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living: cover story




Amber Peebles is no stranger to the limelight: a former Miss New Zealand and now host of the country’s relaunched MTV. Jack Yan caught up with her while travelling in the US with her new career
photographed by John F. Cooper
make-up by Daniela Shappee
hair by Riad Azar for L’Oréal Professionnel


I CAN NAME three Miss New Zealands off the top of my head: Lorraine Downes, whose success in Miss Universe 1983 was unprecedented for the country; Marina McCartney, who became the director of Miss World New Zealand; and Wellington-born Amber Peebles, who "graduated" from beauty queen to media personality before our eyes in the last two and a half years. It helped that she was Miss World New Zealand for two years, with the changeover in licensee, and finally got to fulfil her duties on the Red Chinese island of Sanya in 2004.
   I initially interviewed Peebles in what was probably her first in-depth story in 2003, after meeting her at L’Oréal New Zealand Fashion Week that year. As a trained make-up artist, she worked behind the scenes. That November, we bombed around Auckland in her Suzuki, between my suite at the Cintra Lane Apartments and One Tree Hill, and shot a series of images that she regarded as among her favourites. I was impressed by her spirituality, which she was introduced to during her teenage years, and the maturity that it brought her.
   Getting a post-shoot drink, I got a New York vibe. Call it a psychic prediction. I felt sure that she would be around yellow cabs in the near future, and told her so. Neither of us could work out exactly why, but when I got news that she was indeed venturing there in August 2006 for the MTV Video and Music Awards, I emailed her with a "I told you so". She remembered, responding, ‘I was thinking about that as well! So true!!’ (The double exclamation marks are sincere, incidentally: they are part of a positive, enthusiastic character. Not everyone can get away with them. Peebles can.)
   Going from make-up artist to MTV host was no accident. Nor was it always easy to watch. Peebles was beautiful as Miss World New Zealand, wearing self-designed gowns among others, and befriending Queenie Chu, Miss World Hong Kong in 2004 whose mother was ill during the pageant. Peebles was getting over the death of her brother Geoffrey only months before.
   There were covers for Madison (no relation to the magazine of this name that exists today), a shoot for Nightline with Kylie Minogue’s hairdresser, before returning to print with the Auckland-centric City Mix. She reported from the Melbourne Cup for terrestial network TV3.
   There was a spell on Sing Like a Superstar, where celeb-rities had to perform and, in some cases, demonstrate just how good New Zealand Idol rejects were. Peebles hung in for many weeks so she was among the better singers, and while the show will never go down in history as classic television, it was the beginnings of ‘Amber Peebles’, as opposed to ‘Amber Peebles, former Miss World New Zealand.’
   She guested on Mike King’s short-lived chat show on the same night as Lance Henriksen, and kept herself in the limelight with frequent appearances in the social pages with boyfriend Brooke Howard-Smith.
   There is, however, plenty of substance. Make-up artist, certainly (it’s still how she is identified on the electoral roll), but she has been a journalist for radio (the Edge), magazines (both the defunct Max and this title, testing the Ford Territory), and a clothing designer—the Miss World gowns, numerous clothes inspired by Lucire covers, and the lace top on the opening spread are her designs.
   But it is the MTV gig that propels Peebles into the mainstream. While not a network show like Howard-Smith’s Target, it is prime-time, and it increases her visibility, at age 23, no end. Perhaps unlike Lorraine Downes, Amber Peebles can discard the "former beauty queen" qualifier for good. Even in her own mind, she finds the title odd: ‘It’s weird to think about it like that. I’m just thankful to have a job and a job that I love, to be honest.
   ‘The "former beauty queen" thing still cracks me up. It never seems like they are talking about me.’


Read our exclusive six-page cover story on Amber Peebles in Lucire issue no. 20. Subscribe here.



Clothing credits: Zambesi

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Amber Peebles, Miss World New Zealand 2003–4, talks to Lucire about her make-up training, her experience in Japan and her spirituality by Jack Yan
Photographed by the author