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SA's very-first Miss Universe Margaret Gardiner on living in Hollywood and missing 'droëwors' and Cadbury Crunchies

2019-03-08 08:01
Margaret Gardiner
Margaret Gardiner (Photo: Getty)

Channel24's Graye Morkel spoke to former Miss RSA Margaret Gardiner about her life in Hollywood and missing droëwors and Cadbury Crunchies since relocating to Los Angeles. 

Cape Town - Even though Margaret has interviewed some of the most famous faces in Hollywood and walked the Oscar red carpet alongside the likes of Emma Stone and Helen Mirren, contrary to what you might think, she was extremely friendly and enthusiastic when I approached her for an interview. 

Despite being in transit from London to Los Angeles, Margaret promptly responded to my emails and was eager to work together. 

As an accomplished writer herself, Margaret was willing to take time out of her schedule to accommodate my imminent deadline, assuring me: "As a journalist, I completely understand how it works when you're on deadline, and if you need anything else please let me know." And staying true to her word, she was always just a click away.

'MY JOB SIMPLY MEANS THAT YOU HAVE YOUR BEST AND WORST MOMENTS DISPLAYED IN PUBLIC'

At 18 years old Margaret was the first South African to win the Miss Universe title in 1978. And for 39 years she was the only South African to do so until Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters brought home the crown in 2017.

After her year-long reign, traveling the world and graduating with a BA in Psychology from the College of Charleston, Margaret started working in the entertainment industry.

The 59-year-old now calls Los Angeles her home and works as a TV and print journalist in the City of Angels. She is also a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that votes on and hosts the prestigious Golden Globes. 

41 years later, the former beauty queen says that she still has her Miss Universe sash, and keeps it safely tucked away and not on display.

Margaret says that in many ways her reign as Miss Universe helped prepare her for the high-profile life she lives in Hollywood today, saying: "I understood that being in the limelight doesn't make you different from anyone else."

"Your job simply means that you have your best and worst moments displayed in public," she adds.

Margaret Gardiner

'I GET TO HEAR OPINIONS FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE EXPOSED TO THE THINKERS OF THE WORLD'

As a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Margaret has been able to meet some of the most famous, and influential faces in the world, including Hugh Jackman, Rami Malek, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba.  

When asked about her career highlights, she immediately singles out retired Polish politician Lech Walesa, Australian computer programmer Julian Assange, and former professional boxer Mike Tyson.

But when asked who her favourite celebrity has been to interview, she is quick to reply. "My answer has been the same for many years," she exclaims.

"Angelia Jolie is gracious, open, courageous, and sincerely motivated to use her star status to highlight inequities in the world."

About her career in journalism, she says: "I'd say the best thing about my job is that I get to hear opinions from people who are exposed to the thinkers of the world." (You can watch Margaret's celebrity interviews on YouTube here).

And on her bucket list is the former First Lady of America, Michelle Obama.

Following Demi-Leigh being crowned Miss Universe 2017, Margaret invited the local beauty queen to attend the Golden Globes that same year.

When asked about her thoughts, as a former Miss Universe, on Demi-Leigh's reign, she says: "She did an amazing job. I'm so proud of her." She adds that she predicts "huge things" for Demi-Leigh in the future, saying: "I wouldn't be surprised if she ends becoming a huge movie star. It's something that I've envisioned for her from the moment we met."

Living in celebrity capital of the world, Margaret has had the opportunity to attend the most glamorous parties in showbiz, but her favourite Hollywood event is, of course, the Golden Globes.  

She says: "It's hard work but it is the most fun - from participating and viewing the event."

'OFTEN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES I VISIT REMIND ME OF PARTS OF SOUTH AFRICA'

Having lived abroad for many years, Margaret says what she misses most about is South Africa is, "only everything."

"So often the most beautiful places I visit remind me of parts of South Africa," she says. And who wouldn't miss "biltong", "droëwors", and "Cadbury Crunchies"? "Boerekos, curries, oysters, crayfish and prawns. Like only South Africans can make it. The list is never-ending."

Above all, she misses the people - her people, saying: "People of South Africa are wonderful. They have huge hearts and are such capable, 'gewone mense'. Of the very best kind."

Even though she would love to move back to South Africa someday, Margaret says that because her job requires her to be based in Hollywood, it makes relocating challenging.

She says: "The original idea was to spend six months in each country but it's not practical, especially with children. But we do multiple visits to South Africa each year. This year we are bringing friends to show them our amazing country."

Margaret Gardiner

During her free time, which isn't always that much, Margaret says she loves to travel and enjoys art and hiking.

"My philosophy is to always say yes to life. I am an extremely positive person. Last year I raced a Porsche around a racing track. I've skydived and tested my limits along the edge of the Toronto Needle - 553.3 metres from the ground," she says.  

A hobby she would like to pick up again is baking, saying: "I used to love baking, and while I can (and have!) eaten an entire chocolate ganache [covered cake] after a dinner party, I don't bake like I used to."

On 28 March, Margaret will be hosting a fundraising event for a charity called the Starfish Greathearts Foundation. 

An international non-governmental organisation formed in response to the tragedy of children orphaned or left vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. If you would like to donate you can do so here.