It might be hard to imagine being able to relate to Miss Universe. After all, Demi-Leigh’s life has seemed like something out of a modern fairytale: a small-town girl from South Africa wins Miss Universe, moves to New York, and meets the love of her life, a handsome football star. But there’s nothing surface-level about Demi-Leigh Tebow’s life, love, or mission.
When Demi-Leigh enters the studio 15 minutes early, she’s quiet but smiling brightly, excited to be back in the city. “Thank you for having me, it’s an honor to be part of this.” It could be her flawless skin, her genuine kindness, or her graceful demeanor, but she’s giving me major Audrey Hepburn vibes. When she steps in front of the camera, she’s a timeless vision, barefoot in a strapless gown. It’s instant chemistry.
When I ask her what it was like moving to a completely new country, she says, “Moving to America was the first time I had ever set foot on American soil. It was super exciting but terrifying in the same sense to pack up my bags and move someplace I had never been to before. Leaving my family and friends was the most difficult part of moving to the U.S.”
Demi-Leigh was only 21 when she was crowned Miss South Africa in 2017 and was crowned Miss Universe later that year. The year after winning, her life was consumed with travel that took her around the world, speaking engagements, and meeting her future husband, Tim. He had sent an invitation for her younger sister Franje, who was born with severe special needs, to attend an event hosted by his charity. It was the first time the event was being hosted in South Africa. Demi-Leigh and Tim bonded over their shared mission for philanthropic work and their Christian faith.
It’s easy to see why Tim was enchanted so quickly. Demi-Leigh has a sweet innocence that belies her deep passion for helping other women and personal tragedies that would define the future of her life’s work. I imagine James Dean was inspired by someone like her when he said that only the gentle are ever really strong.
Having spent so many years working toward her dream of becoming Miss Universe, Demi-Leigh found herself at a crossroads when she took her last walk on stage in 2018. “While my reign was so much fun and extremely rewarding, I had a pretty difficult time when it ended. As soon as I handed the crown over to the next Miss Universe the following year, I knew that I had a whole new journey in front of me, but I had no idea what that was. It was difficult trying to figure out who I was without my title, and what I was going to do.”
She had moved to New York to fulfill her duties as Miss Universe, started dating Tim that year, and had decided to stay in the U.S., although that didn’t make finding her direction any easier.
Thinking back, she says, “It’s a decision most of us have to make at some point regardless of the accomplishment. Once you graduate from college, how will you move forward? Once you achieve that lofty goal you’ve been striving toward, what’s next? I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my journey is to never limit yourself. The only person able to put any limits on what you can accomplish in this life is you. So find your purpose, and start by finding your ‘why.’ Whatever that thing is, educate yourself and use your voice to speak up and speak life into that purpose. Whether your platform is thousands of people or just the people in your home, use it to inspire and encourage others. Sometimes all it takes is a small spark to create major change in the world, and that often starts with the lives of others directly around you.”
Before meeting Tim, Demi-Leigh had already founded her own organization in 2017. Her Unbreakable initiative was born in the summer of 2017 after a horrifying experience that changed her life forever.