A few weeks ago while exchanging some banter in the commentary box at Rugby Park I got wind of a possible yarn from my old mate, Otago Stalwart John Latta.
The crafty old bugger told me his neighbour was having a crack at Miss Universes New Zealand and had made the final 20. Initially I was a skeptical reminding him that Balclutha while being a bustling southern metropolis isn't known for its topless beaches or lingerie models. He assured me it was genuine and being a red blooded southern male partial to taking a cheeky peak at the odd fraulein I thought this was a story I needed to go dig out.
I finally caught up with Kristie over a few jugs of Speight’s last Friday where she filled me in on why a good southern lass more comfortable on the tractor than the catwalk would want to put herself through all the shenanigans of a Miss Universe.
South Otago’s Kristie Leonard is a 23 year old full time school teacher, part time beauty pageant contestant, cheerleader and dancer. Residing in Balclutha she is the southernmost finalist for the Miss Universe New Zealand crown, meaning she gets my vote for starters!
The youngest offspring of shearing legend Malcolm Leonard, Kristie has what a Southlander would consider a medium grade R roll, holds a motorbike license, has no issue picking up a firearm and giving the odd pest a dust up, can shear a sheep (Video HERE), plays rugby and told me jokingly when I let her know I was running late that I’d be playing catch up on arrival.
Kristie grew up a typical country girl, chasing after the old man in the shearing shed while bossing around her older siblings or what she likes to call ‘project managing’ them. She shared in childhood highlights familiar to many of us such as shooting, building huts and getting involved in duck shooting by building an underground access tunnel to the Mai Mai. There were girl’s toys of course but this youngster was just as at home playing in the mud as she was giving Barbie a bad haircut.
Like a lot of teens from the south Kristie ended up making the traditional pilgrimage to Dunedin to ply her trade as a scarfie and pick up a couple of qualifications along the way. Between her dancing duties with the Otago Nuggets and the Highlanders and no doubt the odd night out she picked up a Bachelor’s of Education along with a Diploma of Education in Teaching.
Leonard’s athletic appearance gives away her sporty side. An 18 year dancing career, is that even possible at 23? Having a crack at everything from Ballet to Jazz she wasn't afraid to drop the shoulder and hit ruck on the footie field either playing for the South Otago Girls 1st XV and in 2011 managing to be part of a Dunedin Pirates side which won the Dunedin women’s club competition.
Why then would this southern sheep chaser want to go and prance around with a bunch of city slickers wearing fanciful garments designed by the overly posh, fighting over GHD’s, pots of fake tan and hair extensions? Leonard who found out about the competition via Facebook is pretty decisive in her answer, “it’s all about pushing boundaries getting out of my comfort zone and just giving it a go” she goes on to say “It’s an exciting opportunity for me to challenge some of the stereotypes out there” then shows she’s got a tidy sense of humour by joking “there were no entry rules so my lack of height wasn't a factor for once!”
As Kristie alludes to there’s a definitely pre-conceived stereotype’s that swirl around these beauty competitions and justifiably so to be fair. I wouldn't be pushing the boat out too far by suggesting most of us picture a certain type of lass entering and she’s usually got a pretty good collection of dresses and the latest jewelry at home, keep’s her hair soft - nails hard, skin toned and nicely tanned and drives around a Mini Cooper that her old man bought her. A celebrity by association, the over-privileged type most of us regular folk like to have a good whinge about at the local boozer on Friday night. We pick them as precious and high maintenance possibly short on a few IQ points and usually better to look at than to talk to. Too harsh?
Kristie is blonde and would no doubt attract the odd wolf whistle and leery comment dressed up as a nurse at the Wellington 7’s but that’s about where her similarities to the other contestants end. She’s too short to be considered your average beauty queen and has an athletic look about her so couldn't be considered your standard semi starved catwalk model, she’s in her own words rough around the edges and maybe, just maybe this is what the contest needs. “I've got country in my blood; my dad’s shorn nearly 2 million sheep” she claims. Not the resume of a beauty queen or at least not in the traditional sense, but she is smart, down to earth and ooze’s a common sense not usually found in the hair salon. This feisty wee blonde offers a personality that I’d hazard a guess a few of her competitors wouldn't mind tucking away in their Prada handbags and nicking off with.
It’s been a hard road going from down to earth Southern lass to Miss Universes NZ contestant, getting prepared for the big final. As you know any trip to Auckland for us from south of the Bombay’s is a bit painful let alone when you need to find yourself some jewelry as you don’t own any, try raise as much money as you can for charity and win the text vote popularity contest against contestants from places with more people in their average school than you have in your home town. Then there’s the 2 times a day gym training routine, drumming up publicity, more fundraising all while holding down her job as a teacher. To Kristie’s credit she’s got off her arse and worked hard which might be what sets her apart from the other contestants.
Kristie has run a tidy PR campaign showing she wouldn't be completely out of her depth in the big smoke of the city. She’s shorn sheep in the Octagon, been on air with the one and only Jamie Mackay, graced the pages of ODT a couple of times, featured on Rural TV with Glynny, made a cheeky appearance in the Young Country magazine, has been driving tractors to raise money for the event and capped it all off with a fashion fundraiser in Balclutha on Saturday.
It hasn't all been blood sweat and old Ewes though, being a budding Miss Universes does have its perks and a recent trip to Thailand to film the bikini section was one of them. It was a whirlwind visit but a great chance to experience a new country. Previously only having been as far afield as Bali and Australia it was a great chance to travel and one which wet her appetite for further travel with Rio and another longer trip to Thailand added to the bucket list.
Next step for this Clutha gal is a week in Auckland leading up to the grand finale on the 5th of October, screened live on Juice TV where the winner will be determined half by text vote and half by the judges.
I’m actually quite excited to see this rough around the edges girl from the deep south give it a good crack in Auckland in what must be a considered a Town verses Country battle. She’s our horse and we need to back her if nothing else but as a protest vote against the extravagance and tackiness of this kind of affair in general. A win for a real woman, one who can knock a gnarly old Ewe out in less than two minutes on the hand-piece would be a win for south, a win for a real kiwi gal!
I've spent 32 years searching for the perfect woman and I've definitely spotted a few of the characteristics in this fine young lady. To cap it all off she drinks Speight’s and she’s single lads!
TEXT Kristie to 5484 to vote, its 99 cents a pop with proceeds going to the Variety Charity, don’t be tight there is no limit on votes.
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