Interview with Sally-Ann Fawcett – Pageant Judge and Author of Misdemeanours
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your all things pageantry, for my pageant lockdown blog.It’s amazing to interview someone who has competed, judged and written about pageants.
So what made you enter pageants ?
The first time I ever caught a glimpse of a beauty queen was in 1974 when my mum switched channels so she could see the news. It was the last ten minutes of Miss United Kingdom 1974 and I was captivated by the glamour, the nerves, the excitement, the glittering crown, the obvious prestige. From that moment on, I fell in love with pageants and collated probably about 50 scrapbooks of beauty queen cuttings over the years, aided and helped by my dad, who died last month.
When I turned 18 I knew I HAD to enter some myself, just to add to my pageant experience.
So you competed about 6 or 7 times in your local Miss England heat during the late 1980’s can you firstly tell us how it was competing then ?
Competing back then was far less pressured than these days. Hair extensions, cosmetic procedures, spray tans – these were all in their infancy (or banned) so any tan came from a bottle from Boots, and pageant preparation meant leaving work half an hour early to go to the hairdressers for a blow dry! Every pageant had its swimsuit round too and most crownings took place in swimwear in those days. One major difference is the media attention: the big pageants drew millions in TV broadcasts, while every day the newspapers would feature some winner or other, just for the hell of it. There were pageants for everything, every brand, every publication, every occasion. It was pageant heaven!
What’s the best thing that contestants learn by entering pageants ?
The best thing I learned is that I prefer watching, judging and gathering historical data about pageants than actually competing in them! It just wasn’t for me. I loved the interview on stage, that was by far my strength, but I didn’t enjoy the build-up and the worries that I’d lose a front tooth the night before or wake up with a gigantic spot. I’m so glad I entered as many as I did, but I much prefer being on the other side of the stage!
I know you love vintage pageants which is your favourite vintage beauty queen ?
My favourite vintage beauty queen is the first one I ever saw all those years ago in 1974 – Helen Morgan, Miss UK and Miss World that year. Her story had everything: a single mum who resigned as Miss World due to all the pressure heaped on her by a scandal-hungry media, who went on to become such a popular figure in the UK and someone whom the public really got behind. Her story was the catalyst for my fascination in what goes on behind the scenes, not just what happens on it.
Now you have turned to a pageant judge how do the heats and finals differ from when you competed to how they are now ?
Back in the 1980s each heat for Miss England or Miss UK or Miss GB was hotly contested and would attract about 20-30 girls each time. Each town held a heat and the rules then were that you could enter a maximum of three different ones per pageant per year. You often got the same girls doing the rounds but it meant that the creme de la creme made it to the grand finals.
Many British pageants these days don’t hold live heats as such, they accept all entries, which may seem less prestigious on paper but does show how inclusive and democratic they are now.
Do you think the U.K. pageant industry has grown since you competed ?
The pageant industry has grown considerably since the 80s due to so many new titles and pageants being created, but paradoxically they get less public attention due to the lack of interest in the media compared to those days.
Do you think queens in U.K. are viewed differently compared to when you competed ?
I competed just as the media was starting to turn away from pageants, and just a few years after the BBC banned them from being shown on TV, branding them “offensive and sexist”. But just prior to that, in the 60s and 70s, beauty queens were the reality TV celebrities of their day and winning was seen as an opportunity for women to better their lives and make their own money and success, instead of relying on a man. These days, women are already independent and successful and don’t need to win a pageant for those reasons. They enter for the fun, the challenge, the self development and, of course, to promote their charity work.
American queens are treated like royalty do you think U.K. queens will ever be treated the same ?
British beauty queens were treated like royalty in the 60s and 70s, feted at every turn and seen as true role models to look up to and admire. In pageant circles, they are still seen in that way, but the world has moved on to TV reality stars and social media influencers, as well as to high achievers in the fields of sports, business and entertainment.
There are more and more pageant systems coming to the U.K. allowing more and more women to compete. Do you think this is a good thing or should we stick to the top 5 world pageants ?
As I said before, the influx of new pageants allow women of all ages and backgrounds to compete, which can only be a good thing. My only worry is that having so many pageants dilutes the prestige of winning, which was enormous in the old days when there were just the big 3 of Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss International.
The first pageant you judged was in 2014 for Miss International U.K. and now you judge Miss Great Britain, Miss Wales, Miss Northern Ireland and Miss International U.K. why do you think you are asked to judge so often ?
I am so honoured to be invited to judge so many pageants, and especially the pageants I was obsessed with in my childhood! Holly Pirrie was the very first director to ask me to judge in 2014 and it was quite honestly a dream come true. I think I’m asked to judge because of my knowledge of the pageant world, which goes back all those years, together with my appreciation for modern day pageantry and knowing what to look for in a winner. I am also hopefully known as a very fair judge and one who is passionate about the pageant world and all it entails.
What do you look for when you judge ?
A winner for me is a role model: someone we can all aspire to be, but someone to whom we can all relate. Passion, eloquence and intelligence must shine through, while on stage it is easy to spot the winner with the X factor: quiet, poised confidence that doesn’t need a flashy walk or waving of the sarong to command my attention. A combination of all these qualities makes someone pretty unbeatable!
Which round do you like to judge the most ?
I love the interview round. Someone who perhaps hasn’t stood out as a front runner beforehand can walk into that room and walk out five minutes later as a winner. It proves that beauty really does lie within.
How do you know that you have picked the right winner ?
Someone once said that when you judge pageants you end up with 30 enemies and one best friend!! Not true at all, thankfully, and for me the best aspect of judging is meeting so many people from all walks of life and all areas of the country and to reunite with old friends. And of course being able to help choose a winner is very special.
So as well previously competing in pageants and judging them you also write about them. So far you have published 3 books in the Misdemeanours series. Which is all about beauty scandals. What’s the worst scandal you have written about ?
My three books – Misdemeanours, More Misdemeanours, and Mis-3-meanours, chart the history of the last 80 years of pageantry, including the stories that, in those days, made front page headlines and the News at Ten in a way that would seem unthinkable now. The only Miss World in history to have been sacked was Marjorie Wallace, the American winner from 1973 who cavorted with Tom Jones and George Best very openly, before Eric and Julia Morley decrowned her due to her behaviour. It caused a huge worldwide scandal back then, whereas these days, she’d be in huge demand as a contestant on I’m a Celebrity or Strictly!
The link to purchase Misdemeanours is – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Misdemeanours-Beauty-Scandals-Sally-Ann-Fawcett/dp/1291906363
Are you planning on writing a fourth book in the future ?
I am due to publish a book covering 75 years of the Miss Great Britain pageant later this year, which I’m really excited about.
Due to COVID19 a lot of pageants have been postponed or cancelled do you think that the pageant industry will recover ?
The pageant world, and all aspects of life, will recover from this terrible crisis, whether later this year, or next year. The cancellation of pageants is a blow to the directors and contestants – and fans – but they will without question rise again, together with a new appreciation for life and all we may have taken for granted. In the meantime, lots of virtual pageants are springing up in the meantime and, who knows – we may end up with our very first virtual Miss World!!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your pageantry it’s been amazing reading your answers and to learn more about pageants through the years. I’m going to order all three books, I can’t wait to read them. Much Love Charlotte, Ms Diamond South Yorkshire 2020.