through her work with business platform She Talks Asia, as well as her own public networks, Calzado has worked to transform her trauma.

“There is no perfect life or relationship; everyone understands that. Yes, I am a celebrity, but I am just like you. I am perfectly imperfect. You must show vulnerability and come from a place of authenticity. People resonate with that. We are hard on ourselves because we all want to be perfect,” she expounds.

In everything, the couple do their best to be mindful. Calzado admits to being on autopilot mode prior to the lockdown with regards to work. “Now when I choose to do a project it is because I feel like I can really deliver. I am lucky, privileged, to be in this position where I can choose what projects to do,” she shares.

Wintle, whose love language comprises acts of service and quality time, goes above and beyond taking care of those around him. The happy couple reveal that they are looking forward to being parents and will work on starting a family later this year. “I have been doing a lot of meditation and healing before motherhood. When the child or children come, I want to be the best possible version of myself. I am preparing for the best role of my lifetime,” Calzado said with a smile.

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This feature was originally published as Tatler Philippines' August 2021 cover story

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