Miss Universe Director of Talent: I’ve never met such a mature 22-year-old


Cape Town - It has been Esther Swann’s job for the past 19 years to take the newly crowned Miss Universe stars and turn them into queens.

She rules the girls with an iron hand as she tries to guide them to be the best they can be.

Swann (57) is the “mother” of Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (22).

The morning after she received her new “daughter”, she told her: “You are so cute and sweet. Stop that! In all the time I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never met such a mature 22-year-old.

"I sometimes have to remind Demi that she’s 22 and can act it. That it’s sometimes okay to get a pimple,” Swann laughed.

She is accompanying Nel-Peters on her visit to her home country for the first time since being crowned in November last year.

“Demi and I work for the Miss Universe Corporation. It’s a business and we get a salary. Demi gets an apartment in New York where she lives with Miss America for her term.

"There is an apartment manager who makes sure they have healthy meals, does their laundry and so on,” Swann says, peering at us through her dark-framed glasses.

“Miss Universe is more than just being a pretty face. We focus on the empowerment of women and it is about the whole package.

“Demi stood out from the beginning. She is beautiful inside and outside and smart.

"I can remember the judges speaking among themselves and saying how surprised they were at her,” Swann told City Press on Wednesday.

Swann is attractive and well groomed – but not a Miss Universe herself. She only makes them.

“I don’t weigh them every day. They know their appearance is their income. If they pick up or lose too much weight, we sort it out.


"The thing that strikes me about Demi is her sense of humour. It’s a good weapon in a world like this.”

Bennie Peters (54) had a good laugh about Swann’s plans to teach his daughter to be less sweet and more selfish.

“She will still learn about our people’s generosity. You see, Demi has a seriously disabled sister, Franje (12).

"Her cerebellum never developed fully and she basically cannot do anything. That’s why Demi has always said she is living for two people.

"When she was studying, she always came to sit with Franje every morning before lectures and did the same afterwards.

“The evening when she was crowned Miss South Africa and we were allowed backstage to congratulate her, she said: ‘Tell Franje we’ve won the crown.’ She doesn’t have it in her to be selfish,” he said.

Nel-Peters’ parents got divorced when she was still young.

She sometimes stayed with her father and his family in Potchefstroom.

He owns a guest house, Sunset Manner Guest House, in the town where he lives with his wife, Elzabé (43).

Nel-Peters stayed with them while she was studying a BCom in business management and entrepreneurship at North-West University.

She completed her degree in 2016.

“I definitely plan to do my MBA in business management later and hope to have my own business one day. Entrepreneurship is in our blood,” she told City Press.

suzanne.venter@rapport.co.za