By Carolynne Dear for Expat Parent
Natasha Clausen, otherwise known as this year’s ‘Mrs Hong Kong World’, is currently gathering her gowns and polishing her pose for the 2019 Mrs World finals in China in the new year. I catch up with her on a steamingly hot day in Central as she takes time for lunch between meetings.
Dreams of winning a beauty crown tend to be associated with young girls in their teens, but the Mrs World competition has the laudable aim of celebrating married women who are ‘devoted to community service’. It has its roots in the Mrs America contest that was set up in the 1970s and was the first pageant to celebrate the ‘uniqueness of the married woman’.
The feminist in me is shuddering slightly at the ‘Mrs’ bit – surely we shouldn’t be celebrated for being legally attached to a man these days? – but I have to admit the sentiment behind the pageant is meritorious. As Clausen points out, just winning the title in Hong Kong has provided her with a much greater platform for promoting her community message of tolerance, environmentalism and inclusivity this year. If she takes the worldwide crown, there will be no stopping her.
However, it is a beauty pageant and these nobler aspirations haven’t stopped the UK’s redoubtable tabloids from plastering their front covers with headlines such as ‘World’s HOTTEST wives compete’, followed by a selection of suitably suggestive selfies – those red-tops aren’t going to sell themselves, after all.
But Clausen remains unruffled. Absolutely stunning in real life – as a woman of a similar age I feel myself wishing I hadn’t eaten quite such a large bowl of pasta the night before and maybe worn something slightly more glam – she’s completely charming and proceeds to generously donate a large slice of her time to our interview. Where most interviewees are keen to escape once the main course is finished, Clausen orders more tea, more coffee and keeps chatting.
As a born-and-bred South African, I wonder about her suitability to be representing Hong Kong. But having renounced her South African citizenship in 2011, she is these days officially Chinese and a proud passport holder – “We (she and her South African husband) have committed everything to Hong Kong, heart, soul and finances,” she tells me. Her Chinese name – Ko Lai Ting – was gifted to her by a village neighbour. “I’m still not 100% on what it means, but I think it’s all good,” she laughs.
Last year’s Mrs Hong Kong World, Alice Lee Giannetta, who went on to become the first Chinese woman to win the Mrs World title, was born in Taiwan, works in New York as a litigation attorney and describes herself as ‘Asian American’, so it would seem any criticism of Clausen’s credentials would be both unfounded and slightly unfair. Racial inclusivity is the name of the game after all, as Clausen points out.
Now a long-term resident of Lantau, Clausen was born in South Africa in 1975 in the diamond-mining town of Namaqualand and raised in Cape Town. The only child of a single mum, Clausen says her mother instilled in her the values of hard work and kindness at an early age. She studied at Cape Technikon, graduating with a marketing and communications degree, and went to work in a bank – but never felt entirely comfortable with her career choice. So she studied personal fitness training at night-school, which led to a career in pre- and post-natal yoga.
It was at this point that she met her husband. Checking in at Cape Town airport for a flight, a young man offered to help her with her bags. “No thank you!” she briskly replied. Once on board, it turned out the chap in question had ensured he was seated next to the beautiful brunette. “And we immediately fell into conversation for the entire flight,” she says. “Within 30 minutes he’d jokingly proposed to me. I didn’t say yes – but I didn’t say no either,” she smiles. Eighteen months after meeting, they were married.
In 2001, her husband was relocated to Hong Kong and they arrived, as many expats do, with just a couple of bags and a lot of ambition. She found work running prenatal yoga and baby massage classes at the YWCA and shortly afterwards gave birth herself; to daughter Savanna in 2003, and son Hunter in 2007.
Not just a yogi with a pretty face, Clausen has many more strings to her bow. She is also, rather unexpectedly, an apiarist. Along with her husband, she is one of Hong Kong’s go-to bee-experts and the couple is regularly called upon to humanely remove unwanted bees’ nests across the city. The colonies are brought back to the small family farm that the couple has cultivated in the middle of Lantau. I suggest a bee farm is a somewhat unusual direction to take.
“We have a truffle farm in Italy,” she says. “Our neighbours, who are farmers and beekeepers, taught us about the importance of bees. So we decided to set-up a bee-rescue farm here in Hong Kong.”
A true ‘wild heart’, her compassion extends to a herd of goats that were recently introduced to the farm. “My son’s teacher wanted me to bring one of the baby goats in for show-and-tell,” she says. “So we spent several weeks practising leaving the farm for lengthening periods of time so the goat wouldn’t be too stressed.”
Clausen last year set herself the challenge of rising before dawn every day of the year so she could witness all 365 sunsets over a beach close to her home. “And I nearly achieved it!” she laughs. Another year she shaved off all her hair and donated it to charity. “I wanted the monks to cut it off to make the action more meaningful, but when I went to the monastery and was trying to explain what I wanted them to do, they thought I was trying to become a nun.” Her husband rescued the situation by stepping in with the scissors.
She says the Mrs Hong Kong entry came around completely by accident. Her daughter Savanna had been asked to model for a friend and Clausen went along to the shoot as chaperone. She got chatting to the photographer who told her about the competition.
“It wasn’t something that had been on my radar,” she says. “I didn’t really know what it was.”
The Mrs Hong Kong selection process turned out to be less catwalk and costume-changes and more powerpoint and presentations. It transpires the Mrs Hong Kong title is the perfect platform from which to spread the word about Clausen’s personal community platform, I CAN WORLD. It’s a movement dedicated to empowering kids and encouraging young people to explore the 17 global sustainable development goals created by the United Nations (UN) for countries to work towards by 2030. These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequality, responsible consumption, sustainable communities and peace and justice.
It’s ambitiously far-reaching and Clausen is partnering locally to achieve at least some of the goals for Hong Kong. She has been working with family platforms mommydaddy.me and Love Powered Co and (at the time of our interview) was pitching to partner with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to broadcast a series of radio shows addressing the environment. (She emails a few weeks after our interview to confirm that she won the contract, working alongside friend and former BBC journalist Helena Appio. The 13-part series will be called We Care About A Green Hong Kong and broadcast through RTHK’s community involvement service, CIBS. “The series aims to discuss how we, as Hong Kong citizens, can explore, share and put into action ideas for improving our environment,” she says. “Every single citizen can make a change, even a small one, in their daily life that will have a positive impact.”).
From helping teen volunteers hand out supplies at homeless shelters, to lending her support to ethical brands, Clausen’s energy for empowering positive change in the community is boundless.
On top of this, she’s still instructing yoga, coaching wellness and working as brand ambassador for Glow Spa & Salon in Central. And of course there are the bees and goats to manage in her scraps of spare time, as well as being a mum.
A typical week for Clausen includes a smattering of high profile promotional events (think product launches, store openings, media interviews, shoots and charity lunch presentations), plus meetings to support her I CAN WORLD campaign. Her Instagram grid is a happy montage of glamorous events, inspirational quotes and getting down with the kids. I’m particularly enamoured of the image of her cheerfully painting a beehive; in a another she is in full ‘bee’ regalia, about to rescue a nest in somebody’s bathroom. She absolutely looks to be living her best life.
“It’s important to stay positive,” she says. Each morning she has her kids recite a mantra about being kind and doing their best, which is something she strives to live her own day by, too. “And if I’m struggling, there are always shoes!” she laughs. “Oh my god, shoe shopping is my big vice!”
She’s heading straight from our interview to a high glamour Bulgari event (hence the towering heels and super slick outfit) but is more than happy to pose for a few shots at our lunch venue, Dear Lilly. “It’s very cool in here,” she says, as the waiters fall over themselves to take her i-phone for her.
And with a big hug (“I always aim for 12 hugs a day!” she cheerfully informs me) and an enormous smile, she’s off. I wish her the best of luck next year.
Mrs World 2019 takes place on March 6-17 in Zhangjiajie, China. Forty countries and territories will be represented, including Hong Kong.