My Miss Universe Journey
A pageant is not about turning up on the day with a plastic tiara and pink lipstick. There is so much more to it. Miss Universe GB was my first pageant, and due to the stereotypes I had seen on American tv shows, I assumed it would be exactly what I just described. However, it turned out to be an extraordinary, life changing process that has taken a lot of time, hard work and contribution. We can take every experience in life as an opportunity to grow, so I am sharing my story and advice from this journey!
The Application Round
Before the final for Miss Universe in your country, you have to pass both the interview day and the application round. The application has about 2-3 pages of questions that you must fill out, in which you speak about yourself and how you would make a good ambassador for Great Britain. You must also speak about the values that you stand for. An important part of Miss Universe is having unique values that you are passionate about. You must be driven to make a positive change in the world when it comes to these values.
The Interview Day
This is your first chance to make an impression on the director of Miss Universe GB. She explains what the pageant is about, the charities it supports and what to expect if you win. Each girl then has the chance to tell her about themselves, and answer her follow up questions.
Finding my ballgown took about two weeks of searching different shops all day every day. I started off in Harrods to get the best idea of the style I wanted, pretending I could afford the £12,000 dress behind the glass cabinet. I tried on the most amazing dresses: a ballgown that took up an entire room that still weighed the same as a cloud, a dress made of nothing but beads, a real life Cinderella dress! I finally found the style that worked for me and decided to go for the winner’s colour: red.
To do Miss Universe GB, you need to have a sponsorship of £640 from one or two businesses, who get exposure on the MUGB website. The other option is that you sponsor yourself. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by businessmobiles.com who sell phones for amazing prices! As well as being sponsored for your place, many girls (including myself) wrote to beauty companies for nail, hair and outfit sponsorships. Much like in life, what you put into this process was what you got out of it. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Bella&Bello Ealing for my nails, who I contacted because I love their name for some reason…. I also landed sponsorship by WalG, who gave me my outfits for all the events during the week, and the lovely Lydia’s Lashes glammed up my eyelashes!
From Model to Beauty Queen
One of the things I was told on training day was that I was the perfect ‘model’, but for this competition I needed to transition to ‘beauty queen.’ This was one of my favourite parts of the journey. It was like one of those movies moments where the girl decides to have a brand new look and she suddenly becomes a completely different person. I taught myself how to do makeup from video tutorials and I attended an eye shadow course. I was also lucky enough to get advice from Priscilla Ono, Rihanna’s makeup artist, who did my face for Fenty Beauty. This wasn’t about changing who I was, it was about having fun and trying new looks!
To this day, I am so relieved that I attended the training day with Grace Levy (former Miss Universe GB). The catwalk in beauty pageants is completely different to the one in modeling. In runway, it is all about having a simple leg in front of the other and blank face, to draw attention to what you are wearing. In pageants, you are selling yourself. Legs must be extended twice as long as they normally would, almost like lunges, and your hip swings must be exaggerated a lot. I also trained with Camilla Hannson (former Miss Sweden), who helped me with publicity interviews, my personal brand and interview skills. A great tip is to always maintain eye contact with those who are interviewing you, even if it means leaving the room walking backwards. After my training days, it was all about practicing every second of the day. I love the quote, ‘if you are not practicing, someone else, somewhere, will be. And when you meet that girl, she will be the one who wins.’
So yes, I had my amazing pageant coaches, but I also had an interview coach and mentor for the journey. This was Mehul SURNAME (who I call Papa Dragon), a Tony Robbins coach, who has known me since the age of 13. The interesting thing about my coaching with Mehul was that he kept telling me to say ‘I stand out’, but I never fully realised what that meant to me until I got to the finals. I loved and adored the other finalists so much, and know we will be friends for life, but I know that I am not a beauty queen. Before the swimwear round, I had my makeup done by an official MUGB makeup artist, but didn’t even recognise myself when I looked in the mirror. That was when I decided that if the judges didn’t like me for who I was, and if I would have to spend the entire year as Miss Universe GB being someone I wasn’t then I would not want to win the title. I took off the makeup they gave me and walked on the stage, confident in staying natural because it is who I am. You can say the most simple things to people, such as ‘you stand out’, and it will imprint on them subconsciously. I know that I made the right decision by staying true to who I was and embracing that.
Fundraising and Charity Work
This was, hands down, my favourite part of the journey leading up to MUGB. As a finalist, I was given the opportunity to raise money for A-Sisterhood, a charity set up by MUGB, dedicated to helping acid attack victims and the homeless, stopping FGM and supporting an all female anti poaching group. For my fundraising, I partnered up with St Augustine’s Priory and ran a week of workshops for them in exchange for some fundraising activities, such as a nail bar and female body part cake sale. I gave the younger girls a workshop on gratitude. What was lovely to me was the fact that they all mentioned family members when it came to what they were grateful for. I spoke to the older girls about the myth of perfection and importance of self-love, who all asked power questions and were an amazing group! As I moved house right before MUGB, I also threw in a yard sale. In total, I was pleased to raise £500 for A-Sisterhood!
It’s Not Cheap
The reason many girls wait a few years before returning to MUGB is quite often due to the expense of it. This is known to be the most prestigious, but also the most expensive pageant to do. I added up all my expenses for MUGB, and it came to a total of £1980. It would have been £3050 if I didn’t have sponsors! The ballgown, bikini, dry cleaning, adjustments and outfits for the week came to a total of £864 (or £594 without sponsors). The catwalk training came to a total of £325. I find it funny to say that I spent that much on learning to walk, but it was definitely worth it. Hair, nails and lash costs came to £965 (or £805 without sponsors), and travel/food/accommodation came to £256. We were lucky to be sponsored for the majority of our stay by the Mercure Holland House Hotel. When I entered the finals, I didn’t take these costs into account, and it seemed that everything I was earning during the months before MUGB was being spent on it. Why am I telling you these costs? Because I wish someone had told me before I entered MUGB. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and it is better not to be surprised by these expenses and to have a good financial plan beforehand. I was lucky this time! I know that many girls spent a lot more than me, and I definitely spent the minimum you could do it for on the clothes.
The days were all about 18 hours long, but time flies when you’re having fun! We started with an ‘Empowerment Day’, which involves a motivational speaker, lots of dancing, a board and arrow break and a walk on glass! With the three tasks at the end, the most important thing is to remember that it is all mind over matter. I told myself I was walking on a soft carpet before I walked on the glass. If you approach every obstacle you come across with that same mindset, you will glide through life! That night, we had a ‘Cocktails for a Cause’ evening at Dirty Martini. They taught us to make their famous Pink Fizz cocktail, which we served to the guests to raise money for charity. My friend Simren (first runner up) and I had so much fun that we stayed behind the bar to learn how to make more cocktails! Miss Universe GB finalists stay at the Mercure Holland Hotel in Cardiff, and we are all given a room mate. I was paired with a lovely girl named Justine, who had done other pageants before.
This day had an early start with yoga at 7.30am. We then went straight to a prison, where we had breakfast. The money raised in that restaurant goes towards a charity for the prison, which helps the inmates do beneficial programs and activities. After this, we had non-stop rehearsals all day and a choreography lesson for the dance routine in the show. Our dance was to the song ‘Confident’ by Demi Lovato. I love the message in this song: ‘What’s wrong with being confident?’ We then had a swimwear shoot, followed by a dance mob and a Thai dinner. This was exciting as my family got to join, but my mum brought my ballgown to hang in the restaurant as she was too scared to leave it in the car! It was funny seeing it with all the coats next to it.
This was the big day. We took a coach to the Riverfront Theatre, but the coach didn’t have a luggage compartment. It was quite funny looking around and seeing us all keep our ballgowns on laps. The dresses actually took up more of the seats than we did! After the rehearsals, we each had a three minute interview with the judges. Not many people know about this part of the process because it happens before the show, but it is actually the most important bit. The judges pretty much determine who they want to win at this moment, and the swimwear/ballgown round scores are almost subconsciously manipulated by the meeting with you beforehand. There are hair and make up artists for the show, and this was when I realised that I probably wouldn’t win. After having my make up done, I looked at myself in the mirror and felt like a different person was staring back. I decided to take off the make up because I wanted to stay true to who I am, which is natural. If I had won wearing that make up then I would have spent the following year being someone I’m not. The show was a lot of fun and my brother definitely made his voice known. When I walked out in my ballgown, he yelled ‘that’s my sister!’ I actually laughed on stage, and the presenter even brought it up afterwards. I came third in the public vote, which I was pleased with, but all the girls that night were queens. I was so proud of Simren Vernon for getting the first runner up. She was my best friend in MUGB and she is such an authentic, beautiful person.
My Thoughts on the Swimwear Round
In 2018, the Miss Universe swimwear rounds show two new steps on how to get a bikini body. 1) Get a bikini. 2) Put it on your body. We are no longer living in a time where the beauty industry shows one body shape. We are living in a time of empowerment to love our own. Whilst I completely respect Miss America’s decision to eliminate it and understand their reasons, this is my favourite round of the entire competition. In the modelling industry, you will succeed if you have something quirky about you. Miss Universe is no exception, as it also allows women of all different body types to embrace themselves on stage and show the world that they are confident in themselves. In fact, I was honoured to be amongst so MANY different women who all empowered each other and believed in their beauty. My message, when walking on stage, was ‘love yourself.’ Women are free, flowing feminine queens who should no longer be repressed about what they wear or their sexuality!
What did I learn?
Whilst I didn’t win the crown, I do feel I have won. I won some amazing friends, an incredible life changing experience, so much knowledge and a brand new look. Most importantly, I learned what feminism means to me. Yes, as a model, I am in one of the only industries in the world where the women get paid more than the men, but feminism goes much deeper than this. As my mum is a midwife, I am particularly aware of the fact that there are 130 million women living in the world today who have been genitally mutilated. This is something that needs to change, so charities like the National FGM Centre are amazing and I intend on working further with them!