“It was a hell of a time”

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DANIEL NADEL Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS In­ter­view NI­CHOLAS FON­SECA

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

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