Celeste Khumalo would not go to the pains her character in Generations: The Legacy would, she tells DRUM. But she is as ambitious as Bulelwa – and she’s worked hard to get to where she is.

“There are certain things I had to put on hold, such as relationships and my studies, so I could invest my time and money in my acting career,” Celeste says. “It hasn’t been easy, but it needed to be done.” Her sacrifices have paid off: playing power-driven Bulelwa has made her a favourite among fans of the popular show.

READ MORE: Celeste Khumalo joins Generations: The Legacy

Celeste, who found fame as Miss Teen South Africa in 2011, didn’t imagine it would one day lead to her starring in Mzansi’s longest-running soap. She used the pageant as a stepping stone to launch her acting career, starring as Linda in The Queen in 2016. And she followed it up with a part in the original Showmax drama series The Girl from St Agnes.

The 27-year-old knew she was up against stiff competition when she auditioned for the role of Bulelwa in Generations: The Legacy. But she wasn’t afraid to take up the challenge. She hired an acting coach and dug deep. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” Celeste says.

“When I started playing Linda it was difficult for viewers to warm up to me. But when I was called back to play her again before she was killed, I had gained some experience and I was getting more confident. It showed after the character was killed. I had people ask me why Linda died – they wanted to see me back on their screens.”

Now fans of the SABC1 flagship show are telling her how much they love her new character. She credits her success to her strong co-stars, including Vusi Kunene who plays Jack Mabaso. “I respect him as an elder and an actor. He keeps getting better.”

She has a lot in common with feisty, fashion-forward Bulelwa. “Linda was a baby mama who chased after money,” Celeste says. “Bulelwa is a woman who makes her own money without relying on anyone but herself – that’s why I’m more familiar with her. She sums up the person I am.”

The beauty queen turned actress is more than just a pretty face. She’s also a young businesswoman with an eye for turning spaces from drab to fab. Celeste and her mom, Nomsa Khumalo, own an interior design company called Matriarch Interiors. “It’s a family business I started with my mom last year,” she says. “It is still new. We’ve had two clients so far but I’m optimistic it will grow to be one of the biggest interior design companies in the country.”

She’s been doing her MBA through Regenesys Business School but suspended her studies a few months ago. “I had to put it on hold for now because of my busy schedule and my finances.

“I don’t have anyone who helps me financially, so I needed to prioritise certain things in my life.”

With a fledgling business and an acting career to juggle, she doesn’t want to put too much pressure on herself by setting a deadline for completing her studies. “I’m not competing with anyone,” she says. “It will happen when it happens. Right now I just want to focus on my career and travel a bit.”

She’s already been to America, Dubai and Bali, and she recently visited Paris, France. “The city is beautiful and I’m familiar with their language because I studied French in high school. Also, the people have love,” says Celeste, whose trips are sometimes sponsored. If she could she’d revisit all the places she’s been. “But my favourite city is Dubai because of the atmosphere. And it smells good! It came from nothing but now it’s the best place to be.”

“Travelling has taught me the world is a bigger place,” she adds. “As much as we have problems and aspirations, so do seven billion other people – that motivates you to work hard.”

After her role on The Queen ended, Celeste stepped out of the public eye for a while.

“I lost my uncle, then my grandmother two weeks later,” she shares. “With my grandmother it was very sudden and devastating. Everyone in the family loved her. She was my everything. It was a tough time and I had to adjust quickly.”

The double death was a big blow to her family and a sharp learning curve for the young actress.

“This was the first time I had dealt with death so close to my family. I had to put my emotions aside and be a big girl. I had to handle things – with the help of my family, of course. But I was quite strong through it, surprisingly.”

She’s come out stronger and can talk about her loss, but Celeste prefers to keep her personal life private, particularly when it comes to her love life.

“Relationships are uncertain,” she says. “Today you might think you’re seeing someone and tomorrow that might change. I prefer not talking about them because I also don’t know where I stand when it comes to them.”

“Right now, what matters to me is my acting career – it comes before anything else and I’m not ready to compromise that for any relationship.”

There is one topic aside from acting that she’s more than happy to talk about: Miss South Africa.

“I love what the pageant embodied and the message behind it. They showed that black is beautiful. I’m so happy and excited with this year’s winner [Zozibini Tunzi]. She is beautiful and I loved how she answered her questions,” she says. “I can’t wait to see how she’ll represent us to the world. She will definitely go far.”

READ MORE: 8 local celebrities you forgot took part in the Miss SA pageant