On September 12, 2011 Leila Lopes made history as the first woman from Angola to win the Miss Universe crown. The 26-year-old beauty quickly won over the capacity crowd in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the audience chant for “Angola” grew louder making it a struggle for the competition’s hosts to be heard. Leila is only the fourth woman from Africa in the pageant’s sixty year history to win the Miss Universe title.
Leila was born in Angola's southern Benguela province, a place she is quick to praise for its beautiful beaches, kind people and amazing food. As the eldest daughter of seven children, Leila cites her family as a positive influence in her life and the source of her strength. Leila was born during Angola’s twenty-seven year Civil War (1975-2002) which gave her a deep appreciation for life and taught her to “make the most of every day.” Since peace was declared nine years ago, Angola has been focused on infrastructure and development, a fact of which Leila is particularly proud. She says, “Angola is a country rich in natural resources and infinite possibilities.”
Before being crowned Miss Universe 2011, Leila attended school for business management at Suffolk University in Ipswich, England. It was during this time she decided to participate in her country’s national beauty pageant. Leila not only won the Photogenic Award, but the prestigious title of Miss Universe Angola 2011, gaining her the right to represent Angola in the 2011 MISS UNIVERSE® Pageant.
A strong, confident woman who is not afraid of a challenge, Leila says: “As Miss Universe, I want to show the world that there is more to Africa than poverty, hunger and disease. I want people to know that Africa has a lot to offer and that my country of Angola is not only beautiful, but it is a country that is developing socially, economically and culturally.”
As Miss Universe, Leila uses her title to champion HIV/AIDS prevention and works with organizations such as YouthAIDS/PSI, Latino Commission on AIDS, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, among others. She was also named Drylands Ambassador by the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in an effort to combat land degradation – an issue that affects not only her country but the entire continent of Africa.
Leila has been making waves in the media since winning the title and has been featured on the cover of publications such as New African Woman and Selecta Magazine. She also took her passion for fashion and hit the runway for designers, such as SACHIKA and Rolando Santana, during the 2012 New York Fashion Week.
Leila hopes the Miss Universe title will give her the power to help people from her native country of Angola to further escape a history of war and impoverishment. Leila says, “Being Miss Universe is much more than having a sash and crown. It is about taking pride in my commitment to serving as an ambassador to my country, and to women everywhere.”
In her spare time Leila enjoys reading and spending time with family and friends. After her reign, she hopes to obtain her degree and pursue her dream of opening a cosmetics company in Angola.