Miss Ireland upstages lady in red

By David Randall
Sunday 07 December 2003 01:00
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The first dissent-free staging of the Miss World contest in several decades took place in China yesterday, thanks in large part to it being held on a high-security island run by a country still wrestling with the concept of free expression.

To deal, as is traditional with this event, with its significance in reverse order: Miss Ireland won, China's latest attempt to open its doors to the world went without a hitch, and no one was locked up. Thus did the nation that has recently embraced Coca-Cola culture with such enthusiasm take yet another step down the road that it now regards as progress.

The winner was Rosanna Davison, daughter of Chris de Burgh, singer of "Lady in Red", one of the cheesiest singles ever to be played by late-night smoochers.

Miss Ireland beat China's entrant Qi Guan, who was wearing her very own red dress.

Ms Davison did not let her father down. Asked to describe her life and character just before the result was announced, she uttered the entirely risk-free words: "I would like to describe myself as a fun-loving yet humble person and hopefully a great ambassador for my country and for women all around the world."

Still, for the organiser Julia Morley at least, a riot-free, easy-listening contest will help erase the memory of last year's débâcle. Then, an attempt to stage the event in Nigeria foundered after a local newspaper suggested the Prophet Mohamed would have approved of the Miss World pageant and might have wanted to marry a contestant.

This sparked widespread rioting between Muslims and Christians, which left 105 people dead and the entire Miss World caravan so traumatised that it skedaddled to London, where the event was eventually staged.

So it must have been with welcome relief that Ms Morley and the 111 contestants, and their assorted minders and hangers-on, gained the sanctuary of the tropical island of Hainan and its resort of Sanya.

The venue was a new £8m convention hall built to resemble a tiara, not necessarily a motif that might occur to every architect. But then, along with fixed smiles and Ms Morley insisting that all is well, this is one of the enduring symbols of this 52-year-old festival of pre-feminist cheesecake.

As the event began, the line-up was, as usual, primped, coiffed, lip-glossed and lacquered; and that was just the judges, who included actor Jackie Chan and "Sex and the City" writer Candace Bushnell. The contestants looked more nervous, making their entrance in traditional Chinese-style, high-collared red dresses.

It was, in Chinese terms, the only thing that was red about the evening. China banned beauty pageants after the Communists swept to power in 1949, and for more than five decades maintained that these were prime examples of Western decadence.

It was only after the rest of the world decided that it agreed and did think beauty contests were demeaning that the Chinese relented, entering Miss World for the first time two years ago.

Now they seem to have got something of a taste for them. The Communist Party's sober-minded mouthpiece, the People's Daily, recently reported that the Miss International competition would be held in China next year.

For those of you keeping records, Miss Canada was runner-up, Miss China third, and Miss United Kingdom was, well, not placed. So, no victory parade there then.

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