Newsmaker: How she'll take on the universe
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (Photo: Gallo)
Johannesburg - It was an early start on Monday for Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who was crowned the 66th Miss Universe the night before.
She woke up in Las Vegas at 04:00 to catch a flight to New York, and her win hadn’t yet sunk in. It still hasn’t.
It’s been a whirlwind week of back-to-back media interviews for the 22-year-old beauty queen from the coastal town of Sedgefield, in the Western Cape. So hectic in fact, that on Friday, her minders at the Miss Universe organisation only allowed City Press a few minutes on the phone with her.
Nel-Peters apologises profusely. She is courteous, but her voice sounds hoarse. It’s just before 09:00 New York time and it is easy to conclude that exhaustion is setting in.
She immediately launches into an explanation about how hectic her schedule has been during what the organisation says is “media week”.
How is life in the Big Apple? I ask.
On Wednesday, she posted a happy picture on Instagram of herself in New York, standing next to a gold hotel trolley loaded with no fewer than eight suitcases and bags. Beneath it is the caption: “My home for the next year.”
One of her largest prizes is the use of a luxury apartment overlooking the world-famous Central Park, and the living expenses that go with it, as well as a monthly salary during the course of her reign. The crown comes with everything any beauty queen needs to look the part: beauty treatments, loads of shoes and clothing and styling to ward off even the worst bad hair day. On top of that is plenty of international travel.
“I am talking to you now sitting in my bedroom in my new home. It is very homely with wooden floors and offers a beautiful view of Central Park,” she says.
She says her apartment has plenty of cupboard space for all her clothes.
It has always been her “dream to live abroad for a year”, but there is a lot to adjust to in New York for a small-town model.
“My biggest adjustment is going to be the cold weather,” she says.
Who would she like to meet while she’s living in the US? Fellow South Africans including Daily Show host and comedian Trevor Noah, actress Charlize Theron and Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel, she says.
By Friday, being Miss Universe had still not registered for Nel-Peters, despite five days of luxury and royal treatment.
“It is slowly starting to sink in. It has been a crazy week, amazing, surreal, but I am enjoying every moment.”
Her parents were there to watch her on her memorable night. She saw them about an hour after the crowning.
“It was happy tears all over the place. They know that this has always been my dream and we did it together. They were very excited,” she says.
What did it take to clinch the esteemed title?
“It’s just like any other sport. They have a coach and businesspeople have mentors. I also had a coach.
“I didn’t want to go into the competition less prepared and later regret not having done some things. I wanted to give it 150% and have been working on this since last year.”
The former Miss South Africa, whose local crown was passed to her first princess, military doctor Adè van Heerden, said she has been working with pageant coach Werner Wessels for some time.
“The most important thing is to know your goal, your strengths, and he helped me bring out all of it.”
Nel-Peters laughed off questions about her physique, which appears more athletic than model skinny, and whether she’d done hundreds of squats in her stilettos to achieve it.
“I work out a lot. I love outdoor life, from running to hiking. I eat healthily. It is all about looking after your body. Exercise a lot, but be kind to your mind and body.”
How would she like to leave her mark as Miss Universe?
“I want to be that Miss Universe who empowered other women and helped them stay positive and strong enough to make it out of difficult situations.”
Nel-Peters is determined to take her programme of training women in self-defence to the world. It worked for her five months ago, during an attempted hijacking in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.
She punched her gun-wielding assailant in the throat and sent him fleeing.
She later says in an interview that she was taught in a self-defence class for women that the “only way to take a man out is to punch him in the throat, very hard” and not “down there”, like many assume.
She’ll miss home though and cannot wait to see her grandmother and her disabled younger sister, who she says is her inspiration.