Six months ago she was on the verge of packing her bags to leave Belfast following a racist attack on her home.
However, Slovakian beauty Denisa Stanova changed her mind and stayed on — and is now poised to be the next big thing in Northern Ireland modelling. The 21-year-old housekeeper at the Express by Holiday Inn has just been revealed as the Face of Northern Woman magazine — a move applauded by the Unite Against Hate campaign as a “step in the right direction” for cultural diversity in the province.
Denisa moved to Belfast in February 2008 and set up home in the south of the city with her boyfriend and some friends who had also travelled over from Slovakia. However, they were forced to flee their home for a night after a group of thugs smashed their windows with bricks.
The attack was one of a spate on homes belonging to eastern Europeans in May and June of this year. Images of the race attacks were shown around the world and Belfast found itself being labelled as the race hate hotspot of Europe.
Denisa has since moved home several times but she has now settled down in her new place in south Belfast.
“When our home was attacked it was by young boys but we were still afraid that they might come back,” she said.
“We had to leave our house for a night and when we came back we had to sleep for 10 days with broken windows.
“At the time I did think about going home, we all did.
“I decided to stay for a number of reasons. I can’t really say why and I’m happy now that I did.
“I went home to Slovakia for a holiday but came back to Belfast for the competition.
“My boyfriend stayed on in Slovakia.
“I did not think I was going to win and I am very pleased that I did,” she said.
Denisa wasn’t the only eastern European to enter the Face of Northern Woman.
One of the other 12 finalists in the beauty competition originally comes from Lithuania but is currently living in Co Armagh.
Eva Grosman of the Unite Against Hate campaign, an organisation set up to protest at all forms of prejudice, said she was delighted that Denisa had won.
“The fact that an eastern European girl has won the Face of Northern Woman shows just how much the make-up of society in Northern Ireland has changed,” she said.
“Belfast’s image has been tarnished recently by images of racism and Belfast was named the race hate capital of Europe.
“So I think it’s great to see that migrant workers coming over here can be successful and can be part of the wider scene.
“To have Denisa as an ambassador for Northern Ireland shows that we can embrace and celebrate diversity and I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
As part of her prize Denisa has signed with top Belfast modelling agency Style Academy.