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Making more than musicMaking more than music

Laural Barrett, Miss New Zealand 2007, is in Mexico City contending the Miss Universe crown. Jack Yan speaks with her and begins understanding what makes Laural tick and sets her apart
photographed by Camille Sanson
make-up and styling by Michiko Hughes
make-up from Napoleon Perdis Cosmetics
hair by Jock Robson/Dharma

Expanded from issue 24 of Lucire


MISS NEW ZEALAND—or more accurately, to give its full title, Miss Universe New Zealand—was not contro­versial, at least from the judges’ room. It was probably the most clear-cut process one could imagine as Hilary Timmins, Megan Alatini, May Davis, Yvonne Brownlie and I got together and judged the ladies on criteria such as deport­ment and fluency.

After Christchurch’s Laural Barrett was crowned on the night of March 31, the back-stabbing began. Rumours appearing on one web­site indicated conspira­cies and how Barrett, 20, was the anointed winner. The judges, it was alleged, did not do a thing but confirm the rankings of Val Lott, the pageant director.

It was, of course, all bollocks, but it showed how catty pagean­try can get in the age of the blogo­sphere.

Then, the Fairfax Press decided to publish what I regarded as a biased story against Barrett, its tall-poppy motives clear to all involved.

Above all this was Laural Barrett herself, maintaining a lady­like dignity and comment­ing in the most correct terms—something you’d expect a beauty queen to do. In fact, it’s something you’d expect Miss Universe to do. Her press inter­views were poised, and you get the feeling she has seen all of this before.

It’s not too far from the truth. Barrett has lived a good deal of her life in the public eye, but I was surprised to learn just how much her life—and that of her twin sister Sharaine—had been leading up to her win.

I type these words as Barrett competes in Mexico City; they will make it into print a few weeks after her return. Barrett has emailed a few times with updates and how she is enjoying her time at the international pageant, joined by Sharaine (who was runner-up in Miss New Zealand in 2006) and Lott.

Prior to her involvement in the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant, the Barrett twins had become care­givers to Genesis White, a young mother who had been brain-damaged in a car accident some years ago. There was no fake PR set-up here: as Barrett tells the story, their involvement with White is one of a sisterly connection with a young woman their own age.

Barrett humorously describes White as ‘very naughty,’ and their visits include ‘turning the music on loud to make it fun for her.’

However, the twins are better known not for social respon­sibility—the must-have domain of all beauty queens, it seems—but their appear­ances on the Christchurch and Auckland musical scenes as singers.

After being crowned Miss New Zealand, the sisters even appeared on TV One’s Good Morning to perform—rehearsing in the author’s car since they had not seen each other for over a week.

‘We’ve been singing since we were five. Mum dragged us into it,’ recalls Barrett. ‘From 12, we went into a band, writing music. When we were 15, we signed a deal with a manager in Auckland.’

They have appeared on an Australian compila­tion CD, Dance Now 2003, and had briefly moved to Sydney where they met an American music exec­utive with whom they entered into a develop­ment deal. From there, the sisters lived in Los Angeles for a while, Sharaine returning first while Laural stayed on for a few extra months. ‘I learned a lot about the industry,’ she said.

In addition to vocal training—the performance I heard was arguably strong—Barrett has been taking acting classes, aware that in the 2000s, gaining a profile as an entertainer neces­sitates being multi-talented. Despite being Miss New Zealand, singing remains both sisters’ first love.

‘Singing is my comfort zone,’ the elder Barrett states.

She describes her mother—a South Carolinian—as ‘very indepen­dent and very successful. She has done stuff by herself. I don’t think I need to rely on anyone.’

Coupled with that independent drive is a belief that things happen at the right time for the right reasons. The sisters’ develop­ment deal with the Californian company only came about at Sydney Airport because their flights were changed and they met the executive by chance.

While the Barrett twins might seem to have been two girls who left after high school to hit the entertainment circuit, they have dabbled in property, having found the capital to invest in their first house and sold it after renovations.

From this point, it became apparent that any back­ground story on Laural Barrett must be, in part,

Above: Laural and her sister Sharaine, with the Peugeot 207 HDI at Avalon Studios (photographed by the author).

shared with that of her twin sister. While very different in nature—I spent some time at Welling­ton Airport with Sharaine as we waited for her sister’s late plane—the two iden­tical twins have shared many events in their lives. There is a big sister–little sister relation­ship (Laural is the elder; there is the eldest sister, Krystal, who is 23), and despite driving the same brand of car, they admit to one being tidier than the other.

But there is no Corsican syndrome—a question Barrett says she confronts regularly.

‘When I was in America, I was there for four months by myself. I would wake up [feeling] miserable. Then I would get a phone call and it was Sharaine, upset, because she missed me.’ She says they do finish sentences for each other, but when they are together, the psychic connection doesn’t noticeably come into play.

All this travel—with stints living in Sydney and Los Angeles—has made Barrett a cosmo­politan young woman. ‘A lot of people think I’m a lot older than 20,’ she says. This certainly helped her chances in Miss New Zealand, and the confidence is bound to help at Miss Universe.

The most obvious difference between the sisters is that Laural dyed her hair blonde. ‘I dyed it back two years ago, but it just wasn’t the same. People look at blondes differently. They take brunettes more seriously.’

However, despite being in the public eye, the world of beauty pageants was still ‘a shock’ to Barrett.

She had only entered one pageant before at 16 in Red China, a minor one called the New Silk Road Model Look 2003. There, she had three weeks to herself, but it did not fully prepare her for Miss New Zealand.

‘I was so nervous,’ she says. ‘It was good. It boosted my confidence. I really worked hard: I slimmed down a lot, and feel way better about myself.’

Ten minutes before the show on March 31, she says her nerves heightened, but ‘halfway [through], after the swimwear, I was relaxed and happy.’

She does say that her favourite movie is Selena, the bio-pic about singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez starring Jennifer Lopez, and not Titanic, the answer she gave to a surprise question from Timmins toward the end of the evening.

When Barrett’s name was announced, her reaction was one of shock and sur­prise—exactly what one would expect to see at a beauty pageant.

At Miss Universe, Barrett has appeared in many of the webcasts and publicity photo­graphs, comfortable before the international photo and video cameras.

I had advised her to not be nervous, passing on some informa­tion given to me by Miss Universe 1983 Lorraine Downes in late March.

Downes told me that she won because she remem­bered that she should not be intimidat­ed. Miss Vene­zuela, she recalled, would go in to Miss Universe with an entourage of 15, each member wearing a jacket with the country’s name em­blazoned on the back. ‘I had to tell myself that only my performance on the night mattered.’

Another Miss New Zealand—specifically Miss World New Zealand 2003–4 and MTV host Amber Pee­bles—says that while she had not met Barrett, she believes she has the right look and manner to help New Zealand go far.

Sylvia Laurenson, who came runner-up to Barrett, speaks highly of her rival, saying that they have become firm friends. In Laurenson’s view, the win could not have gone to a more deserving contestant. The two have remained in regular contact.

It appears that the Barrett–Laurenson friend­ship is genuine, especially as Barrett explains that others have not always taken to her and her sister.

‘Being twins, we do not have a lot of girl friends, because they can be nasty and bitchy. We know who our real friends are. We stay away from the negativity,’ she says.

I submit that it could be envy, during a drive with the sisters on another day for a coffee. Barrett clarifies that it is not to do with looks. I began under­standing what she meant, based on my career, and advised her that some people are born to be visionaries, who are set to do things different­ly from all their peers. Without them, the world never advances. The comment seemed to have struck a chord: perhaps there is a greater scheme at work. Whatever the case, Barrett seems to have the sort of star quality to carry through her title as Miss New Zealand, understanding that to fuel her musical career, she needs to conquer as many media as possible.

Barrett finishes the interview reiterating her dharma: ‘Music is what we want to do.’

Somehow, I think she may wind up creating far more than that. •


See more of Camille Sanson’s images full size in issue 24 of Lucire along with an update on Laural’s progress. Pre-order this issue.


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Miss Universe New Zealand 2007 official sponsor

Laural Barrett, photographed by Camille Sanson
Miranda Brown cream cape


Laural Barrett, photographed by Camille Sanson
Billabong jacket; Kathryn Wilson black boots; black singlet (stylist’s own)


Laural Barrett, photographed by Camille Sanson
Canterbury New Zealand black-and-white striped shirt dress; Kathyrn Wilson silver and white trainers; Louis Vuitton white–cream hair baubles; Louis Vuitton dark glitter sunglasses; Louis Vuitton stone bucket bag


Clothing stockists

Louis Vuitton, 64 9 358-0422; Yvonne Bennetti, 64 9 361-2388; Kathryn Wilson shoes, 64 9 379-7879; Canterbury New Zealand, 64 9 379-7879; Miranda Brown, 64 9 379-7879.

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