The Miss World whirlwind whipped into London on Monday, with beauty queens from across the globe gathering to kick off the official countdown to next month's grand final in Johannesburg.

The 2009 Miss World Festival brought together 120 national winners from countries such as India, Thailand, Australia, China and hosts South Africa, to smaller entities like Tahiti, Gibraltar and Curacao.

They were at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London's Park Lane strip of plush hotels to show off their credentials at a charity dinner marking one month until the December 12 final.

"I can't say now who is the most beautiful because we perceive people as more beautiful when we know them better," Yu Sheng, Miss China, told AFP.

However, the broadcasting graduate fancies her chances of claiming the crown. "Yes, because there are 1.3 billion people behind me, so I have confidence," the 22 year old said.

"This is my honour, and I prepared a lot for this competition and I want to deliver the culture of China."

Meanwhile Miss Sierra Leone, who works in television in China, said support from the people's republic was helping her achieve her goals.

"The Chinese people help me to help the poor people, because that is my dream, to help the poor people in Africa and all over the world," Mariatu Kargbo, 23, told AFP.

The Freetown girl said her homeland had settled down since the 1991-2002 civil war, but still needed "a lot of help".

"Now a lot of foreigners, especially the Chinese people, they are a lot in Sierra Leone, doing business there.

"We try to see the kind of things we can do to promote, to help the poor people because people without feet and arms, they cannot work and we can help them to produce and give them something to live.

Meanwhile the new Miss England was getting used to life in the spotlight.

Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge, 22, a British Army soldier decorated for bravery fighting in Iraq, was runner-up in the original competition in July but was hastily promoted last week after Rachel Christie stepped down.

The athlete, niece of British Olympic gold medal winning sprinter Linford Christie, was arrested after an alleged nightclub punch-up with Miss Manchester in a row over a beefy television personality called Tornado.

"I thought it was a joke, it seems really unreal," Hodge, dubbed "Combat Barbie", said on her call-up.

"It's a whirlwind. Sometimes you can be over-prepared so I'll probably come across as a bit more natural.

"I like going to work and being a bit of a tomboy, and then I like getting dressed up, like all girls."

Katharine Brown, Miss Scotland, said she was being supported by her old school friend, tennis world number four Andy Murray.

"Last time I spoke to him he'd just won a tournament and I said congratulations, but he was like 'no, congratulations to you, Miss Scotland'. He was so supportive," the actress said.

Miss World, based in London, began in 1951 and is the oldest international beauty pageant.

Russia's Ksenia Sukhinova won the crown last year in Johannesburg.

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