Demi-Leigh’s reign is over!
Her reign has come to an end but Demi-Leigh is not done with the Big Apple just yet!
SHE’S walked the runway for top designers, travelled the world, spoken at the United Nations General Assembly and rubbed shoulders with a raft of A-listers. But the high-flying times Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters became used to during her reign as Miss Universe are about to come to an end – although she has enough memories to sustain her for a lifetime.
“This year has exceeded my expectations, the best and worst of them,” the 23-year-old beauty tells us from the apartment on 57th Street, New York, that’s been her home for the past year.
“You don’t realise what it takes to move to a different country where you know nobody, having to make new friends, figuring out the transport system and everything.
“My biggest low has been missing my dog, Benji, but my mom sends me pictures of him every day.”
Although The Big Apple isn’t always an easy place to live, the city wormed its way into her heart, she adds. The frantic round-the-clock hustle, the constant hooting of the yellow cabs, the dazzling lights of Times Square, the dizzying skyscrapers – she grew to love it all.
She found love too in the form of hunky professional baseball player Tim Tebow (YOU, 2 August 2018).
Although her joy is palpable over the phone, it’s clear she values her privacy. “We’ve been very discreet. We get to choose what we share of our relationship. We prefer it that way.”
She’ll forever be grateful for all the doors that have been opened for her.
“What you believe is what you’ll achieve,” she says.
“I never knew for sure this would be my life. But deep down in my heart, I always dreamt about it and I always worked for it.”
JUST looking at Demi-Leigh’s Instagram posts is enough to make you green with envy. Clearly living it up in the concrete jungle suits her: she’s always dressed to the nines and impeccably groomed – but we shouldn’t be fooled, she says. It’s not all as glamorous as it looks.
“People think I wake up and have a hair and make-up artist waiting for me and my clothes all set out. It’s so not the case,” she says. “Being Miss Universe is a full-time job and there have been many times when I’ve got in at 3am from an overseas trip and had to be at an event at 9am. I don’t know how I did it.”
She had to navigate her way around a foreign city and learn to use words such as “traffic light” instead of “robot” to avoid weird looks from Uber drivers.
She missed being able to go into a pharmacy and order her usual painkiller, which is unheard of there. It was simple things like this she struggled with.
But if there’s one thing she’s proud of it’s that she’s stayed true to herself.
“I don’t think I’ve lost my accent. I still have people asking me where I’m from. They all think the South African accent is very beautiful, by the way,” she says.
She missed her family a lot, especially when her dad, Bennie Peters (55), needed back surgery, her mom, Anne-Mari Nel (57), underwent neck surgery and her little sister, Franje (12), fell ill.
The time difference between countries made things difficult, she says. “You wake up when everybody at home is going to sleep. Both my parents had hectic operations this year, so not being able to be there for them was tough.
“You can’t just get into your car and drive over to them. When my sister was sick it was hard being on the other side of the world. You feel helpless.”
A highlight of the year was when she saw both sets of her parents, Bennie and her stepmom, Elzabé (44) and AnneMari and her stepdad, Johan (60), when they visited New York in September.
“We went on a tour of the city – Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, 5th Avenue, Central Park. It was a lot of fun.”
Fortunately Tim and his family were also in the city at the time which gave the families an opportunity to get to know one another.
Demi-Leigh and Tim (31) met in April this year after he’d seen an interview she’d done about her beloved Franje, who was born with subtotal cerebellar agenesis, a rare condition where the brain develops without a cerebellum.
Tim has a foundation that works with kids with special needs. Each year they host events similar to proms in more than 20 countries, including South Africa, the weekend before Valentine’s Day. “Tim invited Franje, my family and me to get involved with the event. We started talking about it and that’s how we met.”
She and Tim don’t get to spend a lot of time together because of their busy schedules but their relationship is based on trust and communication. When they do get together, they visit their favourite restaurants, watch movies and have deep and meaningful conversations.
Demi-Leigh loves cooking for her man. “He’s on a ketogenic [ high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate] diet so it’s always fun for me to figure out new recipes,” she says.
And she’s made an impression on his family, who by all accounts adore her. “His family, especially his parents, are such warm, welcoming people. It’s been wonderful getting to know them,” she says.
IT’S Thanksgiving in the US when we chat and Demi-Leigh is packing her bags for the weekend away – only this time she’s not off on one of her gruelling international trips but rather a relaxing weekend away to Florida to be with the Tebows.
“I’m excited to take part in my first real American Thanksgiving,” she says.
Demi-Leigh will hand over her crown at the Miss Universe pageant in Thailand on 17 December – but just because her reign is ending doesn’t mean she’ll bid farewell to the USA just yet. She’s buzzing with plans and has signed a contract with IMG Models in New York, which manages top models such as Gigi and Bella Hadid and Candice Swanepoel.
“I hope to embark on a full-time modelling career and I’ll be travelling as well. I also hope to get more into motivational speaking,” Demi-Leigh says. “I love the fashion industry so hopefully I’ll get to use my degree in business management and entrepreneurship in that field.”
She’ll be home for Christmas in SA where she’ll enjoy a week between her two homes in Sedgefield and Potchefstroom. Tim’s coming too. “He’ll be visiting SA for the first time, so I really want to make it special for him.”
And by the time the holiday is over she hopes he’ll be as hooked on biltong and braaivleis as she is.
ABOVE: It’s been a whirlwind year for DemiLeigh Nel-Peters as Miss Universe. RIGHT: With her svelte frame and good looks she’s signed on with IMG Models and plans to stay in New York. ABOVE: Demi-Leigh at The Bean sculpture in Chicago. RIGHT: At a US Open tennis match at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium in August.
LEFT: Demi-Leigh’s and boyfriend Tim Tebow’s parents in New York in September (from left): Demi-Leigh’s stepdad Johan and mom Anne-Mari; Tim and Demi-Leigh; her stepmom Elzabé and dad Bennie; and Tim’s parents, Pamela and Robert. ABOVE: Demi spent Thanksgiving with the Tebows (from left): Tim’s brother Peter and his wife, Kenin; sister Christy and hubby Joey; brother Robby, sister Katie, Tim and Demi-Leigh.