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Monday November 21, 2011

Kimberley Ann Estrop-Leggett, the young queen

It was Kimberley Ann Estrop-Leggett’s childhood dream to win the Miss Universe Malaysia crown.

IMAGINE being under the brightest and biggest spotlight you can think of. You wait with bated breath. You have a crowd staring unrelentingly at you, scrutinising your every move. Your heart is pounding as you try your best to look composed.

Then finally, the long-awaited moment arrives – they call your name. You are surprised, relieved even, and then swept away by euphoria.

That was exactly what the newly-crowned Miss Universe Malaysia Kimberley Ann Estrop-Leggett experienced at the pageant’s gala finale earlier this month.

On the right foot: Newly crowned Miss Universe Malaysia 2012, 18-year-old Kimberley Ann Estrop-Leggett. She will be groomed by Miss Malaysia Universe 2004 Andrea Fonseka for the international pageant next year.

“The first thought that came to mind was, ‘Is this really happening? Has my dream actually come true?’” she recalls excitedly.

“I’ve always watched Miss Universe on TV and I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little girl. Right after I’d won, my mother came up to me and said: ‘I remember you telling me when you were 13 that you can do this.’”

Kimberley was one of the 19 contestants who were shortlisted from over 1,000 participants in auditions held across the country.

The finalists appeared in a six-episode reality TV show called Beauty Camp that started last September. The top nine finalists were determined by popular vote based on the show, which accounted for 20% of the final results.

At the finale, Kimberley’s eloquence and polished exterior gave her an edge over her competitors. But it still came as a surprise when she beat early favourite Aileen Gabriella Robinson, 22, who garnered more than half the total votes from Malaysian audiences.

Despite portraying a steely demeanour, the 18-year-old initially seemed somewhat guarded and reserved during this interview, but she warmed up after a while and a different side to the lanky lass was revealed.

“My friends tell me I’m funny, although I can be a bit shy at times. But once I open up, I’m fine,” she says, smiling.

In person, Kimberley’s bubbly personality underpins her glamorous tiara-clad façade. She is effervescent and sometimes fidgety, yet unmistakably articulate throughout.

The beauty queen made good of her slender, 175cm-tall frame and youthful beauty in a succession of eye-catching poses during the photoshoot. In no time, she had everyone in the room captivated by her dazzling smile that won her the Miss Photogenic subsidiary title at the pageant.

Born and raised in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Kimberley is an only child.

“My dad’s English and my mum is Malaysian, a mix of Serani and Dutch heritage,” says Kimberley whose father is a retired engineer and mother a lecturer in English.

Kimberley being crowned by Miss Universe Malaysia 2011 Deborah Priya Henry.

With her porcelain skin, lustrous curls and scissor-sharp features, Kimberley is undeniably gorgeous. But one can’t help but question if an ang moh (Caucasian) woman truly represents Malaysia?

“I don’t think you can define what a Malaysian looks like. In fact, I don’t know what a typical Malaysian looks like,” she says firmly. “My physical features may be of European descent but I don’t think that takes away my Malaysian identity.

“I think I represent the younger generation of Malaysian women, and because of my mixed parentage, I represent a wider range of Malaysian women.”

Perhaps, the fact that she’s never been in the bottom six of the reality TV show is also a reflection of the nation’s acceptance of her occidental beauty.

“I’m proud to be Malaysian,” she adds, beaming. “It’s great to be able to celebrate all the different races and religions in Malaysia. We have so many different holidays and we celebrate them all without any discrimination and I think that brings us together as a community.”

At 18, Kimberley seems to have all the answers, from trivial questions to potential life-changing decisions.

“I think my age is definitely an advantage. Even though I’m young, I think I’m mature enough and I think that it’s very easy to mould me. Some of the older girls in the competition may already have habits that they can’t change. Like their tone or the way they speak. I think my age allows me to adapt quicker and I’m also a fast learner,” she says.

Kimberley was on her way to pursue a degree in business and economics when she decided to give her childhood dream a shot. Now that she has won, she will have to put on hold her plans to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“I have time,” the young woman says. “I can still continue my studies later on. And if I want to enrol in a university in the future, I’ve already got my foundation.

Kimberley, who is of Eurasian/British blood, says: ‘I think I represent the younger generation of Malaysian women, and because of my mixed parentage, I represent a wider range of Malaysian women.’

“In fact, I might actually enrol myself in a local university in the meantime. I could take a part-time course so I don’t lose track of my studies. I think I’ll be able to juggle both my studies and being Miss Universe Malaysia.”

She spews pageant-like answers throughout this interview but make no mistake, the young lady is in it to win.

“I definitely want to train very hard. Right now, I’m just going to focus on my physique and try to be as confident as I can. I’m still trying to find that elusive X-factor – I think I’ll know what it is in time.”

She says the competition has also taught her values such as independence and handling being away from home for a long period of time.

“It was really hard at first but I got through it,” she shares. “It also taught me personal grooming and how to carry myself in public.”

For now, Kimberley plans to lend her budding star-power to championing health and fitness in youths.

“I was about 15kg heavier,” says Kimberley who now weighs 58kg. “It wasn’t until I turned 16 that I received two tears in my knees while sprinting and decided to drop some weight for health reasons.”

She used to be a sprinter as a student in The International School Of Penang (Uplands) and is still an ardent tennis player.

Kimberley’s toned physique also won her the Nestle Fitness Award at the competition. She credits her lean body to healthy eating and exercise.

“I don’t eat less but watch what I eat. It’s more about portion control rather than cutting out food.

“I have pretty good stamina now, and I think my strong determination and willpower will definitely help me in the competition.”

When she is not in competition mode, like any other teenager, Kimberley hangs out with her friends and goes to the movies. She is expected to compete in Miss Universe next year.

“I’ll have to push myself harder,” she says.

Kimberley has a year to prepare for the Miss Universe 2012 international pageant and she’ll be working with her mentor Andrea Fonseka, the Miss Malaysia Universe 2004 who is also the pageant’s national director.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed.