Cold Call

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WINNING AN audience with the new Miss UK requires a certain amount of courtship. Chatting with machines that never return calls. Wooing representatives. A faxed letter declaring honourable intentions. But, like a Greek hero set endless tasks by a beautiful woman, the effort seems worthwhile when my pager flashes: "Miss United Kingdom will ring you later".

I wait patiently beside the phone, fielding all other calls. A mystery woman rings.

"Hello, it's Emmalene"

Emily? Who could this disembodied Emily with a Brookside voice be? "Emmalene McLoughlin, Miss United Kingdom." "Of course, of course," I overcompensate, trying not to sound too much like Basil Fawlty. Emmalene is at home with her parents in Liverpool, dressed in "a nice top and pedal pushers, those little short pants over the knees people used to wear in the Sixties. And those flat Chinese slippers they've been showing on The Big Breakfast". Nothing special. No, she hasn't got the crown on. "I'm only 18. I just dress my age."

Casting discretion aside, I wonder which part of herself does she like the most?

"My teeth," she declares, unembarrassed. "People notice them a lot. When I was young, they started to cross, so I had braces which were removed two or three years ago. Now, they're really straight. And my mum and dad have always been very strict. They don't allow rock or candyfloss." Any fillings? "Yes, one or two," she confesses with a little shame. "But not for years. I learnt my lesson."

Did she always dream of being a beauty queen?

"Me and my sisters always watched Miss World. All the girls of our age did. We taped it so we could watch it again and again."

"I suppose you played at being in the contest, too?"

"Oh, yeah. One of us would be the compere, another the judge, the other Miss World. My sisters have been in Miss Southport and Miss Clevelees. And my Auntie Sharon entered Rose Buds when she was a child. But when you grow older, you think of a career. I had a Saturday job in a florists so I knew I wanted to be a florist. I never expected to be up for Miss World. Then, when I won Miss UK, it was like all this was meant to be."

Had she ever, I wondered, had any other ambitions, like, say, joining the army?

"No," she shrieks. "I don't like getting muddy or being shouted at. And I'm not keen on wearing uniforms. Though I did wear camouflage pants when they were in fashion."

So, should we conclude that Miss UK is a feminist?

"You mean all that "girl power" stuff? No. I think women are equal now. I don't need to carry on about women's rights. I've got a strong personality which is what matters. If you want to have a job above men, you have to do it for yourself."

And with that, our most beautiful woman returned to preparing for November's Miss World contest and her parade in front of that ever vigorous pensioner, Eric Morley.