CANADA

'Sweet as chocolate'

A beauty queen faces a media storm after she is charged with assault

SUSANNE HILLER November 11 1996
CANADA

'Sweet as chocolate'

A beauty queen faces a media storm after she is charged with assault

SUSANNE HILLER November 11 1996

'Sweet as chocolate'

A beauty queen faces a media storm after she is charged with assault

CANADA

Shortly before Danielle House graduated from Grade 12 at the only school in the tranquil fishing village of Daniel’s Harbour, Nfld., her classmates voted her the person most likely to become a celebrity. Last week, their prediction came true. After being charged with assaulting a young woman in a St. John’s bar, the tall, slim 20-year-old House—who was crowned Miss Canada International on Aug. 27—found herself in the eye of a media storm. Tabloid reporters from across the continent, including representatives of the National Enquirer and television’s Hard Copy and A Current Affair, besieged her with interview requests, all of which she turned down. Jay Leno, meanwhile, made the former Miss Newfoundland and Labrador the butt of late-night jokes. “I never would have dreamt that something this awful would happen and then make me famous,” House told Maclean’s, her voice cracking with emotion. “It’s sad, really.”

The highly publicized barroom incident took place on Oct. 18. House, who is in the third year of a nursing program at Memorial University in St. John’s, had gone to see a concert by a local band, The Irish Descendants, and then wandered over to the campus bar, the Breezeway. It was there, said House, that she bumped into her exboyfriend and his new girlfriend. Because of the pending court proceedings, House’s lawyers have told her not to discuss details that led to the other woman allegedly being punched in the face, suffering facial injuries and a chipped tooth. All the same, House, who is slated to enter a plea on Nov. 8, says she is anxious to tell her side of the story. “It’s so frustrating for me not to be able to defend myself,” she adds. “I’m very eager to get the truth out. The media have made it sound like there were chairs and tables flying. It wasn’t like that. There is so much the public does not know.”

During a brief news conference in St. John’s last week, a tearful House read from a prepared statement in which she said, “I have suffered the experiences of emotional and physical abuse prior to this incident and I wish to say that it had a direct impact in regards to this matter.” She later told Maclean’s that the alleged abuse at the hands of a former boyfriend had mainly to do with “mind games, harassment. He wouldn’t let me move on with my life and would say things that made me feel terrible.” House, who describes herself as “a very private person,” adds that she never thought she would be making such a public confession. “It’s hard to talk about, but I’ve decided I should go public,” she says. “I want to let other girls know that anyone can get involved in a damaging relationship. I didn’t really know what I was in at the time. But I received counselling after it ended and I’m getting counselling now.”

House says that she has been so distraught over her arrest that she missed her midterm exams and plans to take the rest of the school term off. Her brush with unwelcome celebrity has also resulted in her disqualification from an international beauty pageant to be held in Jamaica on Nov. 23. According to pageant organizer Henry Antoine, the contest is not open to anyone charged with a criminal offence or involved in a situation that has “brought her into public disrepute, scandal, contempt or ridicule.” On the other hand, Sylvia Stark, director of the Miss Canada International Pageant, says she did not even consider dethroning the Newfoundland beauty. Instead, House will finish out her reign, touring the country and attending events such as this month’s Grey Cup parade in Hamilton. Stark, who says she has received hundreds of letters, faxes and calls in support of House, adds that “anybody who has worked with her or who knows her understands how seriously she takes her position as a public figure and what a good person she is.”

Much of the support for House is coming from fellow Newfoundlanders. On the only road leading into her home community, a village of 400 people on the island’s rugged west coast, stands a sign that reads: “Welcome to Daniel’s Harbour: Home of Miss Canada International, Danielle House.” Residents had spent weeks raising more than $3,000 through bingos, potluck dinners and dances to help send House to Jamaica for this month’s pageant. Following the charges, a petition supporting House quickly garnered 800 signatures from people in Daniel’s Harbour and neighboring communities. ‘We were all very disappointed,” says Abe Payne, principal of Holy Cross All-Grade school in Daniel’s Harbour. “We don’t know exactly what happened but we support her, regardless. Danielle was a model student. Quiet, never rowdy, and an excellent public speaker. She was the valedictorian of her class.”

Newfoundland open-line programs have also been inundated with calls praising House’s character, many of them echoing her St. John’s hairdresser, Corey Stuckless, who, in a phrase worthy of Forest Gump, says simply that, “Danielle is as sweet as a box of chocolates.” That may be so. For the time being, however, life for House is anything but sweet.

SUSANNE HILLER