“It was a hell of a time”
She made headlines for all the wrong reasons when arrested on drug charges in Bali. Now Michelle Leslie is running a successful business and has a new love.
It’s been 13 years since Michelle Leslie was thrust into the spotlight after being arrested on drug charges in Bali. Now enjoying a quiet life of domestic bliss, the former model has built a new career as an interior designer
Alot can happen in one night. And a lot can also happen in 13 years.
What happened to Michelle Leslie during the course of a fateful August 2005 evening in Bali – when the Australian model was arrested and charged with carrying two suspected ecstasy tablets in her handbag – landed her in the middle of a media maelstrom. The resulting opprobrium was fast and furious; whether it was fair became a topic that got turned over endlessly, fanned by Leslie’s willingness to front the media with a string of questionable defences that only helped exaggerate her notoriety.
Lessons were learnt, a jail term was served, opinions were hardened. And eventually, Leslie decided it would be best if she simply shut her mouth. It has been a long time since Leslie spoke to the media of her own volition. Save for a few comments about her 2012 wedding to now-ex husband Adam Zammit, she has stayed quiet about the business ventures, personal achievements and romances that have kept her busy since she withdrew from public life. And it has suited her just fine.
“I really like my privacy,” Leslie tells Stellar. “And I was really just loving doing my work without having to be judged by anyone but my clients after feeling, you know, like maybe I’ve been judged by every single person over every single back fence in Australia at some stage. Whether that was true or false, it was the truth in my head. My anxiety just wouldn’t allow me to proactively seek public attention. And I didn’t want that to change.”
Leslie is something of a shapeshifter, both in conversation and real life. Though the country knew her professionally thanks to appearances on 2000’s Search For A Supermodel, and stints with Myer, Antz Pantz and Crystelle lingerie, after Bali the gigs dried up. She tried designing clothes for dogs. She raised money for a Cambodian children’s charity. And she studied interior design and decoration, the catalyst for launching her successful business of 10 years, Michelle Leslie Design.
It was a career development, the 37-year-old insists, that did not come out of nowhere. During her childhood in Adelaide, she says, “I developed a love for building, for figuring out the machination of things. I used to totter under the car with my brother, pretending we were, you know, building a Ferrari when it was in fact a Datsun 180B.”
Leslie’s mother Violeta was a nurse and one of 12 siblings. Along with all of her sisters, each named after a flower, she emigrated with her new husband Albert, an Australian Olympic basketball player she met during his layover in her native Philippines ahead of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. “I was surrounded and raised by Spanish-filipino women,” Leslie says, laughing in reflection. “All love karaoke, as you know. You can tell what my Christmas sounded like, right?
“And I learnt incredible patience as a child because I was always choosing to wear corduroy pants – a real tomboy – and my mum loved putting me into really pink, frou-frou dresses. Again, she’s Spanish-filipino. The ultimate thing is to have the most gorgeous little girl, all dressed up. If you’d lit a match near me as a child, I would have caught on fire.”
She grabs her phone and pulls up a picture. “That was my childhood. Can you even cope?” In the frame is Leslie, about four years old, standing in a garden in a frilly dress, not looking amused.
Modelling happened, anyway. By the time she was a teenager, “I was wearing