The international arrivals terminal at OR Tambo International Airport was sprinkled with a touch of fairy dust yesterday as Miss World 2014 – Miss South Africa Rolene Strauss – came home.
Little beauty kings and queens, decked out in their finest pageant gear and wearing sashes that declared them this year’s reigning Miss Mini Teen SA, Mr Junior Teen SA, Little Miss SA and Miss Teen Africa waited patiently to be photographed with the grown-up embodiment of their beauty dreams.
The Soweto Gospel Choir got the waiting crowd singing along to Shosholoza, as befitted an occasion dripping with proud patriotism.
Strauss (22) was greeted with a roar as she stepped through the doors from the passengers-only area into the terminal.
It was so loud and so fervent that it seemed as if the roof would lift right off the building.
Hours later, in the serene surroundings of Sandton’s Maslow Hotel, City Press is ushered into the presence of royalty.
Journalists have been allocated 15 minutes each with Strauss and if she’s tired of all the attention, she doesn’t show it.
The beauty queen is gracious, charming and, well, really nice.
The Bloemfontein meisie, who was born on April 22 1992 is famously, a test tube baby. She says Miss World was a far easier process for her than participating in the Miss South Africa competition.
“You can’t really compare yourself to anyone, being there among 120 beautiful women. I just remember telling myself to drink in every moment and do my best,” she says.
Asked what’s the worst part of beauty competitions, she answers, “That there’s only one winner. Everyone on that stage has the opportunity to win the crown, but it’s truly a journey and not an end.”
The daughter of Hennie, a doctor, and Theresa, a nurse, Strauss is not surprisingly studying medicine at the University of the Free State.
After she was crowned Miss World, the institution’s vice-chancellor, Professor Jonathan Jansen, tweeted perhaps the last thing you’d expect from a serious academic.
Yesterday, Strauss was much calmer than the thousands of excited South Africans who celebrated her win online and in person at the airport earlier.
I asked what she was like growing up, “I was born in Bloemfontein, but when I was two we moved to Volksrust in Mpumalanga. So I basically grew up in a very small town and it’s been amazing. Being from a small town I was kind of forced to do everything and that made me who I am today.
“We are also a town that’s very cultural and we have different races, backgrounds and cultures. That, I think in a way, has also prepared me for being Miss South Africa and Miss World.”
Not surprisingly for a demure, poised, beauty queen, she insists she was “never a naughty child”.
“I was a better friend to my brother than he was to me because I was always the one doing the boyish things with him.
“I never played with dolls – I was always trying to build a slide or a golf course in the back yard.
“When I was four years old, I got lost in the Kruger National Park and my parents found me up in a tree. I think that tells you a bit about me.”
At school she was “a geek”, but luckily “in my school, people looked up to you for that”.
She says there was “a great deal of good competition” at Pioneer Primary School and Volksrust High School.
Why did she choose medicine?
“Growing up, I always watched my dad and looked up to him, I still do. I saw just how much he gave. It’s not about studying medicine, it’s about giving people your time and showing that you are interested in them.”
As a medical student, what does she think of the pressures of pageantry and healthy beauty ideals?
“One thing I have always believed in is that health starts with the mind. If you have an unhealthy mind, you have an unhealthy body. If you have an unhealthy body, you will have an unhealthy mind,” she replies.
“Start by changing how you think about yourself and other people. Beauty comes from within, our imperfections are our perfections. Don’t try to fit into society’s boxes, make your own box and be healthy.”
So how did she, officially the world’s most beautiful woman, achieve this?
“We all go through our own experiences and feel uncomfortable in our own skin. But you have to figure out for yourself by looking at the bigger picture. Is it about what we look like?
“Beauty fades, it’s about what we leave behind. I stopped focusing on the way I looked and just started taking care of myself.”
Time is running out so I ask – with the world at her feet and a potent combination of beauty and brains – whether there’s one thing she really wishes she could be good at.
“It’s a bit far-fetched, but ice skating.” She says she’s never done it before. “It’s probably my hidden talent,” she laughs.
Earlier, amid the cheers and screams at OR Tambo, Strauss looked a bit like she was gliding across the ice.
Looking miraculously flawless after a lengthy flight from London, she warmly embraced her family and friends.
She was every inch the composed beauty queen at first.
But the outpouring of support threatened to overwhelm her when, after an enthusiastic introduction by Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula, she took to the podium.
Strauss fought back the tears to thank her supporters and her family.
After a second speech by a clearly fired-up Mbalula, Strauss worked her regal way through the crowds posing for photos and chatting to starstruck, glitter-doused fans.