mentioned last week, I was invited to judge the Miss England contest,
a two-day event. On the night of the finals, the girls fell into
two groups. There were those who expected to win and felt they deserved
it, like Miss Essex. "I've worked all my life to get here,"
she said. She's 19. Group two were the girls who didn't expect to
win and didn't feel they deserved it. Most of these were the ones
I voted for. I had a strong feeling none of them would make it into
the final; and I was right.
judges took the scoring very seriously. I noticed one girl had
been given a zero out of 10. Was I not low enough? Chances are,
if you give a girl a 1, it gets the point across. But a zero?
A zero says: it will be a national catastrophe if this girl wins.
Was that really necessary? We're not on the UN security council.
So I gave her a 10. Just to balance it out. I'd decided anyone
5ft 5in and under would get top marks just for having the courage
to stand next to someone 5ft 11in wearing high heels. My vote
was giving the underdog a chance; it was a sympathy vote. I was
Sharon Osbourne. Without the money or the clothes.
After all 68 girls had appeared on stage
and given a twirl in their evening gowns, the soon-to-be-former
Miss England took the microphone to introduce the judges. One
by one we were to stand up and give a nod or a wave to the crowd
as our face appeared on a giant screen. It hadn't occurred to
me that I'd be in the spotlight. Could it get any worse? It could.
She said: "Ariel Leve from The Sunday Times, a very well-known
publicist." Close enough, I guess. Journalist, publicist
- they both end with "ist". I was seated next to a cricketer,
Darren Maddy, and I suspect we were next to each other because,
unlike the other seasoned judges, neither of us knew what we were
doing. "I don't get it," he said, pointing to a girl
in an empire-waisted gown. "That dress hides her shape."
I told him, that's what makes her so brave.
Every few minutes his buddies would come
over and advise Darren who to vote for, largely based on who they
wanted to date. A rugby player, Harry Ellis, offered to get me
a vodka, but I told him I didn't drink and to quiet down because
he was distracting me. My concentration was waning. Nearing the
end, I was warned by an assistant: "When Miss England is
crowned, there will be an explosion, so cover your ears."
For the rest of the show, all I could think about was the pending
There was a goody bag under my seat and
I opened it up, hoping to find earplugs. But instead there was
a complimentary can of fake-tan spray. I suppose it's okay to
be deaf as long as you're tanned. When Miss Oxfordshire, the new
Miss England, was announced, Darren's friends were thrilled and
I plugged my ears and waited. A few seconds passed, a few more
- then, just as I took them away, bang! The judges' table shook
as a blitz of confetti fell from the ceiling, like golden soot.
After the show I spoke with some of the
girls, most of whom seemed relieved it was over. There were, of
course, a few who were gutted, and I tried to comfort them by
explaining that none of it really matters and that being a loser
has its advantages. But I don't think that cheered them up at
all. Especially coming from me.