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Lorraine Downes was so daunted by Dancing with the Stars she burst into tears after the first rehearsal.

But from those fraught first moments of sweat beading on her brow grew one of the best experiences of Downes' already full life and a new love of working on television.

After years of relative anonymity, Miss Universe 1983 spun and twirled her way back into the national spotlight.

Downes, 42, and dance partner Aaron Gilmore clinched the only perfect score from show judges and in June ultimately won the public vote to take the title ahead of the bookies' favourite, discus champion Beatrice Faumuina.

"I hadn't been in front of the camera for years," said Downes, smiling at the memory.

She loved returning to centre stage - nerves and all - and has set her hopes on a return to television next year.

Her confidence came from experience as an international model in front of the camera but also from her growing happiness as she ages.

"I feel the best I've ever felt," said the mother of Hilton, 14, and Jasmine, 9. "Your 40s are just great."

Downes recalled "extreme nerves" performing the rumba, the dance of love, and the rush after the show.

"There was no room for shyness," said Downes, who has had a love of dance for years. "I had to go within myself and dance like there was no one watching me."

Picturing no one took some imagination, as about 1.2 million people tuned in to the show's final, also broadcast in the Pacific Islands and to Scott Base in Antarctica.

Although Downes still may be able to travel to the South Pole without being recognised, it's a different story catching a taxi or shopping at the supermarket.

The last time she was the centre of such a lot of attention she was 19, dressed in elbow-length lace gloves and a ruffled, royal blue dress.

The Miss Universe crown rested on her puffy blond locks, an example of 80s styling that now makes the professional image consultant cringe.

She travelled to 25 countries during that year.

"It was amazing because I got the opportunity to travel all over the world."

Her profile remained high as the wife of former All Black Murray Mexted and owner of a Wellington modelling agency and grooming school.

However, Downes stepped away from the spotlight to focus on motherhood after the birth of son Hilton and later kept a low profile after the break-up of her marriage.

Last year she felt ready for more exposure, signed with an agent and took to the catwalk for only the second time in 15 years at Fashion Week.

Late last year, Downes started a relationship with another sporting great, former cricketer Martin Crowe, and said she was wonderfully content.

Success in Dancing with the Stars reignited her passion for charity, which was born as Miss Universe visiting orphanages and hospitals.

This time around, Downes took pleasure in deciding which organisations to support.

"When I was Miss Universe, I was told where I was going and what I would be doing," she said. "So now I get to choose what I'm going to be involved with."

Her participation in the TV show raised almost $112,000 for the Child Cancer Foundation.