Miss UK 1993: a woman of many (hidden) parts

BAMBI-LIKE, the Miss United Kingdom aspirants stalked into the hotel reception with a professionally 'wide-eyed' gaze. It was the walk that gave the game away: most had the swagger of a well-practised carnival queen. Some recognised each other from the year before. One contestant looked about her, assessed the competition, then ordered her black porter to 'put my vanity case just there - then go'.

More than 7,000 women have participated in this year's Miss United Kingdom beauty contest. This weekend the 20 finalists will practise their strut, choose a new wardrobe, and demonstrate their speaking skills to a panel of judges.

On Monday they will parade in front of television cameras for a 55-minute show, and by late night the winner will have been announced. The prize? To represent the UK in this year's Miss World - to be staged in Sun City, Bophuthatswana, and televised in 73 countries.

'Beauty with a Purpose' is the subtitle of this year's Miss United Kingdom competition. The contestants have to demonstrate a commitment to the community in order to qualify.

'It is not about looks - it is about ability to communicate and how caring you are,' said Natasha Taylor, 22, known as 'Miss Essex' in her home county. Her friend - they met at last year's Miss UK - corrects her: 'Beauty does come into it - it is just not everything . . .'

By the standards of countries such as Australia and the United States, the 'purpose' part of the subtitle is mere lip- service to the move away from women being presented as 'packaged' sex objects.

In the US, contestants not only have to have their own views on the environment and Bosnia, they also have to do their own hair and make-up. In Australia, contestants have to prove their commitment to society by raising nearly pounds 3,500 for charity.

In the UK, contestants are urged to show an interest in the community, but it is not essential. The mini-profiles of each contestant demonstrate the show's true priorities. A knowledge of languages is this year's fashion statement: 'Carolyn speaks a little Spanish' enthuses the blurb. Or 'Julie also speaks a little French.'

'They are trying to get the bimbo image out of it,' said Natasha. 'They want women who have clear heads.'

The year 1988 was a disappointing one for the organisers of Miss United Kingdom. Thames Television announced that the contest's run of 37 years was to come to a halt. Despite the show's 12.5 million audience, producers decided it was degrading to women, irrelevant in a modern-thinking society, and simply outdated.

Julia Morley, 'godmother' of the competition and owner of the rights to the contest, bit her lip at the outrage and stepped up business abroad to compensate for the loss in revenue in Britain. Now, she claims, the show is making a comeback - in a renovated format and with a new buzzword: 'It is a show run by women, for women,' she says.

'We are going on with the show because of demand,' Mrs Morley said. 'It is the women who want it to go on. We offer them a chance to see the world - to learn - to build up confidence. If a woman can walk properly, looks good, dresses well, her confidence in herself will grow. That is the greatest gift you can give.'

Run by women, for women . . . with the exception of the director, and five of the 10 judges, who are men.

And the 'renovated format'? 'No more girls in G- strings with their bums in the air' wagging imaginary 'tails'.

This 'new' format also means no more scandal - of the single mothers/divorcee/pornographic-spread type - all of which have brought past contests into 'disrepute' and resulted in several 'resignations' of the Miss World title.

Participants have to sign a document stating that they are not married, have no children, and have not appeared topless or posed in pornographic magazines.

Anxious to keep the contest clean and the sponsorship money rolling in, the girls are asked to follow a no-sex rule.

Sexuality, Mrs Morley says, does not come into it. The show is all about fashion and fantasy, not bodies. The swimsuit scene - one of eight 'themes' in the show - is no longer a stilettos and plenty-of- thigh affair. Instead, contestants are asked to appear barefoot with a variety of 'accessories' to cover their provocative parts. To stop the women feeling like meat they are encouraged to 'move in an individual way' to show how they 'interpret the swimsuit they are wearing'.

'This is a fun, family show. It is not the inside spread of a pornographic magazine,' Mrs Morley said.

'Yes, you can argue that this show is for men - to please men - but I think the show is a way of opening up the number of options possible for my girls. For the second year running we are holding the Miss World show in South Africa - with Nelson Mandela's blessing. I am not into politics but I am socially aware. Visiting areas where local people haven't got it so easy - where people have to make wire fences for a living - it is an education.'

Besides, Mrs Morley added, it helps the '20,000 black people out there' by contributing to the economy. And it is a stunning venue: 'Their music, their hotels . . .' she says, gasping enthusiastically, 'you have to see it to believe it.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness