Dejan Pantelic is one of the most famous and we can freely say most beloved national show hosts. He built his reputation on his bright disposition and charisma, but also the unique way in which he hosts his shows, making it seem like he’s always at the contestants’ side, living emphatically through their victories and successes along with them, moments of doubt, hesitation, sadness and joy.

He and his family have been through a lot and with the help of his loved ones he managed to fight through a serious illness. Dejan Deki Pantelic came out of it all not just a ‘survivor’ but as a much stronger, much kinder person with a genuine personality and an honest, eye-catching smile.

Dejan talks with 011info about the things he realized were most important in life, his biggest pride of his career and reveals his plans for the future.

It seems that most people make their way from the outside to the center. You, on the other hand, did it the other way around?

I was born in Crveni krst, in the Kneza od Semberije street, where I lived until I was three years old.

The thing I remember most vividly from living there were glass bottles of milk that were delivered to our doorstep. I think nowadays this would be impossible because someone would surely take them. However, back then we used to worry about ecology. Today you have to propagate it non-stop, telling people that plastic bags pollute the world, that they were found in the bottom of the ocean and that they are destroying life on Earth.

In some countries the awareness of this has existed for a long time and we have to follow in their example and strive to be better. 

Be that as it may, my parents just like many people of that time got their apartment in New Belgrade. I was still very young then, but I recall that as a family we weren’t that thrilled that we were moving to this new part of the city which up until recently had been sand and swamp. There was nothing and then all of a sudden some skyscrapers popped up and we were supposed to live there.

However, the mere fact of growing up in Block 45 today is synonymous to many individuals who made something out of themselves and made their own mark in public life. Though our beginnings weren’t that glamorous, I’m proud of my block now and I associate my childhood with it. I still live there with my dear neighbors and friends.

Your neighbors which include many celebrities.

In the building at 207 Jurija Gagarina street where I used to live, my neighbor was Isidora Bjelica – or rather, the Bjelica family who moved there from Sarajevo. There was also a fantastic actor Toma Kurozovic – great friend of Branko Copic, though many remember him as Mirsic from “Otpisani” TV show.

And then there was our esteemed Santa Claus – Mr. Toma, who’d bring in his costume from the theatre every year. As kids it’s true we were privileged in a way and experienced the New Year differently than our other friends from surrounding buildings – it was a show in its own. Then we had Dusan Petricic, famous caricature artist, then Jovan Hadzi-Kostic, amazing journalist and old-school Belgrader who ran the TRN segment in “Novosti” newspaper, the middle pages. I was friends with his son and we were also ‘phone doubles’ and I’d often have to go to the Hadzi-Kostices to ask if their phone is working because Jovan would use it to dictate his articles to his colleagues at the newspaper.

We lived on the 10th floor and above us was the famous ex-politician Zoran Sami who was a math professor at the traffic college, then the actress Vesna Djipic and on my own floor Bojana Andric who started and ran the show Trezor on RTS and reminded us of the nice things that RTS used to do. That was the average building in Jurija Gagarina, not to mention people employed all over Belgrade road and other companies. We somehow all clicked together well and were privileged to live alongside such great people whose names still have weight today.

So just like many others, New Belgrade also went under your skin too?

So many of my school buddies who moved away later still gravitate towards that part of the city and I often see them there. Sometimes in the park, sometimes at a raft restaurant or out taking a walk. We’re all there.

I’m happy we still have that connection and continue to be friends and help each other out. It really restores my faith in friendship.

Now, after 49 years of life, I still don’t want to venture out of New Belgrade, though it is also becoming as cramped as the city center which has long since been stressful for life and business. I have a terrace that looks out at the Sava river and there’s nothing nicer than getting up at 6AM, bringing my dog out, seeing people there exercising, walking or bringing their kids out. Somehow, even though we’re relatively close to the center of the city where there are crowds and noise, you’re still a bit separated from it in a more normal and humaine life style.

The river being close also helps?

Sava helps recharge your batteries a lot. When I’m tired, the kids, wife and myself go out to walk along the quay and the river is right there.

I don’t think that we as Belgraders realize that we have a treasure in those two rivers. We don’t have the habit to go out to the river. It wasn’t until recently that we really began to build and urbanize the area around the rivers and realize that we have this beautiful area where we can live normally.

Then again, I am aghast to see trash collecting on both sides of the river. Those are some things that we have to solve ourselves and educate our children.

So, education and community should come first?

I’ve always considered myself a good friend and neighbor, though it sounds a bit silly saying that about myself. Still, it’s a feature shared by my parents, my brother and my whole family and it’s how I’m raising my children as well. I remember as a kid I lived in an 11 story building. All of us residents regularly said hello to each other and that was important. Not there can be people in your immediate surroundings who refuse to even greet you day to day. We lost that communication between neighbors.

I always joke that air-conditioners made us a more closed society. When we installed air conditioners, we shut our doors on our neighbors. Earlier we had a draft that cooled everyone on the floor. We’d go have coffee with each other and joked at the expense of Western countries where people are alienated from each other. In the meantime we knew what our neighbors were having for lunch and whether they’ll take us to school if our parents were working.

We have alienated ourselves from one another and now we look at each other through a peeping hole, instead of living a normal, neighborly existence. When we’re together we are stronger.

On the other hand, I have friends who have just one child and when I ask them why they didn’t have any more, give their kid a sibling, they ask me: “How many families do you know that have more children who end up having a bad communication with each other. One will travel abroad and they’ll only hear from one another a few times a year. This way we are able to give more to a single child – education and a future.”

I think we have become a bit selfish and this bothers me.

Sadly, we have been run over by time, the struggle for cash, the quick communication and we forget the real values in life. I still remember them.

Who’s to blame for our forgetfulness?

For years, I did graduations. At the graduations we all get some kind of diploma stating that we are adults and that starting from there we’re able to take care of ourselves. That we are adults. Doing those graduations, I realized that our ‘grownups’ (because I can’t say they’re children if they’re 18) leave school without knowing the multiplication table. Not to mention junior schoolers who lack elementary knowledge even going into high school.

Who is to blame? The state? I think not. The teachers? I think them either. It’s the parents. People complain that their kids won’t read. Think back to the last time YOU picked up a book to read and your child saw it? Your kids copy what they see.

If they aren’t copying parents, kids usually look up to athletes as idols. As a man who was very interested in soccer in his youth, would you suggest your kids to take that path?

I recently asked Novak and Jelena Djokovic – I had the pleasure of hosting one of the events organized by their foundation – if they’d like their children to become star athletes in the future. This path involves a lot of sacrifice – you deprive yourself of your entire childhood, playing marbles, building sandcastles, climbing on the playground and all the games kids play growing up. Even the slightest failure is criticized and unforgivable and everything you’ve done for this country is forgotten almost instantly. When you say the name ‘Novak Djokovic’, anyone in the world will know you’re from Serbia. How much does the flag on his sneakers cost? How much does having his name on it cost? Or Serbia in Wimbledon or US Open?

He said to me “I would support them if that’s what they want to do and we, as parents, will do our best to give them everything.”

My own son trained soccer, then basketball and now taekwondo. I would personally not want to see my kids become professional athletes. It’s far too much sacrifice in my opinion just to have a shot at a golden medal in some uncertain future.

But all the same, I would like them to be able – just as I was – to choose their own calling and their career themselves.

Just as I chose to be treated in Germany even though everyone told me that there was no difference. After my surgery here in Serbia I decided to go to Germany and continue my treatment there. People always ask me if they should go get treated abroad. I always tell them the same thing – they should make that decision.

The paths that our lives take are strange and all you need to do is follow them.

This seems like the trademark mindset of someone who lived in Tito’s time

I remember comrade Tito – kids ask me about those times even today. I remember when I went to gatherings welcoming him when he was returning from unsorted countries. I went there with a flower that broke on the way there, so when it was time, I just threw the stalk at the passing parade.

I can’t say it was a hugely better time back then. But, as a people, we were much more carefree and lived closer to one another. I’m bothered by the speed of information exchange nowadays. Something happens across the world and we know about it the very same second. Back in the day, we would’ve had to wait for that information.

Not long ago, a friend of mine asked me if I saw how many sick people there are in the world. Actually, it’s just that we get that information much faster.

When I was a kid, there was no internet. In our entire building only a few apartments even had a telephone and every one of them had a phone-double. We had sick people then too, but you didn’t get that information instantly.

Where does Dejan Pantelic spend most of his time?

My favorite part of Belgrade is a tiny little house – like in Balasevic’s song – that I own in Mislodjin. My parents purchased it over 20 years ago and I realized I had to renovate it and adjust it to the times we live in. I’m happy that my kids love to go there and that some day they might be able to continue where the wife and I left off.

Otherwise I don’t get attached to things. Maybe this attachment existed at the first TV station I worked for, Pink TV, so I had a bit of a lump in my throat when I crossed over to BK. But from there I went to RTS with a smile on my face and then later an even bigger one when I went to TV Prva. Maybe this smile will be even greater when I make it to the next one.

Your biography lists various professions – from a driver, to a baker, waiter, DJ, journalist and TV show host. How would you define what or who Deki Pantelic truly is?

I am primarily a parent and I hope a good husband, which I’ve been for the past 17 years. In the second place I try to be a good friend and only thirdly a journalist and host. I’m always a bit horrified and sad to see that people, after years of marriage, fall out with one another over the first problem that pops up instead of trying to work through it and make their bond stronger. My wife and myself overcame all sorts of life obstacles together and came out of it all stronger than before. Sadly statistics show that people, when facing problems such as illness of their child, tend to split up. However we came out of it all closer and stronger and we make a good team.

People can have the opinion that I’m not a good host or that I’m unlikable, but the one thing nobody can take from me is that I’m objectively the best at being a parent and husband. I think these are my strongest point. And of course, friendship on the other end. That’s another thing nobody can take from me.

Everything I do, I do from my heart. When I’m hosting a TV show, I’m not faking anything. My smile is always genuine and always will be. I teach at the FAM media college in Sremski Karlovci and when I consult people making public appearances, I say the same thing to politicians, managers, CEOs and anyone else – I tell them to be who they really are and act natural for their appearances. Don’t let a fake smile be seen.

Your first love was the radio and they say once you get bit by the radio bug, it’s for life. Still, it was your work as TV host that made your career.

I heard just the other day that the S2 radio station was looking for hosts. And I did consider applying for a moment.

My own brother was one of the founders of Index radio theatre. This radio used to be an institution in this city and I grew up listening to their stories and funny situations that Micko Ljubicic, Petruci, Bicko, Voja Zanetic and the late Nesa Leptir went through. I always hoped that they’d invite me on their tours and I genuinely enjoyed it whenever they did.

I was allowed to come to their sets and make the applause noise in Radio Belgrade which was a big success for me at the time. :)

Incidentally, Jugoslav Cosic was one of the writers for the Index theatre and I was fascinated with that entire story.

After I served my time in the army, I attempted to study acting. I was very shy and I thought doing this will help me overcome this and that I had talent. Still, I didn’t pass. Regardless, it meant a lot to me. For example, I’m still in touch to this day with a friend with whom I prepared for the entrance exam.

I began working on the radio completely by accident. I’m happy I didn’t stagnate as DJ Deki and Mega Deki and I am proud that today I get to work on the show “150 minuta” that requires a serious tone but with a bit of humor, flexibility and the ability to entertain your audience. It’s exactly the way I imagine the perfect show host should be.

Otherwise I don’t really separate hosts like ‘you’re for entertainment’, ‘you’re for culture’ and ‘you’re for sports’. It’s like bringing your car to the shop and the mechanic tells you they only repair Audis. Does BMW not have the same engine?

You have to be educated in every domain and adjust to your employer. They will tell you what they expect from you.

Which moment of your career will you remember forever?

I used to work on a show called “Uzvodno” that covered the soccer championship in Germany. I then crossed over from BK to RTS and I was very proud to be able to talk to biggest names in the sport. Then I went to see the game we played against Argentina. I think we lost that game 6-1, but I got to experience live the atmosphere that they must have in Argentina. I didn’t go to the famous ‘Bombonjera’, but I got to see what it looks like when you love your country, your flag and your players. The Argentinians came to show that they’re the best and aimed for the top. At one point Maradona enters the lounge where the press was seated, takes off his jersey and starts cheering for his players. It was about 10 minutes before the game started and he just kept going for the following 90 minutes. By the end of the match everyone around me were wearing Argentina colors and the fans didn’t stop cheering once.

I love that genuine cheering in sports.

When the game was over, the Argentinians came over to shake hands. They didn’t ridicule us for losing, they expressed regret that we couldn’t show more with obviously good players. They showed sportsmanship in victory and loss. I still get goosebumps thinking back to it.

And what does Pantelic love to do more than anything?

What I know the best is that I can stand up without any problems before a crowd of 300, 500 or 20.000 people and talk to them, looking them in the eyes. I think this is something I learned and honed over the years and something I’m good at. I love having a big crowd to address. I never feel stage fright, on the contrary, I’m elated. Not because I feel superior, but because I’m able to get all 501 rows of audience to listen to me, which is pretty hard. It’s what I love to do.

I think I’m the only one who managed to start Mexican waves in Belgrade Arena. I did this in the European championship in futsal and I’m really proud of it. Before the game started, I came out and told the audience that when they see the large screen display “Mexican waves” that the row so-and-so ‘yes, sir, you sitting right there’ doesn’t have to get up, just raise their arms.  

And the moment I said ‘Now let’s do the Mexican wave…” we did one, two and three rounds. It was never done before. We’re not the kind of mentality to get hyped for that kind of thing, but to me that meant I was some kind of authority that people could believe in.

Speaking of trust, sickness caused you to make one of the bigger breaks in your career. After you came back, many people came to you for help and advice in similar situations, precisely because they trust you.

Sadly, this was something that stuck with me for the past seven years. I would’ve preferred there was a nicer cause for people coming to me. People grasp for any straws they can in difficult situations and sometimes they can’t tell their left from their right. So if they can make it to me and I’m still a public personality, they hope I can give them some guidelines.

You have to keep it in mind that when people ask ‘if it’s good that I do this or that’ I tell them it’s always all good. It’s a placebo effect, but if you tell someone that tap water comes from some healing spring and it helps them, it’s an important moment for patients.

It’s also important that nobody pities them in their time of need. Their surrounding has to keep pushing on and uplifting the person because if the patient adopts the ‘woe is me’ mentality it’s all over.

I had almost hit that ‘woe-is-me’ phase and I won’t lie and say I wasn’t emotionally devastated. But I had my friends and family were there to raise me up, support me and make me push on. While I was in Germany for my treatment and my friends would Skype me, nobody asked me ‘You still alive?’ which is a catchphrase in our country, but at the time was bothering me a lot. To the contrary. They asked about my medical staff – especially the fairer gender ones and so on. :) Their support meant the world to me and you don’t forget that kind of thing.

Everyone suffering from a health problem have to find the best solution that works for them. We all live our lives any way we please, not listening to our organism. And that’s bad because our organism telegraphs whenever something is wrong with it. Yet we ignore it. We think – this isn’t anything, it’ll pass. Instead of doing that, you should go to the doctor and have them tell you it’s nothing.

What are your plans for the future?

Family comes first and as for the broader plans – finish junior school, enlist in high-school and then college and then some day take my daughter to the altar and continue to support my son and fight alongside him and overcome everything. Even when I’m bad at it, like in FIFA 2019 where I have to practice at night so that he wouldn’t keep kicking my butt at it. :) Jokes aside, my plan is to be there for my kids and support them all the way as a parent.

When it comes to work, I want to work on some good quiz show because I think that’s where I shine. I also think the rewards should be much greater because the viewers love to see the contestants win lots of cash prizes.

It was pretty flattering to meet Oliver Mlakar and have him tell me he watches me on YouTube and that I’m an excellent quiz host. It really means a lot because it shows me I didn’t throw away all these years on the screen and I left at least some trail.