Tiaras and stilettos are a world away from the mathematical equations and whiteboards that are part of daily life for Aucklander Elena Turner who, at 45, is not a typical New Zealand beauty queen.
The striking Russian-born, 168cm brunette is also a busy mum of four and high school maths teacher, who struggles with her weight, but last year began her quest to become Mrs New Zealand.
With no prior modelling experience, Elena transformed herself into a beauty queen, putting herself on a strict weight-loss regime to get down from size 14 to a 10 to claim the title in Auckland last November.
Elena is mum to Katrina (24), Daniel (13) and stepchildren Chelsea (17) and Harrison (15) and credits her eldest child, the controversial director of Miss Bikini New Zealand, for encouraging her to enter the competition. Katrina made headlines in April for her comments that contestants of her beauty pageant needed to “lose weight” and “tone up” in order to represent New Zealand to international standards.
“When my daughter told me, ‘Mum, you have nothing to lose, do it,’ I said ‘No, you are crazy! I can’t walk around in my bikini.’ She told me there wouldn’t be a bikini section, only aerobic wear,” says Elena.
The dark-haired stunner is now gearing up for the most challenging competition of her life, Mrs International, where she’ll vie for the title against more than 60 other married beauty contestants aged between 21 and 56 in Florida at the end of July.
However, her journey to the catwalk has not been easy. “I thought I was too fat. Since entering the competition, I lost 7kg. I changed my diet, started drinking lots more water and went to the gym. I didn’t have the determination to lose weight before, but now I do,” explains Elena.
Since being crowned Mrs New Zealand, Elena has actively supported the Red Cross. But aside from her public charity appearances, her life hasn’t changed much.
“I don’t have much glamour – my life is very ordinary,” says Elena, who teaches mathematics at Western Springs College. “I’m a real woman! I didn’t enter the competition for glamour.
I did it for my personal growth, I wanted to do something different, something new,” adds Elena, who has brains and beauty, armed with a bachelor’s degree in science and a diploma in finance, which she achieved while living in Russia.
While Mrs International contestants are primarily judged on their charity work, physical appearance still has a large part to play. The busy mum confesses to a little help from Botox.
“People say to me, ‘You rush around and you still look good!’ But it doesn’t work like that. I use Botox, I need it! I also use IPL [red light therapy] and go for facials regularly.
It’s not true that you can look amazing and do absolutely nothing. I regularly use avocado masks and olive oil on my skin, I don’t like using expensive creams – they just don’t work for me.”
Elena moved to New Zealand from her native Russia 17 years ago with her first husband, from whom she separated a year later.
She is now married to Alastair Turner, of Turners & Growers heritage, who she says loves her title and tells her, “I can’t believe I’m sleeping with the queen!”
Now a citizen here, she is honoured to be a Russian- crowned Mrs New Zealand.
“I never thought I’d be an international representative of New Zealand. In Russia, beauty pageants are huge. It’s very special that I’m representing New Zealand women when I wasn’t born here.”
But she admits she’s nervous about being on stage in Florida for the event that’ll be televised in more than 100 countries.
“I’m slightly scared because all the other women are like models, they’re perfect!” says Elena.
Elena will be up against a bevy of married women, including NZ’s biggest rival – Mrs Australia, Kate Johnson. But the two are supporting each other in their quest to bring the crown Down Under. It’s currently held by US journalist Amy Gregorio.
Kate is one of Australia’s leading commercial models and, at 30, is a late bloomer in the modelling scene.
“I started at 25. I have a bit of street smarts, as well as education and a story. I don’t just have a pretty face.”
Married for six years to Jason, Kate, a graphic designer, says the modelling industry in Australia is “fiercely competitive”.
“People do anything to get to where they want. I’ve got to where I am through hard work, networking and being friendly. That’s opened more doors than most girls think.”
With a quadriplegic mother and a family history of ovarian cancer, Kate’s been involved in various charitable causes too.
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