Bring on the Reign
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa is excited for all of the new experiences that her reign as Miss Universe has to offer.
The eyes of the universe were cast upon Las Vegas as 92 intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished women vied to compete before a worldwide audience in the dream of capturing the 2017 Miss Universe crown during the 66th annual extravaganza. Although the city had been reeling due to the recent tragic events, the host venue, Planet Hollywood, was overflowing with supporters, friends, and families from around the globe.
Creating excitement with a new format, self-deprecating host Steve Harvey expertly traversed the evenings competitions of Swimsuit, Evening Wear, and the final question. Following the initial announcement of the top sixteen finalists and the opening competition, the original top sixteen contests had been narrowed to the top ten semi-finalists of Miss Venezuela Keysi Sayago, Miss USA Kára McCullough, Miss Philippines Rachel Peters, Miss Canada Lauren Howe, Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, Miss Spain Sofia del Prado, Miss Brazil Monalysa Alcántara, Miss Colombia Laura González, Miss Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp, and Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett.
With universal excitement building throughout the evening, following performances by musical acts Rachel Platten and mega-watt superstar Fergie, the quest for Miss Universe had come down to the final three contestants and the final question. Miss South Africa addressed which issues she thought faced women today, Miss Colombia focused on how to speak with children about terrorism, and Miss Jamaica pointedly expressing her views on sexual harassment, especially poignant in light of current events.
As the universe held its collective breath, the moment had arrived to crown Miss Universe 2017. With the announcement of second runner-up Miss Jamaica, it was time for the final two to take their place center stage. Amidst the roar of the crowd, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters had captured the crown of Miss Universe 2017 with Miss Colombia recognized as first runner-up.
Only the second woman from South Africa to capture the crown of Miss Universe, Demi-Leigh spoke with us about winning the title, her passions, and her upcoming goals as Miss Universe 2017.
Pageantry magazine: Now that some time has passed, what moment still stands out as you awaited the announcement of Miss Universe 2017?
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters: I don’t think there are many moments that will be greater than the moment my country’s name got called out. And that moment Iris gave me that big hug and put the crown on my head, and I took my first walk. I think that’s still the moment that stands out the most. I did the thing at the Golden Globes this past weekend in LA, and that’s a big honor to be there and just be in the same room as women the likes of Oprah and Meryl Streep, who’ve been big role models to me growing up.
PM: How has the reaction been in your home country of South Africa?
DN: They are so proud, and they are all beyond excited for me to be home for my homecoming, which will be soon. I can’t wait to celebrate with everybody. My parents and all my close friends and family are, of course, very, very proud. I’m so excited. I’ve been getting messages nonstop. It’s only been two months and my phone still hasn’t stopped. It’s wonderful to know that there’s so many people that are so excited for me.
PM: You’re actually the second woman from South Africa to capture the Miss Universe crown.
DN: Yes, that’s correct. South Africa had a drought for about 40 years, since Margaret Gardiner won in 1978. I actually met her for the first time this past weekend at the Globes. So, that was a very, very special moment for me.
PM: On your red carpet appearance at the Golden Globes you wore black, as did many, in support of the #MeToo movement, which has now become the #TimesUp! movement. Is this an American phenomenon, or do you feel it’s worldwide?
DN: I definitely think it’s worldwide. From the campaign on social media, I saw women and men from all over the world posting pictures where they wore black and said they are standing up for what is right and standing in solidarity with all victims and all women that have been affected. I definitely think it is a worldwide problem that women face, and I think it’s something that needs to be dealt with. I’m happy that it is being dealt with and that people realize there are consequences for their actions.
That is exactly why I wore black, to stand with all women from all over the world, not just America.
PM: Let’s talk a little about your founding of Unbreakable. Can you give us some back story on that?
DN: Yes. I think the #TimesUp! campaign is something that’s actually very close to my heart. I was affected by violence in South Africa where I was in a carjacking, held at gunpoint by three men, and eventually I was able to get away safely and unharmed, but only because I had the skills and knowledge on how to handle a situation like that. I was fortunate enough to go through an empowerment course about three or four months before it happened, where I was taught how to think in a situation like that, how to handle situations like that. So, the #TimesUp! campaign was even more relevant to me. Seeing that, I started my own campaign back in South Africa, about eight months ago, called Unbreakable, where I hosted workshops all over the country empowering women with skills and knowledge on how to handle situations like that. I also provided them sources of help and assistance where they could go, organizations that would be able to help them.
PM: That had to be terrifying.
DN: It definitely was. It definitely was a very terrifying experience, but I’m happy that I could use the platform that I have to empower women and to help women to handle situations like that, in the safest and best way possible. And, just help give women an eye-opener to make them realize that they need to be cautious and that they need to be strong and know what the safe way out is, and they should always have a plan.
PM: You’ll have an extremely busy year as Miss Universe. Where have you traveled thus far?
DN: I have been to the Philippines. Vegas of course, in the United States. But, I went to the Philippines about a week after my crowning in the beginning of December, and that was absolutely amazing. We all know that the Philippines are big supporters of pageantry, especially Miss Universe, and to meet so many supporters and fans from the Philippines was so heartwarming. They really just welcomed me with open arms.
PM: What are you looking forward to most as Miss Universe?
DN: I must say I’m really ready to go home for my official homecoming. I think it will only really hit me when I get back home for the first time to celebrate with everybody there. I’m very, very excited. I love traveling, and I love exploring. So, as Miss Universe I get to travel a lot, and I’m very excited for that.
PM: With the recent cold spell enveloping the United States, how have you enjoyed your arrival in New York City?
DN: Well, I won’t really say that was a very warm welcome for me, but in South Africa we don’t experience storms like those. We don’t even experience snow, only in the coldest of seasons in Africa it would snow once or twice in winter. It’s definitely not something I’m used to. Our winters in South Africa are usually in the 70s. So, it definitely was a big adjustment for me. But, it’s beautiful, and I think it’s so magical, and I’m so happy that I arrived in New York in wintertime. I’ve also gone ice skating, so that was an experience for me. It didn’t go too well, but I’m lucky I have time to improve.
PM: What surprised you most about New York City?
DN: Coming to New York, or moving to New York, was my first time in The City. So, I’ve never been here before. It was actually my first time in the United States when I participated in Miss Universe. I must say what really surprised me about New York is how friendly and to the point people are over here. I really love that because I feel like you always know where you stand with the people, even if it’s just the people in my apartment or flat, or my colleagues. I really love that. Then, the other thing is, the sun really doesn’t get to all the buildings, and that’s a big adjustment, because I’m used to big, open spaces and homes with gardens back in South Africa. The skyscrapers are definitely a big adjustment for me, as well.
PM: Many may not know this, but what exactly is the language of Afrikaans?
DN: Afrikaans descended from Dutch, German, and Latin, and I’m a combination. So, I must say I can understand Dutch if they speak very slowly, and they can usually understand me as well. That is what Afrikaans descends from, and it’s also my home language.
PM: You have a very special person back home that inspires you. Can you tell me a little bit about your sister and how she’s had an impact on your life?
DN: My half-sister, Franje, is turning 12 soon, and she was born without a cerebellum, which controls and correlates your nerve and muscular system. Born without a cerebellum means there’s absolutely no muscle use in her body. She’s not able to do anything for herself. She is not even able to hold your hand or make eye contact. She’s truly my biggest inspiration, because I know she will never be able to represent our county on the Miss Universe stage. She will never be able to play hockey or even buy ice cream and eat it herself. It’s things like that that make you realize how special the little things in life are, and it makes me so grateful and thankful for being healthy and for having so many opportunities. I think the thing that makes me so angry is when people have unlimited potential and waste it.
PM: I agree wholeheartedly. Not only are you passionate about Unbreakable, which is your personal cause, but you will also be able to travel the world speaking on behalf of the Miss Universe organization and their philanthropic endeavors. How excited are you to get out there and visit other countries.
DN: Miss Universe is a spokesperson and an ambassador, like you just said, and that’s exactly what I love doing. I love being a voice for those that can’t or don’t have the platform to speak out. I’m very, very excited to get involved with various organizations. Of course, I would like to bring a bit of Demi to the table and I would like to use this platform to elevate my Unbreakable platform. But, I’m very excited to get involved with various other causes.
PM: What’s your favorite type of music?
DN: My favorite type of music is anything modern-pop. I love Afrikaans music, as well. It’s the best dance music. How do you say in English, if you dance with a partner? We call it Sokkie. S-O-K-K-I-E, and Afrikaans music is the best.
PM: What’s your favorite food?
DN: Favorite food? I love a good oxtail with fennel in a red wide reduction sauce. Or barbecue ribs is a favorite. I will only eat that when I’m home alone. Otherwise, I’m pretty healthy, and like eating my greens and steamed food and anything organic. I have a big sweet tooth.
PM: When you eventually crown your successor, what do you hope to have accomplished as Miss Universe?
DN: Well, I hope I will be remembered as the Miss Universe that really gave everything of herself, that nothing was ever too much to ask for, that I was a hard worker, and I hope to be remembered as a Miss Universe that was relatable to young girls, young women, and that I was able to inspire them through my actions.