More than just a beauty queen
Harriet James @harriet86jim
October 19, 1999 is a day that Esther Muthee aka Laydi Esther will never forget. She was just 24 years and had been crowned the coveted Miss World Kenya— something that had been her childhood dream.
Amongst those that cheered her on was her mother, Monicah Wangui Muthee who had watched her daughter grow through the years and encouraged her to pursue a career in modelling.
“Winning Miss Kenya for her was surreal. At first, she did not believe it and her late sister, Ann Muthee, kept on pinching her because of the excitement.
I had watched her work smart for it and I thanked God that she received what she had been dreaming of,” begins her mother. Monicah is proud of her daughter’s achievement to date.
Being her second born daughter, Monicah named Esther after her mother, according to Kikuyu traditions. She recalls how petite Esther was when she was young.
“Her father was bothered by how skinny her legs were. I once took her to a doctor as I was worried she was not feeding well.
The doctor had a good laugh at me and assured me that she was as fit as a fiddle,” she recalls.
Esther, according to her mother, has always been obedient and studious. From the time she knew how to speak, Esther had been a go-getter and easily interacted with people.
As a mother, Monicah taught her children to be ambitious and to pursue their dreams regardless of any challenge.
Nurturing a winner
“I taught them to share and touch the heart of others. To work hard. They appreciate that now they have homes to run,” Monicah says.
While at Tigoni Primary School and Loreto High School, Monicah recalls how her daughter’s determination and hard work made her emerge the best in various fields such as Science Congress, best in class, bell ringer, subject recognitions, neatness, and a leader in entertainment, among others. The beauty queen also loved acting, singing and modelling.
“She always participated in contests. It is in her. As a family, we stood by her and celebrated with her,” she adds.
Today, modelling is portrayed as a glamorous, fancy career, which is all about expensive clothing and shoes, meeting important, famous people, chasing fame and recognition, earning a lot of money and travelling the world.
But the society that Esther grew up was different. The career was criticised and considered ‘cheap’, especially one had to model in clothes such as swim wear.
But Monicah was always there to encourage her daughter to keep on with her dream and not listen to nay sayers.
“I encouraged her to keep on modelling. She participated in Miss Village Market, Miss Dar, Miss Ukambani, among others.
Sometimes she would win in competitions, sometimes she would lose. But I was there to comfort her and assure her that she would win next time,” she says.
In 1997, Esther tried out her acting skills and got a role as a lead actress, Saikati, in the movie Saikati, an inspiring story on the plight of a Maasai flying nurse who struggles to find a balance between the traditional and contemporary life.
But it was Esther’s elder sister, Jacqueline, who encouraged her to cast her net wider in modelling and enroll for Miss Kenya competition in 1999, and she won.
“She travelled to London for Miss World contest and met 93 beauties from around the globe.
It was both a fun and an enlightening moment for her too as she interacted with intelligent people, travelled and did a couple of charitable events together as well.
She still keeps in touch with some of the models to date,” says her mother
Though she did not bring the crown home, here in Kenya, Esther began a lot of initiatives, most adressing the plight of children during her reign.
“She wanted all children to have basic needs in order to have a level playing field.
She is grateful to the media and her sponsors who assisted her in charitable ventures,” Monicah says.
In as much as it was a great journey, the beauty queen wishes that she had more funding to assist many more children.
Compared to her time, Esther feels that a lot has changed and that the Internet has made the world one small village such that even the conservative Africans have now embraced beauty pageantry.
“Esther is glad to see young girls pursuing their dreams and ambitions in the beauty world with dignity and without being seen as going against the grain,” she adds.
Esther took a break from the limelight to work in the corporate world briefly and also pursue her Master’s degree in International Business Administration- (Finance) at United States International University- Africa (USIU) in 2004. She now runs her own business in corporate finance as well.
During this Covid-19 period, she resurrected her childhood passion in music and recorded a song dubbed, Light.
Her mother recalls how when she was young Esther would belt out tunes she heard on radio or from her father’s albums. Her father loved music and would have a collection of albums.
“Esther loved singing when she was young. She received a lot of compliments for her singing even in karaokes.
Her new song is about how each one of us can be a light and brighten each other’s life, especially during this Covid-19 season.
This is the time to embrace humanity and share our love with one another,” says Monicah.
Through her music, Esther desires to encourage people that together they can still make the world a better place. In future, she would like to perform on the global stage.
“The possibilities are endless and she is always willing to learn. She knows that she will have to work smart and put in the time, but through prayers and discipline nothing is impossible. She is enjoying every step of the way,” Monicah concludes.