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 Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 20:29 GMT
Miss World goes for makeover
Miss World

As Miss Turkey grinned into the flashing cameras and revealed her red sequined boots to the world, it was almost possible to forget the controversial build-up to Miss World 2002.

Almost, but not quite.

The riots that led to an estimated 220 deaths in Nigeria, after a local newspaper article suggested that Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed, would probably have married a Miss World contestant, were still a fresh memory.

Six contestants had already pulled out in protest at the original host country's decision to condemn a 30-year-old women to death by stoning for committing adultery.

And, at the eleventh hour, there was renewed doubt about the staging of the annual pageant when it was revealed that the assets of Miss World Holdings, the company owned by event promoter Julia Morley, were being frozen by a High Court judge.

Nigerian art dealer and promoter Angela Onyeador claims she is owed nearly 500,000 after agreeing to act as guarantor for the Miss World gala dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, London, last month.

Brain, not bra-size, was to be rewarded

Even the rushed choice of the north London venue seemed to capture the mood - Alexandra Palace housed 3,000 prisoners of war during the First World War.

Inevitably, Azra Akin - to be known for the next 12 months as Miss World - was asked to comment on the religious riots in Nigeria that forced the organisers to look for a new location.

"Of course I was shocked at what happened," she replied.

"I hope people will now be more respectful of each other.

"I will represent the women of the world in a good way.

"I hope to make a difference but I am just one person."

Singled out

The cameras flashed once more and, as if the scene had been choreographed to divert all attention from the controversial build-up, there were no more sensitive questions for the new Miss World to handle.

That, in a nutshell, was why Miss Turkey was singled out from 86 - originally 92 - other contestants.

Not that her looks or fetching dress-and-boot ensemble went unnoticed by the judges.

But in an attempt to move away from the notion of the Miss World competition being no more than Crufts for women, the organisers had this year gone for the slogan "beauty with purpose".

Brain, not bra-size, was to be rewarded.

Sadly, one or two failed to appreciate the importance of intellect in this year's competition

Any contestant who would not have been trusted in front of the world's media was instantly overlooked.

Some took it too far.

Miss England, Daniella Luan, clearly felt she was entering Mastermind, not Miss World.

"I am currently studying Human Biology and Nutrition at Oxford," she said.

"My future hopes are to obtain a first class degree, learn to speak another language fluently, play the guitar and lead a happy and fulfilling life."

It is a surprise that Miss Czech Republic was not asked to expand on her interest in "Vedic philosophy".

And as for Miss Nigeria, her life's ambitions were "to become a successful computer scientist, a super model, and also to establish a child vision programme which will cater for the girl child all over the world."

Commendable qualities, no doubt about it, but bound to raise a certain degree of scepticism given that she is yet to go on to university.

Sadly, one or two failed to appreciate the importance of intellect in this year's competition.

Miss Zimbabwe was clearly not destined for the famous tiara when she revealed one of her great loves was babysitting.

Meaningful career

The odd throwback to the days of Miss World contestants giggling childishly before expressing a desire to work with children and achieve world peace aside, the apparent intelligence of this year's crop could not be denied.

Host Sean Kanan, an actor in the American soap The Bold and the Beautiful, told television viewers to prepare themselves for an event contested by "lawyers, dentists, economists, diplomats, physicists and journalists."

Perhaps that was stretching the truth somewhat as most of the ladies were too young to have embarked on meaningful careers.

But the point was made and over and over that for the annual Miss World pageant to have a future it would have to redefine itself.

The only attire the contests were asked to appear in was eveningwear and there were no vital statistics to accompany their swagger down the catwalk.

And as Miss Turkey, a model and belly dancer but also a student of art and design, embarked on her year of travel and charity work, it was chiefly in the role of would-be diplomat rather than beauty queen.

 Miss World
Should the show have gone ahead?

Miss World row



See also:

07 Dec 02 | England
29 Nov 02 | Africa
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