Johannesburg - At 1.7m, Reeva Steenkamp was not tall enough to be a model. Ice Model Management’s operations director Jane Celliers was blunt when she told Reeva this by e-mail.
She usually worked with models 1.75m and above.
“I told her: ‘Listen luvvie, you are not tall enough,’” Celliers recalled, suggesting other agencies where she might try her luck.
But Reeva would not take no for an answer, and asked for a face-to-face appointment. And when a determined Reeva finally walked through the doors of the modelling agency in Rosebank, in 2006, Celliers was blown away.
“She was a magnificently beautiful woman and fresh from a Port Elizabeth farm. It was love at first sight,” she said.
Among the pictures in her her portfolio was one showing a fresh-faced Reeva gazing shyly into the camera, her blonde hair parted to the side, her cheeks still chubby with baby fat.
The picture was taken at the time that she was chosen as the face of Avon cosmetics, a modelling job that launched her career.
Although she had modelled as a child and into her teenage years, Reeva never considered it as a career prospect.
She wanted to be an advocate and enrolled for a law degree at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
During her final year at university, Avon launched a search for the next face of their cosmetics line, and Reeva entered the contest and won.
The Avon assignment gave Reeva hope that she still had time to focus on modelling before returning to law.
She packed her bags and left for Joburg, which is when she sought out Ice Modelling Agency.
Celliers signed Reeva to her agency but because she was “short”, they both knew her options were limited.
“Fashion shows were something she could not do because of her height. She had to work harder than regular models.
“Her personality had to be something to be reckoned with.
“There was nothing naïve about her.
“She was very realistic about life and knew that modelling was fun but does not always pay the bills, hence she also had a fresh produce company with her boyfriend,” Celliers explained.
Over the next few years, Reeva would stop being just one of the models at Ice.
She also assisted Celliers in the office.
Reeva did photoshoots, was featured in some adverts and was interviewed in men’s magazines, but she did not hit the big time.
In 2012, her fortune changed when producers for the Tropika Island of Treasure programme approached Celliers wanting a blonde celebrity to be part of the 15 contestants who vie for a R1 million prize on a remote island.
Celliers suggested Reeva – she was not a celebrity but a well-known model, she told them.
The producers liked Reeva, but there was just one hurdle: The competition featured seven celebrities and seven members of the public.
The celebrities who had already been cast were famous in their own right: Pearl Thusi was a model, a TV presenter and actress; Da Les and AKA were award-winning rappers; Phuti Khomo, a former Miss Teen South Africa, was an actress, model and a TV presenter; Jay Anstey was an actress in Isidingo; and Mario Ogle was a Sama-nominated singer.
Reeva was the only unknown in the line-up of celebrities and the production company went on a huge PR campaign to build her profile before Tropika Island of Treasure hit South African TV screens on February 16 last year. The plan worked.
Reeva’s public profile grew to the point that fragrance and beauty companies, as well as movie and television series producers, started approaching Celliers, wanting to work with her.
“All the doors were starting to open for her, she was going to bigger, better places.”
Two days before Tropika Island of Treasure’s premiere, Reeva was shot and killed, instantly catapulting her face on to the global stage.
Ever since her arrival in Joburg in 2006, Reeva had worked hard to become a household name.
It would take being shot dead by her boyfriend, the Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, for the world to pay attention to her.
The irony does not escape Celliers.
“Throughout the world she became a household name, but for a different reason,” a heartbroken Celliers said.