HomeLifestyle & TravelHealth & BeautyDown-to-earth gal full of surprises

Down-to-earth gal full of surprises

The famous quote from the movie Forest Gump, ‘My mama always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,’ is probably the best way to describe Ella Bella Leite, director of Miss Earth South Africa. She sure is like a box of chocolates, full of pleasant surprises.

We recently caught up with Ella-Bella and she shared her interesting story which is filled with a number of wonderful surprises. Ella-Bella lives in Bedfordview where she and her family lead colourful and busy lives. She is married to Dr Mark Leite and they have two children – Luke, who is six years old (his African name is Neo, which means gift) and Anastasia, who is four years old (her African name is Mbalenhle, which means beautiful flower).

And yes, right here is the first surprise she brings up in the interview, the fact that her children also carry African names.

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But let’s start at the beginning, her childhood years, to get a better understanding of what makes her tick, what drives her and find out about the biggest loves in her life.

Ella Bella grew up in Mondeor where she attended Mondeor Primary and Mondeor High schools. She was a learner who thrived and ‘loved every minute of school. These where the best years filled with wonderful teachers, friends and memories.’ For her it was about sport, fashion shows, friends and home economics.

At home, she was allowed to explore in many ways and her creative father had her and her siblings, Catherine and ‘laat-lammetjie’ brother, Mixali, searching for Thumbelina and Tom Thumb in the garden.

‘I loved my childhood. Weekends consisted of my mum creating many delicious things in the kitchen for the many people that always came to our house on a weekend. I loved playing hide-and-seek, riding bikes and playing ball, with my sister and brother.

‘My dad was out in the garden, cutting, pruning, fixing or cleaning something in the garage, and my siblings and I would learn something new, either in the kitchen with mom, or with our aunty Anna Stella (or as we call her Annoula). Alternatively we would play in the house and while waiting for our ‘big fat Greek’ family to descend on us.’

It was during all these moments with these amazing people, who were integral in her childhood, that her passion for food, people and the planet came about.

‘My aunt taught me about people and education. My mom taught and shared her passion for our faith, our family, life and food, and my dad taught us about loving others, loving the garden, and being true to ourselves. We walked in nature with him, and did charity drives together; my father was our very own gentle and strong giant.’

And today, as a mother and wife, she brings the values of kindness, big family lunches, nature, charity, laughter and a deep love and respect for God, home to her children.

The loves of her life

Ella Bella met her husband in a rather unusual turn of events at Bedford Centre.

‘Mark was singing in a band at Bedford Centre and I asked the lady next to me the name of the band and proceeded to tell her that I thought that the tall, dark singer was very handsome.

‘She proceeded to tell me that it was her son.

‘I then attempted to change the conversation into a professional discussion and asked for the band’s details. That was 21 years ago and he’s been singing to me ever since.’

Already mentioned, they have two children and her favourite leisure time with her family is sharing cappuccinos and babyccinos.

‘I love teaching my little people Zulu, and the best part of the weekend is getting to go to church and sharing bible stories with my children.

‘Must-go spots in Bedfordview include the monthly Bedford Night Market, Papachinos and Adventure Golf in Greenstone. We also love going to the Landing in Dunvegan and visiting the community park.’

About motherhood

She describes motherhood as the most significant role she’s ever had to be responsible for. ‘It comes with great sacrifice, great joy and happiness. My children are the centre of my universe. I believe that I continue to grow with my children. They are God’s blessing to me and I embrace this with everything that I am.’

There are also no specific special moments she can recall being a mum. It simply comprises everything which includes her children.

‘LOL. I also honestly never realised that two children could be so different and this calls on individual parenting skills for each. From pregnancy to breastfeeding, to late night wakes up, to early morning chaos. Whether its bath time, garden time, play time, TV time, eating time – my time with my children is precious.

‘The moments are too many to count. Their special little words and actions go straight to my heart. My sister was on an international trip. On her return, we collected her from the airport and Luke said, “Hi Catherine, welcome back to the family.” Anastasia said, “Hello Catherine, I used your make-up while you were away.’’

‘My greatest achievements are my two little people, who eagerly learn Zulu and love to surprise people daily.

‘I’ve loved watching my husband be an amazing father and I’m privileged to have watched him step into that role so effortlessly and so wholeheartedly. I am

grateful for the love and emotion that these youngsters have brought into our extended family.’

Ella Bella the professional

When asked about her background from her very first job to where she is today, she said: ‘Over time, some things remain the same and some things change completely. It is very important that you remain true to yourself.

‘My first job was at a small school in Soweto, called DD Dliwayo Primary School. One pencil was shared by all the learners in the class. This led to me starting up a stationery drive which today is 20 years old and very impactful.

‘I was also able to hone my isiZulu speaking skills as my learners needed my assistance in their home language and my fellow teachers and I would prepare lessons, in Zulu, after school.

‘I have 20 years of experience of working and uplifting communities. I am also able to communicate competently in Zulu and I am a director of the Miss Earth South Africa, of which I am super proud.’

For her, the most significant and most important part of what she does is the fact that she wants to bring hope for a better future.

‘I believe and pray that the work I do, in the communities that I work in, changes and impacts the lives of people and children around me, I believe that when you change a moment in a child’s life, you provide them with hope, love and something to live for.’

Overcoming her worst challenges

‘I believe that challenges are a natural part of life. My hardest period had to be watching my father’s health deteriorate.


We lost him a little more each day and that was soul destroying.

At a point we had to realise that we had to take on an adult role of caring for him. It was mind-bending to know the strength of this man and to see him getting more ill over the years.

I am grateful for the time we had together, but this pain is something that will always be with me.’

Future prospects and words of inspiration

Asking her where she sees herself in her career, she smiled and said, ‘I will be a mother of tweens in 10 years and that’s a scary thought. I would like to write a book on sustainable living that includes motherhood, cooking, wellness and looking at the world through green lenses.’

With so much to look forward to, we had to ask if there is something new and exciting on the horizon she would like to share.

‘I will be filming for TV, so watch this space, as I take the silver screen by storm …’

And if she could, what words of inspiration would she love to give to other women out there?

‘Believe in yourself and stand for what you believe is right. Don’t sweat the

small stuff and don’t make your problem bigger than you are. Always keep your perspective.’

Off the cuff:

  • Do you prefer sunshine or rain?

You can’t have sunshine without the rain.

  • Do you prefer food, art or travel?

Food and travel. I love my art but I don’t know if I would get any extra points for it.

  • What do you always have with you?

My husband always teases me about having two of everything for “just in case”. He’s been asking me if I have a second husband, but I can assure you I don’t – I just like to be prepared.

  • What is your ultimate spoil?

Date night, movie and dinner at a fancy place, with my special husband. I appreciate and am grateful for the relationship that we have, as it is based on trust, respect and love. We talk about everything and do everything together. A marriage needs full-time commitment and effort.

  • What is your pet peeve?

People who have road rage and people that eat with their mouth open. Oh, and I also go crazy when I see people throwing things out of their car windows.

  • What is the motto you live by?

Be kind to those around you, not because of who they are, but because of who you are.

  • If you could describe your life in three words, what would that be?

Eat. Pray. Love.

  • If there is one thing in the world you could change, what would that be?

I would rid the world of greed, jealousy, pride and violence.

  • Which celebs (four at the most) would you like to have dinner with?

Dolly Parton, Wangari Mathai, Maya Angelou and my late grandmother Catherine Papageorgiou (to me she is a celebrity and I am her biggest fan)


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