Reflections from a former Miss Universe and New Zealand icon

The woman sitting opposite me looked puzzled for a moment.
‘That’s funny,’ she said. ‘The world knows you. How does the world know you?’
I was having a consultation with renowned American clairvoyant Suzan Saxman, who knew absolutely nothing about my background when we met in 2016. It was interesting that my ‘fame’ (something I have never been comfortable with) was one of the first things she picked up about me. While it’s not true that the world knows me now, for a brief time more than thirty years ago, I had been in the international spotlight when I won Miss Universe. Millions of people around the world had watched me being crowned back in 1983, so she was kind of right. But I didn’t let her know this until the end of our session.
‘Are you related to royalty?’ she asked as we were finishing up. ‘I keep seeing a crown on your head.’
At that stage I had to tell her about my time as Miss Universe. But our conversation before that point ranged over many topics.
‘Are you writing a book?’ she asked me.
‘I am,’ I admitted.
‘Good, you must,’ Suzan said. ‘You are so misunderstood.’

Am I misunderstood? I don’t know. I do know that when people hear my name, most of them probably think of that shy nineteen-year-old with the fluffy mane of blonde hair who became the first (and, so far, only) New Zealander to win Miss Universe.
While that one event has had a big impact on my life, it’s not all there is to me. I’ve also run my own successful businesses and raised two wonderful children. I had the most amazing relationship with a man who was my soulmate, and I was his caregiver as cancer slowly took his life.

Suzan was spot on when she perceived that I was writing a book, but it didn’t come about because I wanted other people to get a better idea of who I am. Instead, I started writing because I was trying to understand who I am. After my husband Martin Crowe passed away in March 2016, I felt lost. I had been his caregiver for three years, and when he was no longer here I had no idea who I was supposed to be. Suddenly there was a big void in my world. Marty was the love of my life—what was I going to do without him? My children had grown up and were off following their passions, so I was no longer needed to be there for them all the time. What was my purpose now?

I have always kept a journal, and during tough times I have found that getting my thoughts down on paper has helped me deal with whatever is going on. That was definitely the case when Marty got really sick, and also after he passed. Writing, for me, was an important part of the grieving process. And as I read back over what I had written in my journal, I wondered if some of the experiences I had had and lessons I had learned would be helpful to other people. Despite my sad loss, there were many things I had gained, and maybe that knowledge was something I could share.

I had been asked to write a memoir after I won Miss Universe, and I said no. I was only twenty at the end of that whirlwind year and I remember thinking, I haven’t even lived life. I’d had one big thing happen to me, but that was all. If I was going to write a book, it would need to wait until later on when I had done much more.
When I was approached about writing a book after Marty died I said no again; I was too bogged down with grief. But the offer came with the proviso ‘if and when you’re ready’, and I kept that in the back of my mind.

Eventually I did feel ready to look back over my life and write about it, and doing that became a crucial part of my healing. The words flowed so easily that I felt as if I was meant to be doing it, and Suzan’s advice convinced me that I should write a book. I’m the sort of person who trusts in intuition, and my gut feeling was telling me the time was right to share my story.

It has been quite some journey up to this point, and I have learned a lot; although many of those lessons I never wanted to be taught. There have certainly been some tough and challenging times that have pushed me to my limits. But in other ways I have been incredibly blessed. Perhaps by sharing the things that got me through the darker days, I can help someone else who is wrestling with their grief.

I hope that if you’re reading this, you do get something out of it, especially if you’ve lost loved ones. And maybe, along the way, you’ll also gain a better understanding of who I am. There’s definitely more to me than the girl from Pakuranga who, many years ago, won a beauty contest.

Life, Loss, Love

by Lorraine Downes

From the heady days of her Miss Universe win to the tragic death of her soulmate Martin Crowe, Lorraine Downes' life has been full of highs and lows.

More details