13 April 1981 |
Adelaide, South Australia
|Other names||Michelle Lee|
Michelle Leslie (born 13 April 1981), who also works under the name Michelle Lee, is an Australian model. Leslie is best known for her 2005 arrest, conviction and three-month imprisonment (time served) for possessing two ecstasy tablets in Bali, Indonesia. Prior to this she was a model for Antz Pantz and Crystelle lingerie.
Leslie was born in Adelaide, South Australia to Albert and Violeta Leslie. Albert Leslie, her father, was later known both as a former Olympian and as assistant coach to the Adelaide 36ers basketball team. A self-confessed tomboy when young, Michelle Leslie was educated at Sacred Heart College in Adelaide, and became interested in modelling only after her father gave her a course at a modelling school as a 15th birthday present. She enjoyed it enough to undertake a second course, and shortly thereafter left school in order to pursue a full-time modelling career. She soon emerged as one of the "most prominent catwalk and catalogue models" in the state, working for stores such as David Jones and Harris Scarfe.
In 2000 she appeared as one of the 20 finalists in the first series of the Australian Search for a Supermodel reality show, and was first runner-up in the 2000 Miss World Australia pageant held in Darwin. She was "catapulted on to the international catwalk" when her appearance, the product of her Filipina and Australian background, became in demand. As a result she gained work within Asia, appearing under the name "Michelle Lee". Off the catwalks she gained prominence as one of the two models involved in a 2004 Antz Pantz advertising campaign and, prior to this, as the face of the Crystelle lingerie brand.
Arrest and trial
On 21 August 2005 two pills were discovered by police in Michelle Leslie's handbag during her visit to an open-air dance party at GWK park on the Indonesian island of Bali. Police suspected the pills to be illegal substances and she was arrested, with forensic tests subsequently finding the pills to be the drug ecstasy. Urine tests conducted at the time of her arrest showed no evidence of the use of the drug, although a later blood test found traces of amphetamines. Her arrest was the third arrest of an Australian in Bali on drugs charges in twelve months following the Schapelle Corby and Bali Nine cases. This prompted Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, to warn Australians about the dangers of drug possession while travelling in Asia, and led the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, to comment that Australians caught with drugs "can't expect the Government to bail them out."
According to Indonesian police, Leslie claimed that the pills were given to her by a friend, "Mia". Mia was later revealed to be Nameera Azmaan, who was also a model based in Singapore and working out of the Chic Management Agency. Azmaan denied having given the ecstasy to Ms Leslie. At the time of arrest, Leslie was in the company of Azmaan and, allegedly, one of the sons of the then Coordinating Minister for the Economy Aburizal Bakrie and two unidentified men.
On 14 October 2005 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Leslie could possibly be released within weeks as a report from a Sydney doctor had been provided to prosecutors stating that she was addicted to prescription medication. Under Indonesian law this would allow her to be tried as a "user" and benefit from a reduced sentence. The maximum sentence for a user is three months' imprisonment, whereas the maximum penalty for possession is 15 years.
Leslie's trial began on 28 October 2005 in the Denpasar District Court and concluded on 18 November with her being found guilty of using a prohibited substance. She was sentenced to three months in jail but, due to the three months already spent in custody, was freed from Kerobokan prison at about 1 pm on 19 November. Indonesian immigration officials announced that she would be deported from the country due to her guilty conviction. She flew out of Bali to Singapore where she spent time with friends and family before returning to Sydney, Australia on the morning of 22 November.
Alleged conversion to Islam
During her incarceration, Leslie began wearing Islamic dress and announced through a spokesman that she had converted to the Islamic faith some eighteen months prior to her arrest, although some in the media had suggested otherwise—arguing that her conversion was much more recent and an attempt to win favour in court. However, the nature of her belief remains unclear. In an interview after her release, she stated that she did not "really know what makes you or not makes you a Muslim", and that she was "not a practising Muslim". Years later, her religious beliefs continued to spark commentary, with accusations that she was an "on-again, off-again Muslim model" and that she had "introduced the world to disposable Islam".
The change in dress that coincided with her announcement led to further debate, with Leslie choosing to don a burqa on one occasion when she appeared in court, and opting to wear Islamic dress, such as traditional Muslim hijab, until she was released. Strong criticism emerged upon her release when she was seen wearing tight-fitting clothes without the hijab on her departure from the prison. Once she had returned to Australia, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ameer Ali, joined the debate by recommending that she refrain from returning to her former career as "a model for lingerie and underwear", as such behaviour was "not allowed in Islam". In explaining her reasons for adopting the dress, Leslie stated in an interview for 60 Minutes, that the reason she started wearing the hijab while incarcerated was because she was afraid of being sexually assaulted, and to protect herself when she faced the "media scrum". Her decision to wear traditional Islamic dress for protection has since been raised as a defence of sharia law, as it has been suggested that she demonstrated how the "requirement for Muslim women to cover themselves was meant to protect them".
Upon her return to Australia, Michelle Leslie left the Chic Management agency and signed with agent Max Markson. Shortly thereafter she travelled to Cambodia to help raise money for the charity Krousar Thmey, meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni and spending time in local orphanages, before returning home to once again appear on the catwalk. Arriving in time for Australian Fashion Week, her return to the catwalk was in April 2006, modelling swimwear for designer Michael Azzollini.
Although she did have a few modelling jobs after returning to Australia, her career took a different turn when, in 2007, she launched a range of clothing for dogs. Working with friend (and current owner of the business) Traci Griffith, "Miyow & Barkley" had early success when their first range of clothing and accessories sold out shortly after being launched.
- Her date of birth appears in a photograph of her charge sheets, reproduced in Freedom road, The Age, 26 November 2005, p. 8.
- "Supreme Model Revealed". The Advertiser. 22 November 2000. p. 51.
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- "Bali bailout babe Michelle Leslie gets her engagement ring". The Daily Telegraph. 20 August 2009.
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- Taylor, Rob (28 October 2005). "Leslie claims she was on Ritalin". News Limited.
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- Powell, Sian (27 August 2005). "Model sacks lawyer over leak". The Australian.
- "Guilty Leslie set to walk free". News Corporation. 18 November 2005.
- "Leslie gives media the slip". Sydney Morning Herald. 20 November 2005.
- Four days to find Allah Herald Sun, 17 April 2006