Interview with Laura White former Miss GB Wales, Mrs England in 1992 and was Welsh model of the year
Firstly thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your pageant journey it’s lovely getting to know fellow pageant queens and more about the systems that they represent.
Firstly what made you want to compete in beauty pageants ?
It was actually my mum way back in 1985 when I was 15. I had a terrible time at school because I was tall, skinny and goofy. My nickname was ‘Olive Oil’ from Popeye or ‘Twiggy’. Now it would be classed as bullying but in those days it was just called ‘teasing’. Different name but still just as hurtful. So my mum entered me into a teenage modelling competition called ‘Catwalk Kids’ in South Wales and the prize was to star in a huge fashion show. She obviously could see that I had potential and it was brilliant for my self-esteem because I won!! So after that boost I saw a competition Miss Hawaiin Tropic UK (the suntan brand) and I entered that not expecting to get anywhere but I ended up placing 2nd. I really had the bug and entered Miss Jacksons (Cardiff’s premier nightclub at the time – sort of the Stringfellows of Cardiff !) and I won that which was incredible! So it went on from there really. Once you’re bitten by the pageant bug it becomes an obsession! Of course they weren’t called pageants then they were beauty contests. So I have my mum to thank. Interesting how history repeats itself because that’s how my daughter Erin started out when I entered her In Miss Jr Teen GB without telling her when she was 14 for kind of the same reasons.
I had a fabulous time during the late 80s and very early 90’s winning lots of big contests and got to travel to some amazing places. I’m still friends with girls I competed with during that time. I stopped competing in 1991 in UK as I was at the grand old age of 23 and was getting married. I did have one last contest when I won Mrs England to compete in Mrs Europe in Austria and then I hung up my swimsuit for good. Or so I thought!
You held approximately 10 titles across the country. What was it like competing in beauty pageants in the 1980’s ?
It was sooo different to today! The name for one thing. The word ‘pageant’ hadn’t even been invented they were just ‘beauty contests’ and that’s exactly what they were. There was no expectation to do ‘appearances’ or fundraising before the contest. You just entered a contest, got a letter to say if you’d been accepted, turned up on the day, quick rehearsal, did the show, someone won then you all went home. Simple! With no social media, internet or mobile phones it was just a simpler world I believe. You never really knew who else was in the contest until you turned up and you would never have known the judges etc.. And with no social media any post contest gossip stayed private lol! There were no entry fees so competing was a relatively cheap hobby as all contests were organised and sponsored by big companies and organisations and your travel costs were covered too. I won Miss Brains in 1986 which was Wales biggest brewery. The prize was £1,000 and it was held in Cardiff St David Hall to capacity crowd with The Nolans as the interview act. I was also Miss Dyfed Fire Brigade which was a qualifying heat for the live televised Miss United Kingdom. So contests were held by all sorts of organisations. There was literally a Miss everything! For example, I was Miss Lovely Legs (sponsored by Pretty Polly tights) and The Lady In White (sponsored by Diamond White cider) There was also no such thing as a ‘crown chaser’. Because ‘systems’ didn’t exist you just entered any competition you wanted to and the more you won the better! The only exception to this would have been if you won a biggy like Miss UK or Miss GB. But you’d often be introduced on stage as the current holder of ……….. whatever title you had at that moment. Having lots was something to be proud of. You did your own hair and make-up I never once had a professional do my hair or make-up even at something big like Miss United Kingdom it just wasn’t heard of and my mum made most of my dresses. It was just a really fun time and a lot less stressful than it seems to be today.
You must have some incredible memories from competing could you share some of your favourites with us ?
Oh my goodness! So many! It’s been a long time though so I’ve probably forgotten most of it! When I won a place in Cinzano Model of the Year it was televised and I was chosen to dance with Wayne Sleep for the big opening number which was incredible! Travelling throughout Austria for 3 weeks for the Mrs Europe was incredible and filming live for BBC for Miss United Kingdom (twice) will stay with me forever.
How do you feel pageants have changed since the 90s to now ?
It’s just a whole different world now! Pageants are so much more inclusive now. In my day the cut off age was 23, you couldn’t be married and all body shapes were definitely not represented. In this way it’s much better but some of the changes make it more stressful and difficult than then. With few big companies sponsoring pageants it means that entry fees and travel costs may be an obstacle to competing and the expectation of doing appearances and fundraising is also an added pressure. I know girls that worry endlessly they’re not ‘working hard enough’ and won’t do well like months before the contest. And with social media it’s too easy to compare yourself to what you see everyone else doing which can be disheartening. And in the old days you could enter/win a contest every weekend if you wanted to. Now it’s not possible really because once you’ve entered a ‘system’ contest you’re committed to that. The good exception here is charity pageants which allow you to enter just for fun. I’m so glad today that there is a title for everyone – age no obstacle, married or not, curvy, tattoos anything goes and is celebrated which is good news for everyone.
You must still love pageants as you are now competing in Atlantic Beauty Pageants ? What made you decide to compete in this system ?
If you’d told me 30 years ago I’d be back on stage at the ripe old age of 53 I’d have told you not to be so daft! Well here I am! So the story is….. I have been nagged for a few years to compete again by lots of friends but I’d always been reluctant for lots of reasons. But next year (The Atlantic final is in January) will be my 30th anniversary of ‘retiring’ and if Take That and The Spice Girls can make a successful comeback then so can I ha ha! It had to be the right pageant, with the right director, at the right time, for the right reasons and Atlantic Beauty Pageant definitely ticked all the boxes. So when I heard Atlantic had opened up their first ‘Classic’ section it was a no brainer. There have been other systems I’ve considered in the past but they just didn’t quite fit with my personal circumstances and I just didn’t have that ‘gut feeling’. I think it is so important to make sure that when you commit to entering a pageant that not only is it right for you but you have to be 100% that if you are lucky enough to win then you are right for it. I admire the Atlantic director Romy as I followed her journey to Miss International and thought she was such an amazing role model for young women in so many ways. I also like the whole Atlantic ethos of being fully inclusive and supporting women to be empowered to achieve their goals in life. And I just have a very positive gut feeling that this is the right one. Now, this may be a bit controversial, but also because it doesn’t go to an international was a factor. My circumstances mean there is no way I could commit to going to an international. I would be thrilled to win such a prestigious UK title and stay right here!
As I said before once you’ve got the pageant bug it becomes a lifestyle so it’s always been in my blood. It’s my thing and other pageant people will relate to that. It’s like sports people isn’t it? It’s just what they do and pageants are no different. I mean if you’re given the chance to compete again as a ‘veteran’ why wouldn’t you ?!
Do you have a chosen platform and can you tell us more about it ?
My amazing daughter Erin was diagnosed with absence epilepsy when she was about 9 when her teachers noticed her classmates tapping her on the head to ‘wake her up’ in lessons. She will very rarely have a full typical epileptic fit but it can happen under certain circumstances. It’s something we kept private until he started University last year when she made the brave decision to make it public. Before this we were worried that because there is such a social stigma attached to epilepsy, even though it’s more common than people think, that it would go against her if she was competing and that people would act negatively toward her. How wrong we were! Since she came out everyone that matters has been so supportive and I’m so proud of her for speaking up. She’s now became an official ambassador for Epilepsy Action and her story has been used in their national campaigns and she’s an active fundraiser for them too. My brother had epilepsy when he was younger so it’s a cause that’s doubly close to my heart.
I also support Mind Mental Health charity. Not just because it’s the chosen charity of Atlantic Beauty Pageants but because I’ve seen first hand the effects that mental health difficulties can cause whole families particularly now during this awful crisis and they need every penny right now.
What are you most looking forward to at the Miss Atlantic finals ?
Defiantly the chance to get dressed up again on stage after 30 years and feeling revitalised! Some people say that you shouldn’t try and relive your youth. I say yes you should! and that’s exactly what I’m going to do! Last year’s final looked like it was so much fun and everyone was relaxed and just had a great weekend. I’m looking forward to having some girlie time for myself. Being involved with Atlantic Beauty Pageant has given me a whole new lease of life and kept me motivated and involved in the pageant community which is where I am most comfortable and happy. The thought of being on stage in a swimsuit at 53 has also kept me eating healthy and staying fit I can tell you! Jane Fonda is my new best friend (those old enough to know… know)
How do you deal with pageant nerves ?
Tricky one that? It’s been so long since I was on stage I forgotten how it feels! I know how I felt when Erin was in Miss Jr Teen GB and I was a quivering wreck the whole time. So I don’t really know to be honest. I’ll just stick on a big grin and hope I don’t fall over on stage. That’s my biggest worry! Keep calm and carry on that’s my motto…mostly!
What’s the best thing that pageants have taught you ?
The power of positivity
I saw your daughter competed in pageants too, was this because she wanted to follow in her mums footsteps?
Not really no. She didn’t actually know anything about my past when I first entered her into Miss Jr Teen GB. And in the beginning I kept a relatively low profile about my past so not to overshadow her. She wanted to win for her own reasons and that was what mattered the most to both of us. I encouraged her because I knew what positive things that pageants could bring to your life and I want her to achieve so much more than I ever did.
Finally what’s the best advice you can give fellow pageant queens?
Just do it, go for it and give it your best shot! I always say that not everyone wins but if you’ve given it 100% and you don’t win then that’s OK. You can’t be any better than your best. But don’t moan if you don’t win if there was more you could have done but chose not to. And don’t stress about what anyone else is doing. Only concern yourself with what you’re doing and then you’ll do your best. Don’t spend the whole run up stressing about stuff you can’t control. And most important- always be humble in victory and gracious in defeat – no one likes a big headed queen or a sore loser.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your pageant journey from the 80’s to now !! It’s been lovely getting to know you and I’m so glad you are competing again !! I wish you all the best at the Atlantic Finals please keep me informed. Much Love Charlotte, Ms Diamond South Yorkshire 2020.