Miss World: swimsuits but no sexism

THEY SAID there would be no swimsuits. This was going to be the new, cool, post-modern Miss World. No swimsuits and stilettos! They were so yesteryear, so old beauty pageant, so sexist. And Miss World was anything but sexist. Obviously. Just listen to the show's producer: "Swimsuits on stage, now that was always really offensive. That smacked of cattle market - or even worse, some awful 1950s seaside beauty contest."

So that must be why the first hour of last night's extravaganza from the Seychelles was devoted to showing each and every contestant in her swimsuit. Tiny blue ones, stringy striped ones, uplifted and separated ones. I was really worried that they might be forced to parade in stilettos - because that would, of course, smack of the cattle market. So it was a relief to see them, instead, on the beach being incredibly natural and happy-go-lucky and sporty. In fact there was so much action on screen - volleyball, badminton, Frisbee and endless hair flipping - that I thought for a moment that I was trapped in the longest advert ever made for tampons. But then I remembered that this was even more post- modern than that: this was Miss World.

It was the first time we have seen this treat for 10 years in Britain and, really, it was worth every minute of the wait. From the moment it arrived, in a blaze of 2001 Space Odyssey, it was like watching in a time warp. The lip-synching was shocking and the dialogue was, well, unique. Take this:

Presenter to Miss World: "So what was the best thing that happened to you this year?"

Miss World: "The whole year."

Presenter: "The whole year?"

Miss World: "The whole year."

The stage appeared to be a floating outdoor arena and this created the expectation that the host - Boyzone star Ronan Keating - might drown. Which he did, but only in cliches. At one point he was actually reading from a piece of card. They don't make pros like that anymore.

The camera work was like a permanent leer. On the beach, we had shots of breast, thigh, stomach and hair. And bounce. Lots of bounce and lots of hair. It was a Bill Clinton kind of night. After the action shots, we had towel shots that involved lots of teeth and hair-flipping, and some pretty bizarre voiceovers.

"I have a light feeling in my stomach but I am not nervous," said Miss Germany. Miss Colombia loves nature, Miss Finland thinks she has had a great opportunity and Miss Liberia felt she belonged to a world of beauty instead of the hell that is her country. Miss China-Tapei believes that playing the piano has helped her not to lose her temper. Everyone believed that everyone was going to be a winner and that the Seychelles were simply paradise. Or, as Miss Norway put it: "The Seychelles are very different from Norway."

The next test was for the 86 contestants to walk down a flight of stairs in specially designed dresses. The outfits were the kind that you see Barbie wearing, with hats and frills and even, in some cases, bathrobes. This was more like it because there was just enough time us to say something horrible about each outfit and to watch as the poor girl attempted to walk down the stairs without looking down. The only casualty of the evening in this contest was Miss Ghana. She fell down and, therefore, deserved to win.

As each girl walked down the stairs the announcer said something banal. It was as if someone had collected all the worst chat-up lines and had them on a continuous loop. Either that or this was not Miss World at all but a Page Three Caption Writing Contest. Miss Germany was a flight attendant and "no trolley dolly". Miss France spoke the language of love, Miss UK was a florist so was she our "pick of the bunch?" Would Miss Spain reign in you know where?

The contest seems to have had such a global influence that entire countries were reborn for the evening. There was, for instance, a Miss Yugoslavia. But, in the end, though, there could only be one winner and I wasn't surprised that Miss Yugo wasn't to be the one. Nor, sadly, was Miss UK. Instead it was the lovely Miss Israel who - wait for it - wants to work in the media.

Bring back the stilettos, all is forgiven.