Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters after being crowned the 2017 Miss Universe at The Axis at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, US, on November 26.
Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters after being crowned the 2017 Miss Universe at The Axis at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, US, on November 26.
Picture: EPA-EFE
Picture: EPA-EFE
Margaret Gardiner
Margaret Gardiner
A MISS Universe who overcame her fears and helped other women overcome theirs.

That’s how Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters wants to be remembered. This week, South Africans swelled with pride when the 22-year-old beat beauties from around the world to be crowned this year’s Miss Universe.

Apart from the glittering tiara, Nel-Peters will live in a luxury New York City apartment during her reign, be paid a year-long salary as Miss Universe, and will have some of the best fashion and beauty items and services at her disposal.

But although a life of luxury and opulence awaits the BCom graduate who hails from Sedgefield in the Western Cape, she insists she wants to use her Miss Universe platform to empower women around the world.

Nel-Peters plans to achieve this by using her Unbreakable campaign internationally. During her reign as Miss South Africa, the initiative saw her travelling around the country to educate women on how to deal with traumatic experiences, both physically and emotionally.

She started it after she was robbed of her cellphone at gunpoint in Joburg in June this year during an attempted hijacking.

As she is expected to spend a large portion of the next year abroad, she hopes to continue teaching these skills to women in different countries.

“I want to use the Miss Universe platform to empower women globally because it’s not only those in South Africa who encounter traumatic experiences.

“It definitely made me stronger, able to deal with whatever life throws at me.”

It’s a trait another South African beauty queen can attest to.

It took South Africa 39 years to reclaim the Miss Universe crown after a then 18-year-old Margaret Gardiner won the title in 1978.

The event itself was a ceremony of firsts: Gardiner, the first South African and first African to win the pageant, was crowned by Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago, the first black Miss Universe.

Weekend Argus recently caught up with Gardiner who has publicly voiced her support for Nel-Peters, only the second South African woman to clinch the prestigious title.

“Our women are gorgeous. It’s beyond me to understand why they haven’t featured more prominently as winners,” said Gardiner.

The 58-year-old, who lives and works in Los Angeles, California, as a print and television journalist, noted that the interview segment of the beauty pageant weighs heavily on a contestant’s chances of scooping the title, which is why Nel-Peters’s near-flawless responses earned her top points.

“Bubbly, confident personalities with a particular point of view helps. Our women usually are all of those things but many of the top countries get coaching. This year, our lovely Miss South Africa stood out not only visually, but because she had something to say,” said Gardiner.

While she has’t reached out to Nel-Peters yet as she understands her schedule is “crazy” and that her work commitments are tight, Gardiner said she intends to. She predicts the reigning beauty queen has a bright future ahead. “She seems gloriously, wonderfully prepared to make South Africa proud and herself.”

Gardiner herself has established a successful career in journalism since her win, and is also part of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which votes and hosts the prestigious Golden Globes.

“I’m in the middle of voting for the Golden Globes. Two days ago I interviewed Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Hugh Jackman and Meryl Streep - all in one day! Plus, I have to view all the footage I vote on.”

Reflecting on her reign during South Africa’s apartheid era, Gardiner said she faced many challenges which were “horrible”, with political issues at play.

“But I also had a blast, and travelled the world. Most of all it showcased the strength of being a South African. We are not paper-thin people, we do not crack, we do not break.”