Home > Lifestyle > Family > Features
Wednesday August 21, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday August 21, 2013 MYT 9:00:30 AM
by lee mei li
Lee with her daughter, Klarissa, and husband, Kenneth Lee. The Mrs Universe 2013 hopes to inspire her daughter to focus ‘out’ instead of ‘in’.
Mrs Universe 2013 Carol Lee is the first Asian woman to be crowned for the many roles she takes on so well; working mother, loving wife, successful career woman and passionate activist.
WITH her towering five-foot-eight frame and a picture-perfect smile, newly-crowned Mrs Universe 2013 Carol Lee is a striking woman who knows how to make an entrance.
Despite her worries of tripping onstage and a sudden bout of rashes on her face, the 39-year-old mother won the coveted title of Mrs Universe, becoming the first Asian woman, and the first Malaysian, to be crowned the world’s “most honourable married woman”. It is awarded to women aged between 25 and 45, taking into account their family and career as well as involvement in a significant cause. Back in Kuala Lumpur, the chatty and down-to-earth beauty queen shares her experiences in the Mrs Universe pageant in the Caribbean, accompanied by her husband Kenneth Lee and five-year-old daughter Klarissa.
She recounts how her family had been trying to watch a live streaming of the pageant but was cut off halfway due to a bad Internet connection.
“So then, did you know mummy was going to win?” Lee prompts her daughter. A confident “Yes!” came forth, and the room lit up with laughter. Satisfied with the response, Klarissa scrambles onto her father’s lap to share a game on the iPad.
While Kenneth, 42, is proud of his wife’s achievements, the same can’t be said of his newly-acquired nickname: Mr Universe.
“I don’t think I have the body of a Mr Universe,” jokes the general manager of a multi-national company. “As they say, opposites attract. Carol shines in the limelight. I prefer to support her behind-the-scenes.”
Determined to win
Born in Selangor but raised in Penang, the news presenter and former talk show host grew up in a middle class family alongside her elder brother. She was a tomboy, and has always been competitive, excelling in sports from her early days at school.
Lee, a management and marketing graduate, has always stood out literally, due to her height. She took full advantage of that, and started modelling in her late teens and even participated in the Miss Malaysia Chinatown pageant (now known as Miss Astro Chinese International), where she emerged the winner. Fresh in her 20s, Lee was sent to Hong Kong to compete in the Miss Chinese International finals, but didn’t win the crown.
“When I heard about the Mrs Universe pageant, I saw it as a second chance at succeeding,” she says.
“It has always nagged at me that I didn’t perform as well as I would’ve liked in the Miss Chinese International pageant. I wasn’t prepared at all for the finals in Hong Kong and my Cantonese wasn’t that great. I felt like I was just given an air ticket and told to fly there,” she recalls.
Still, Lee’s participation in the Mrs Universe pageant was unplanned. Her name was recommended to the Mrs Malaysia Universe organisers just as they were looking for potential candidates. After a succession of interviews, Lee was appointed as the Malaysian representative who would compete at the finals in Palm Beach.
With the full support of her family, the mother-of-one took the Mrs Universe calling seriously, and gave herself 10 months to mentally and physically prepare for the finals.
At the pageant, Lee wore clothes by Malaysian designer Carven Ong, the Asian Top Designer of the Year in 2009. One of Ong’s notable creations was the national attire Lee paraded at the pageant, which featured several large hibiscuses suspended over her shoulders.
Queen of confidence
In line with the pageant’s theme and initiative this year, Lee is actively involved in raising awareness on domestic violence. She launched the “Nationwide Campaign Against Domestic Violence”, in partnership with KL Sogo and All Women’s Action Society (Awam), in July.
The year-long event aims to encourage volunteers to join forces as advocates and trainers to educate the public on domestic violence, from informing them on where to get aid to educating them on its causes and effects. As a requirement for the Mrs Universe finals, Lee prepared a three-minute presentation supporting the cause, which she believes must have left an impression on the judges and led to her win. The popularity votes by fellow Malaysian supporters, also helped her clinch the title. Lee claimed the Mrs Popularity subsidiary title, garnering 88,649 votes in the online fan votes contest. Coming in at a close second was Mrs USA Amanda Grad, who scored 88,556 votes.
For Lee, the biggest challenge was in competing with much younger contestants. “When they announced the winner, it actually took me awhile to realise that they had called me. I needed confirmation from the other contestants before I dared step forward,” she says.
As Mrs Universe 2013, Lee hopes that she has helped set an example, especially to the victims of domestic violence, that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
“I think no one even thought that an Asian would win this pageant. For the women out there who have allowed their boyfriends or husbands to lay even a finger on them, I hope to be a pillar of strength to inspire them to stand up for their rights and to ask for help. If you put your heart to it, anything is possible.”
With her win, Lee’s list of responsibilities has just gotten longer. She already has a lot going; apart from anchoring TV3 Nightline, the working mother is a sought-after emcee at local events and on the side, manages a child enrichment centre, Starz Studio, at KL Sogo.
Time management is key when it comes to leading a balanced life, she says.
Having taught in a kindergarten for several years, Lee says her main passion has always been children. “I help KL Sogo manage a daycare where parents can drop their kids off to shop at ease. I also like to nurture children’s talents.”
Lee has been organising pageants for children, but with a twist: instead of just one winner, all the contestants would be honoured and crowned for the day.
“A lot of kids don’t understand what losing is about. I’ve seen them cry and it can be detrimental in the long run. What I want is for the kids to just experience being a prince or princess for the day and be acknowledged for all that they’re worth.”
In her daughter’s eyes, Lee is a mother who happens to be Mrs Universe. .
“I hope that I can inspire my daughter to focus ‘out’, instead of ‘in’. There’s nothing like seeing the people around you happy and knowing that you’ve made a difference in their lives. That’s something that will last. I hope that she’ll build her confidence through that,” Lee shares.
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)