'We look like sisters!’ – When Demi-Leigh met Rolene
PHOTO: Jacques De Preez
Cape Town - They’re both stunning brunettes with big dreams who’ve charmed South Africa with their winning combination of beauty and brains – and the rest of the world seems to agree.
The two beauties are now both winners of the two most coveted pageant crowns in the world.
This after Demi-Leigh (22) was crowned Miss Universe at an extravagant finale in Las Vegas last night – and this just three years after Rolene (25) brought home the Miss World tiara in 2014.
In May this year, when the Miss Universe title was but a distant dream in Demi-Leigh’s eye, we brought the two Miss South Africas together for an exclusive photoshoot.
With all they have in common, it’s little wonder they got on like a house on fire!
“I know some say I’m the second Rolene but to me it’s not a bad thing to be compared to her,” Demi-Leigh told YOU enthusiastically at the time.
“I feel honoured hearing those comments and compliments. I look up to her a lot.” Both women are smart: Rolene is in her final year of medical studies at the University of the Free State and Demi-Leigh, who’s from Sedgefield in the Western Cape, completed her B Com in business management and entrepreneurship at the Potchefstroom campus of NorthWest University last year.
But they’re definitely not carbon copies, they say.
“Many people say we look like sisters, which I think is a big compliment,” Rolene said. “But as Demi-Leigh’s year as Miss SA progresses and people get to know her they’ll get to love her for herself. She has passions and dreams that are different to mine.”
Demi-Leigh was a matric learner at Hoërskool Outeniqua in George when Rolene was crowned Miss World in 2014.
“I have great admiration for her. She’s really a power woman: she has a baby, she’s finishing her medical studies and she’s married plus on top of all that she’s friendly and humble,” Demi-Leigh gushed. Rolene is equally taken with her successor.
“My first impression of her was that she’s worked really hard and put in everything to achieve this lifelong dream. She sees Miss SA as an incredible opportunity. “I think she really appreciates and cherishes everything that comes her way but is still staying down-to-earth.”
When Demi-Leigh was crowned Miss SA, her life became a flurry of media interviews and rubbing shoulders with public figures such as Princess Charlene of Monaco and Springbok legends Francois Pienaar and Joel Stransky – and no doubt this will increase ten-fold after her Miss Universe win.
“It’s literally like your first days in a totally new job. Like putting on new shoes. Whether they’re big or small you have to wear those shoes and look graceful walking in them,” Demi-Leigh said after winning the Miss SA title.
“There are some things you do have to get used to, such as your time no longer being your own,” Rolene recalled. She says people expect you always to look beautiful and be excited and friendly and this adds another layer of stress. “I think it’s important sometimes to let go a bit,” Rolene said.
And Demi-Leigh was already finding the social changes the most challenging. “The hours are long, you sleep less and your days are full, but the biggest adjust ment is you have to make good first impressions so you have to be friendly and cheerful at all times. It can become emotionally draining.
“You do get warned that you’ll lose your privacy but once you’re in the position it’s still an adjustment when you’re photographed everywhere – even when just buying toothpaste,” she revealed.
The challenges become less daunting when you bear in mind you have the opportunity to make a difference every day, Rolene advised.
Demi-Leigh said at the end of her reign she wants to be remembered as the Miss SA who unconditionally gave her best. A major driving force is her sister, Franje (11), the child of her dad, Bennie, and stepmom, Elzabé.
Franje was born with subtotal cerebellar agenesis, a rare condition that has left her without a cerebellum. This means she has the intellectual capacity of a three-month-old baby and is completely dependent. Because Franje will never experience life to the full, Demi-Leigh wants to do that for both of them. Any beauty queen knows living in the spotlight tends to invite criticism and controversy.
“It’s important to realise it’s not necessarily personal,” Rolene told the younger woman. “You have to distinguish between criticism aimed at helping you and criticism intended to break you down.
Demi-Leigh had a taste of the latter when fellow finalists claimed in media reports that she’d received preferential treatment during the contest.
Among other things they said she had the help of a personal trainer, a grooming expert, sponsored make-up lessons and a personal relationship with a few of the judges.
“It was hurtful to read that, especially knowing how hard I’d worked for the competition. I had someone helping me, the stylist Werner Wessels. When I entered I told him I didn’t want any regrets after the competition that I could have been better prepared.
“Any professional sportsperson has someone helping them develop and improve their talent. But no coach can run the race or play the game for an athlete. “Werner saw my strengths and focused on them,” Demi-Leigh said.
It’s impossible to remain unchanged when wearing the Miss SA crown, Rolene believes.
“I won’t say your life never goes back to normal again. But it’s a new normal. Sometimes you wish people wouldn’t watch you quite so closely. But you can’t wish it away.”
Rolene, who became a mother to a baby boy on 6 January, is still finding her feet in this new role.
“I decided a while ago that life doesn’t come with a manual; there isn’t a perfect recipe to follow to be successful, a good mom, medical student and wife.”
In between being a mom and a partner to D’Niel Strauss (35) she’s making good progress with her medical studies.
“I told myself it’s more important to spend time with my child than studying myself silly, so it’s become much easier. Now when I’m studying I’m focused completely on that and when I’m with him I’m fully focused on him.”
Her baby is at a cute stage, the proud mom says. “He’s laughing real belly laughs now.”
The couple have decided not to disclose his name in order to protect his privacy.
In Sedgefield, Demi-Leigh has been hailed as the woman who put the Western Cape coastal town on the map. When she returned home at Easter a crowd of excited local people came out to greet her, some ululating as she drove through the streets in a sponsored classic car and waved and smiled like royalty.
“It was really touching that people queued for two-and-a-half hours to get an autograph or picture.”
Instead of having just two parents, she’s blessed with four. Her father and stepmom, Bennie and Elzabé Peters from Potchefstroom, and mother and stepdad, Anne-Mari and Johan Steenkamp from Sedgefield, all get on well.
“I’ve started a WhatsApp group to keep everyone up to date with what I’m doing – then no one feels excluded.”
As for the prospet of clinching the Miss Universe title? “It’s been almost 40 years since a South African won Miss Universe [Margaret Gardiner did in 1978] and I think it’s time we do it again,” Demi-Leigh said at the time.
“I’m excited at the prospect and will do everything I can to achieve it.”
(PHOTO: Jacques De Preez)