LIESL LAURIE IS A LOVELY PARADOX.
She may be slight in stature, but she’s a powerhouse of unshakable convictions; her doll-like features beefed up by brains and an undeniable edge. We’ve been standing in the beating sun for five straight hours for her cover shoot, yet she doesn’t skip a beat as she earnestly shares her story over sushi and sparkling water. She looks younger than her 29 years and her appearance is frequently a bone of contention for her, as people easily underestimate her capabilities. These days, her Insta feed showcases her fitness journey, which has surprised even her, especially since it all started with a bad break-up. (Doesn’t it always!) “I think it ’s important to acknowledge that I went through a tough time,” she admits. “My psychologist said I needed somewhere to put all of what I was feeling. She suggested painting and I was like, ‘no!’ Then she suggested training and fitness and I was also like, ‘no!’ Then one day, after three-and-a-half years of no training, I went back and fell in love. I thought, why did I ever stop?” Her 2015 Miss South Africa title was another turning point, but most won’t realise that it was actually her second attempt at the crown – a true testament to her tenacity.
Growing up in Eldorado Park, Liesl was resolute that one day she wanted to make an impact on the world. “I would say ‘don’t take funny photos of me’ or ‘don’t take recordings of me doing something silly because I’m going to be really famous one day’,” she laughs. “People used to look at me as if I was crazy, but I had some friends who said, ‘don’t worry, we know, we see it’.”
From the age of one she was tying her own shoes, speaking in full sentences by two and reading by four. “I wanted to do everything by myself, to the point of frustration for my family … you’d almost have to undo my shoelace just so I could re-tie it!”
Brains Before Beauty
After finishing school, Liesl took a gap year to do some modelling and find herself. “As much as I was very independent, I was also very sheltered. I only knew my ouma’s house so before I went to varsity, I asked if I could just have a second, so she said ‘sure! But pay for everything yourself.’ That’s when I started modelling … but I was never a ‘pageant girl’,” Liesl adds.
The lure of a bursary and a car was what convinced her to enter Miss Soweto, in which she was crowned a princess. Later, Miss South Africa scouted her for the 2011 pageant, but she “was a mess”, Liesl confesses. “I didn’t know myself well enough yet at 21. I was not prepared for the magnitude of what the pageant is. I always say to young girls that it is the biggest job interview of your life. I went in ripped jeans! Oh my gosh. You don’t go to a job interview in ripped jeans. I had a nice shirt on, but still!”
Designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, who was a judge that year, took her aside and told her to get it together and to know what she was doing when she came back. Liesl heeded his advice. “Basically that said to me – you can win this, but it’s not going to happen for you now because you don’t get it. And you need to get it.”
She completed her BCom at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus despite having to miss a lot of class due to her modelling commitments, but they paid for her tuition. She then worked for an NPO, which is when she experienced her biggest growth before re-entering Miss SA. “Nobody’s babying you; you’ve got to get things done. I had to send emails for the first time… And at that point I was like cool – I think I’m ready to enter.”
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