It was big news in Nigeria, but Ally Pally is unmoved

Paul Peachey@peachey_paul
Saturday 07 December 2002 01:00

The faded grandeur of a Victorian building on the top of a windswept north London hill was not the venue contestants had expected when they signed up for the world's greatest beauty pageant.

But tonight Alexandra Palace will provide the hastily booked bolthole for Miss World 2002 after the competition's flight from Nigeria, which followed the deaths of more than 200 people in inter-faith clashes sparked by a journalist's comment that the prophet Mohamed might have married one of the contestants.

And as if that wasn't enough woe for one competition, it was revealed yesterday that the assets of the Miss World organising company have been frozen by the High Court. The order was granted to Nigerian art dealer and promoter Angela Onyeador, who claims she is owed nearly half a million pounds after agreeing to act as guarantor for the Miss World gala dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, London, on 10 November.

Ms Onyeador took legal action, complaining that she had been told the dinner would be attended by the Duke of Edinburgh and provide an opportunity to promote the work of Nigerian artists. The Duke did not attend. The case is due to return to court next week.

On the streets of Crouch End yesterday, the well-heeled area neighbouring Ally Pally, anger was replaced by shrugs. Remarkably, even the bookies were shunning the prospect of a punt. "You are the first,'' said the man at Ladbrokes, not half a mile from the event, destined to be beamed to 143 countries, as The Independent sought to discover the odds.

Miss Nigeria will be one of 92 women taking part, along with Miss Canada, who left the competition in Nigeria because of the killings. She returned after the contest was moved to Britain.

Organisers said they were contractually obliged to go ahead with the event, already destined to lose money because of the Nigerian debacle. It will not be shown on terrestrial television.

But Crouch End remains unmoved. The Hornsey and Crouch End Journal asked this week: "Is there still a place for Miss World?'' but Justin Dawson, 32, a stylist at Organic Hair and Beauty Salon, said he was more worried about car parking. "If you complain about getting rid of Miss World, you would have to get rid of half of the magazines on that rack," he said.

Esme East, the assistant manager of O's Bar, was less charitable. "It shouldn't be happening but if they want to go ahead, let them," she said.

Sally Taylor, 27, a personal assistant, denounced the organisers for going ahead. "I cannot believe that Miss World is saying the violence had nothing to do with them," she said.

In the Harringey Arms, the landlord, Jim Doyle, said: "If it affects people's lives, it should be cancelled.'' But he added: "To be honest, I haven't been thinking much about it.''

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