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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK

UK: Wales

Assembly with a difference for Miss Wales

Helen Morgan: Wales's controversial contribution to Miss World history

Politicians promised that the advent of the National Assembly would bring untold benefits to people in Wales.

The BBC's Sian Parry Hughes talks to a contestant and Assembly Member Kirsty Williams
Pro-devolutionists pledged improved hospital services, better education and provide a vital "shot in the arm" for the nation's economy.

But the ripple effects of self-government have reached further than even they could have imagined.

On the surface of it, the Assembly's debating chamber in Cardiff Bay may not have anything in common with a parade of some of the world's most beautiful women in swimsuits.

[ image: Ex-Miss World and former George Best girlfriend Mary Stavin]
Ex-Miss World and former George Best girlfriend Mary Stavin
However, in recognition of the establishment of the National Assembly in Wales and the Scottish Parliament, the Miss World Organisation has decreed that each country must now have its own representation.

In previous years, Wales, Scotland and England have been represented by a solitary Miss UK.

Now, in a ceremony at the Deeside Leisure Centre in Queensferry, north Wales, 24 finalists from all over Wales will battle it out with beachwear to win Wales its first place in the Miss World final - watched by an estimated two billion people around the world.

[ image: First winner: Kiki Haakonson of Sweden 1951.]
First winner: Kiki Haakonson of Sweden 1951.
Kirsty Williams, the youngest female Assembly Member, said she wished all the contestant the "best of luck".

"I was certainly not aware that we were investing our energies into such a project but if it means that people across the world have a little bit more knowledge of Wales, then so be it.

"The Assembly is backing anything that promotes Wales abroad. Whether we think beauty contests are a politically-correct way of doing that, we would maybe have to debate," she said.

Around 300 women aged between 17 and 25 sent off photographs to win a place on the stage, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Helen Morgan - Wales's most famous contribution to the Miss World contest.

Miss World de-crowned

Ms Morgan, from Barry, near Cardiff, won the Miss World title in 1974 only to be de-crowned a week later when organisers discovered she was in fact married with a child.

Those jostling for a place in 1999's line-up come from varying backgrounds. The 24 on the shortlist range from students and Duke of Edinburgh award-winners to businesswomen and information technology consultants.

Following a clubwear and beachwear parade the judging panel, consisting of a former Miss UK and Miss Wales, contest organisers, sponsors, hairdressers and photographers - will invite eight finalists for an on-stage interview.

However, organiser Mark Darlington insisted that a desire to work with sick children and a hope for world peace are unlikely to be among their responses.

"It's not like that anymore," he said. "It's moved on a great deal, it's all very 90s."

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