Is this the first black Miss England? (And do we call that progress anyway?)

Linford Christie's niece Rachel tells Emily Dugan why winning – on the track and the catwalk – matters to her

Rachel Christie is no ordinary beauty queen. After an ice cream breakfast, she is tucking into a chicken and bacon club sandwich for lunch, and enjoying the experience.

But it is not just her appetite for fatty foods that will make Ms Christie stand out from her peers when she takes her place alongside the other 49 Miss England finalists in London today. She is one of only a handful of black finalists in the contest and – if the bookies' predictions come true – she is set to become the first black woman to win the pageant.

The other reason the 20-year-old will stand out from her baton-twirling competitors is that she has a genuine talent. The niece of former Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie, she is an accomplished track athlete, currently in training for 2012 qualifiers.

"Can't I send you a photo? I don't really look like a beauty queen today," she says when the photographer arrives. But she does. At 5ft 10in, with long hair, long legs and apparently even longer eyelashes, it is easy to see why she is leading the field with odds at 8-1 to take this year's crown.

Last year she was given the honorary title of Miss Fitness in the Miss London contest, but being runner up this year is not an option. After taking the Miss London crown, where "almost all the girls were white", she is ready to win. "I'm used to competition, because if you fall down you just pick yourself up again."

She thinks it's time that beauty competitions changed away from the Barbie looks they have become known for. "I don't know why so few black girls enter. I think they think they won't win because beauty queens always have blond hair and blue eyes. I think they need to advertise more to change that. I'd be so proud if I were the first black Miss England."

Christie lives in west London with her mother, brother and sister. Her father, Linford's brother Russell, was stabbed to death when she was only eight, after becoming involved in a drugs war.

"When I was young I was deprived of a lot of things because everything was unstable," she explains. She entered the contest in the hope of launching a modelling career that might fund her athletics training. "I'm just an athlete at the minute, which means I'm unemployed and I'm broke. Modelling could fit round training in a way that a lot of other jobs couldn't."

She sees her uncle Linford at the running track named after him in Hammersmith, west London, where he coaches her in sprinting alongside other athletes. "He's very busy," she says. "I haven't spoken to him about entering. When I see him it's just about sport; it's just the track. But him making it made me think I could do it too."

Rachael Williams, who was the first Miss Black Britain in 2006, and a finalist at that year's Miss England competition, said that if Ms Christie won it would be a breakthrough for equality in the modelling world. "It would mean a lot if she won. It would show how far we've come."

Maya Schultz, managing director of Acclaim, an agency which specialises in ethnic minority models, said: "If she becomes Miss England that would be a really big deal. England is such a cosmopolitan country and yet we've never had a black Miss England. It would definitely shake things up."

Not everyone sees a black beauty queen as progress. Sandrine Leveque, of the feminist campaign group Object, said: "We believe racism should be challenged in all its forms, but the same should apply to sexism. We strongly believe that beauty contests like Miss England are clearly sexist and send out the message that it is acceptable to treat women as sex objects. This is not progress. Fundamentally beauty contests have no place in 2009."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower