Some nights she still cries herself to sleep. She often brings her two-year-old twins to bed with her, holding them close to try to curb the loneliness – but not even their warm, cuddly presence is enough to stem the tears.
“It’s lonely,” she admits. “My parents have been married for 41 years. I wanted that for my kids, but they also deserve parents who are happily married.” It’s hard to believe former Miss South Africa Claudia Henkel has been so unhappy when you see photos of her on Instagram, exuding elegance and radiating self-confidence.
But life has been anything but pictureperfect. Her marriage to businessman Orin Roesstorff collapsed in February 2019 and the 36-year-old is speaking out about the pain of the past months for the first time. She was simply too sad to open up before, she says. But she’s excited about the future and happy about the decisions she’s made.
Yes, she misses family life and “Sunday mornings with the kids in bed”, Claudia says. “But if your home isn’t a happy environment then you need to change it for your children’s sake.” Walking out on her marriage was “the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life”, she adds, and it wasn’t a step she took lightly.
“But the environment wasn’t healthy anymore.” It’s been a difficult year for Claudia. Not only did she resign from her position as head of public relations at Sun International – organisers of the Miss South Africa competition– to become a fulltime mom to her pigeon pair, she also had to temporarily move back in with her parents, Linda and Irmin Henkel.
And then she had to come to terms with the failure of her marriage. “I know I’m not technically a single mom because Orin is present in the children’s lives,” she says. “He adores them. But I’m the one who mostly bathes them, feeds them and puts them to bed. “And then I’m alone. I adore being their mom but it’s tough sometimes. Really tough.”
Home for Claudia, the twins and Zara the Yorkshire terrier is now a two- bedroom duplex in Bryanston, Johannesburg. The former beauty queen is seated on a grey couch in the living room, her long legs stretched out in front of her, enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet while the toddlers nap upstairs.
Signs of the twins are everywhere: their pictures adorn the walls and an array of upturned chairs are strewn around the garden. Her son and daughter used them as their climbing frame earlier that morning, their mom explains. Claudia keeps the children to a strict schedule, which includes a late-morning nap before lunch.
“Routine is really important, especially when you have two. I’ve got my hands full,” she says. It’s been 15 years since Claudia wore the Miss SA sash and crown and she’s looking great. Pics of her in a bikini on social media show she’s every inch the toned beauty she was then.
The 54kg she gained during her pregnancy with the twins melted away “from stress” over the past 18 months, she says. Her appetite disappears when she’s under strain, but she also makes time to exercise at least twice a week, she explains. Claudia becomes emotional when she starts talking about what she’s been through, wiping at the mascara smudging under her eye as she wells up.
She and Orin were together for four years before their 2015 wedding and things were going smoothly at first. “When children are born, the woman focuses on them,” she says. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but we drifted apart. “I tried to put my husband first, but . . .” she shrugs her shoulders.
Claudia says she doesn’t know where they went wrong and doesn’t want to elaborate further. “For months I asked myself that question. For months I cried, but I’ve made peace with it. Things happen and at the end of the day everything turns out fine.”
She can’t help but think the miscarriage she had a few months after her wedding affected her relationship. “I was traumatised,” she recalls. “At 12 weeks pregnant I got cramps and when I went to the doctor and they did the sonar, it showed the baby had stopped growing at nine weeks. Those little arms and legs were completely still.”
The twins were conceived not long afterwards and it was as if she came to a halt, she adds. “I was paranoid. I think all moms are, but after the miscarriage I was stressed, especially at the start of the pregnancy.” But the twins were healthy and after a short time in the hospital’s neonatal unit they went home.
She and Orin were happy to have their babies home but everything was different, Claudia says. “I think something fundamentally changes when you become a mom. It’s as if the world has shifted.” Something happened in February that made her decide to take her kids and move out but she doesn’t want to elaborate.
“Women need to be loved and feel secure and if you’re not, you need to leave.” Claudia and the kids moved in with her parents on their smallholding in Pretoria East for seven months. “I could’ve stayed with my parents and wallowed a bit longer,” she says. “They helped so much with the twins.
Some nights I’d cry so loudly my mom would come and crawl into bed next to me. And my dad would put things into perspective in his logical way.” But she knew she couldn’t stay there forever. She had to get out and stand on her own two feet again. F OR now, Claudia is focusing on her children.
She does digital media and marketing work on a contract basis and Orin helps her and the twins financially. Claudia has a strong support network. Her sister, Nicola Henkel (35), lives around the corner and “I can call her anytime, day or night”. She also has help at home with the twins from Bongi Moyo, who’s there four days a week and has become the kids’ second mom.
Orin is still very much a part of their twins’ lives. “The children need him,” Claudia says. “I wish for them an environment where they feel completely loved, wholly, from both sides. A normal childhood where they get to be kids.” Asked about the possibility of finding love again, Claudia smiles wryly.
“I don’t know whether it sounds enticing. ‘Hi, I’m a six-foot-two [1,88m] beauty queen and these are my babies’,” she says with a chuckle. “I’m not looking for love but I believe it will come and then I’ll be happy in a relationship again. For now, my focus is on my kids and my contracting work.”
One of the children starts crying upstairs and minutes later, Bongi appears with a tot on each arm. Chaos follows as the twins get stuck into lunch and food ends up on the floor but Bongi and Claudia manage to get them fed before it’s time to take pictures. And though a small hand tugs at her blonde locks, Claudia smiles broadly, always ready for the camera.
You can take the beauty queen off the stage . . .
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