12 junho 2010

Private life of our Miss Universe

Last updated 05:00 13/06/2010
Photo: Lawence Smith
Miss Universe NZ Ria Van Dyke sweet, sincere, smart.

RIA Van Dyke is every inch the newly-crowned princess. It's 10am in Mt Wellington, Auckland, and the 21-year-old is welcoming us at the door of her hotel room, calm and quiet under a flawless wall of make-up and false lashes.

This is her first interview and Van Dyke is uncertain but not nervous: falling back on pageant tactics, perhaps, she sits still and straight, pauses before answering questions, and says things like, "It's important for me to come from the heart".

But she is sweet, sincere and smart – she's just handed in a 5000-word psychology essay comparing qualitative and quantitative research – and is coping remarkably well with the fuss and fake tan that has descended on her world.

Last Saturday, Van Dyke won the Miss Universe New Zealand crown. Now, she is the serenity at the centre of a highly enthused, energetic entourage: her mother Ruthie and pageant PR Val Lott.

The pair make sure we're happy in the room. Is it too warm? Is the lighting OK? Then they bustle downstairs.

Eight minutes later they're bustling in again, this time with Auckland mayor John Banks and an offsider in tow.

Banks vanishes into another room for a photo with Van Dyke, saying, "We've got to get those fabulous legs of mine in there" and, "I think you're taller than me". She smiles and doesn't say a word.

While her daughter is out of the room, Van Dyke's mother sits down beside me and says very quietly: "Ria's a sweetie. But she's a perfectionist ... She's always been a princess."

She is asking me to delete all the "ums" and "aahs" from her daughter's quotes when Banks comes back in and promises to send a cheque to help the family with their trip to the pageant's Las Vegas finals.

Three minutes after the entourage arrived, they're gone.

Van Dyke smiles and sighs. "Would you like a glass of water? I'm just getting one." Is it always like this, I ask? She laughs and seems to relax. "Yes. It is."

She returns with her water, pulling the short green dress down over her long brown legs.

"Um, to be honest with you it's, it's really different for me because I'm just, I'm a university student, and that has been my whole life for about four years... It's a huge change."

Is she a perfectionist, as her mother just told me? "Hmm. I don't see myself as a perfectionist," Van Dyke says, but adds she's always been set on doing well at school.

She had an unconventional childhood, following her father (a locum doctor from South Africa) to different jobs around the world and her mother, who owned a business language school, on recruiting trips to Asia.
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All that travelling made The Correspondence School an obvious choice. Van Dyke says it worked for her – she is totally self-disciplined – but the constant travelling and isolated schooling made her introverted.

When she was 10, her father left. He was meant to be testing the waters in Australia, staying for a month while considering a permanent move, but met someone else.

Although he paid child support, Van Dyke has not heard from him since. "I think not really having a male role model in my life, as such, made it a little bit difficult for me to relate to the opposite sex and, um, I guess when I was doing [a psychology paper on relationships] I was like, `Oh, so that's why I'm a bit, you know, introverted."

Van Dyke says she is coming out of her shell now. She has been dating boyfriend Matthew for two years and says they will marry – but "not any time soon".

She says, gently: "But I do love him, very much."

Matthew, a business graduate, is applying for police college in Porirua and will likely head there after accompanying Van Dyke, her mother and her 14-year-old adopted sister Abigail to the Miss Universe pageant in August.

The couple attend the pentecostal Life church. "Um, I'm a Christian and that's really important to me.

"I wouldn't say that I base my life around religion as such – it's more to do with the heart connection and the faith that I feel."

Van Dyke says she entered her first pageant, Miss Auckland, because she knew it would open doors and that she would be a positive role model.

"For me, it was never about needing approval... I guess I saw this as an opportunity [to] uplift young women and raise their self-esteem."

She struggled with the idea of her body being scrutinised – "I don't even go to the beach in a bikini, so yeah, it was really hard" – but says she made a conscious decision to be happy about herself.

When asked to picture herself at her mother's age, Van Dyke says she is surrounded by family and very happy.

"I would love to have a well-established clinic by that stage. I'd love to do counselling, particularly focused with young women and helping women with body image, self-esteem, and um, valuing themselves.

"I still see myself living in New Zealand – I love New Zealand. I'm a Kiwi girl through and through, and um, yeah, that's..."

She laughs. "Can't think of anything else."


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