I spent many years in my incarnation as a beauty queen and loved every minute of it. Many people may have ill perceived ideas of the pageant world, so I’d like to set out my views of those happy times and what they meant to me.
In my late teens we took a holiday to a ‘Butlins” camp with my auntie Jean and her kids, there were no dads on the trip. The weather wasn’t so great and to fill our days we had a policy that everyone must enter a competition. These events were varied and included the knobbly knees contest, the most glamorous grandmother, the cutest baby and the table tennis tournament. Having few skills I opted for the “Holiday Princess” contest, here I simply had to walk around a pool in a swimsuit. I won my competition and was awarded a free weekend at another “Butlins” later in the year for the semi finals. I hadn’t realised that this bit of fun was destined to go further.
Mum and I went off to Blackpool in the November to a nice hotel, all paid for, and I thought it was great. Upon arrival however I soon realised the intensity and seriousness of the other competitors. There was to be a rehearsal on the first day in the ballroom and all 50 or so girls were summoned. I wasn’t worried because we were all just there for the free holiday, weren’t we? What a shock I had when statuesque beauties appeared in stilleto heels, make up and back-combed hair. They knew how to stand and walk erect, and smiled at every opportunity. I was dumbstruck and felt like a mouse standing beside them.
Later that day mum and I dashed out the shops to buy high heels and false tan. We then moved the furniture in our bedroom and I began to practice the walk I’d watched the other girls do. There was another rehearsal the next morning and I was gradually getting the hang of it. When I was 16 my mum had sent me on a modelling course in Manchester to improve my deportment, because I was very shy and round shouldered. This course gave me a little bit of experience so I wasn’t completely clueless. The other girls were friendly and helpful, giving me advice about my walk and standing in the line. The compere, Tony, and the 2 organisers Ron and Alan were also friendly and put us all at ease. It was however very obvious who were the proper beauty queens and who were the novices like myself.
By the time the actual semi final began I felt fine, and just enjoyed the experience, looking out for my mum in the audience as I paraded around the catwalk. The time went too quickly and I was sorry when it was all over. We were all sent backstage to await the judges verdict. I wasn’t at all nervous, unlike many of the other girls who were chain smoking and pacing. It apparantly meant a lot to them, but to me it was just a bit of fun.
Finally the results were announced, 10 girls being selected for the grand final in Brighton the following March. I learned then that the top prize was to be a brand new car and £1000. I had no idea that it was possible to get rich at this. Amazingly I was one of the 10 picked to go to Brighton, and I couldn’t believe it. The real beauty queens seemed pleased for me and I was on cloud nine.
By the time the grand final came round, I’d honed my skills, dyed my hair, false tanned my body and I was ready. I came second overall with a cash prize of £500, quite a lot of money in 1972.
I went on to compete for another 8 years, entering many different contests. I was runner up to both Miss England and Miss UK, I won the Miss Britain title in 1976 and many other big titles, making a healthy wage, supplemented by modelling jobs. I made many friends on the “beauty circuit” and are in touch with several of them to this day. After many attempts, and several second places I won the “Butlins Holiday Princess” in 1980, after which I retired from competing. Job done.
During my competition years I had a fantastic time travelling the world, I improved my self confidence, made life long friends and made my family proud of my achievements. Yes there were a few “bitchy” girls, but there would be in any competitive arena, even office based situations where many woman are together every day.
I could never understand the people to sought to condemn us as immoral, stupid, empty headed, manipulated or exploited. I always maintained that I had a choice to use either my brains or my looks to make a living, and I chose to use my appearance for a short time, able to fall back on my brains later on. The public were fascinated by beauty contests in those days, the national ones regularly attracting TV audiences of over 20 million. We were minor celebrities and enjoyed the trappings of success. I knew that the “job” was only for a short time so I made the most of it. I certainly didn’t see it as immoral in any way. What woman hasn’t done her hair and applied make up to improve her appearance? and how many have walked around the pool or beach wearing a bikini? Many have, and will continue to do so. At interviews and in many other situations where a woman needs to look and feel her best she will try to improve her appearance. Most of us try to enhance ourselves by smiling and looking the best we can, and it doesn’t mean that we are manipulated or vacuous. I’ve seen many young girls in night clubs wearing more revealing outfits than we used to wear on the catwalk.
I also want to add that because we won contests it definitely didn’t mean that we considered ourselves to be prettier than the rest. There were many more beautiful girls who didn’t want to learn the “trade” and parade about in a swimsuit, it was a learned skill and as much about experience and knowing how to play the game as it was about appearances.