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Jennifer Hawkins owes a lot to Donald Trump. The co-owner of the Miss Universe pageant (until last year) took a liking to the unknown Australian way back in 2004, influencing her winning of the competition and continuing to support her both publicly and personally ever since, from putting her up in an apartment in New York for a year following her crowning to describing her as “the most beautiful Miss Universe I have seen in many, many years”.
Until a few months ago, Hawkins was comfortable to return the compliments, telling the Daily Telegraph in August: “He inspired me to keep going and follow my heart.”
“He’s really passionate and really driven. He’s like, ‘What’s next?’ He prompts you to think, ‘All right, what is next?”
But in recent weeks, as the US presidential candidate’s behaviour and statements have become more outrageous, divisive and dangerous, Hawkins has pulled back on her public support of the Republican leader. According to the Daily Telegraph, she cancelled a series of interviews after being repeatedly asked for her thoughts on him.
But the model and entrepreneur found herself backed into a corner on Saturday when footage of Trump degrading her on stage at a conference in Sydney back in 2011 resurfaced and was published by every major news website in Australia and America – all while she was on duty for Myer at Derby Day in Melbourne.
In the video, Trump calls Hawkins up on stage to deliberately humiliate her after she initially refused to introduce him at the event (she claims there was a miscommunication with her management). He not only denigrates her in front of the stadium of thousands but even makes an uncomfortable sexual comment about her.
But even after this, the Myer face will still not say a bad word about Trump.
“Just on that whole subject, Donald and his family I have to say, have always been respectful to me,” she told News Corp Australia at Derby Day.
“So as much as everyone wants me to bag him, it’s not in my nature. I don’t like drama, I don’t like to get into politics publicly, so that’s why I’ve kind of, not avoided it, just haven’t openly been out there.”
It’s a tough situation. She owes her career and multi-million dollar empire in part to Trump, so regardless of what she thinks of him, publicly slamming him is unlikely to be in her best interest. But could failing to separate herself from his controversial views damage her brand?
There’s no doubt Hawkins, like everyone, can’t wait for the US election to be over – as long as Trump doesn’t end up in the Whitehouse.