Beauty pageants today are about far more than just looks - that’s the message from Maryann Cunningham, who has just been crowned the latest Miss South Yorkshire.
The 20-year-old stresses how the competition, which this year attracted 30 entries from across the region, also asks its contestants to raise money for charity.
This year the pageant supported South Yorkshire charity, Safe at Last, that aims to help young people at risk through running away - and Maryann, of Thorne, Doncaster, says she feels proud to have fundraised for such a worthwhile cause.
She said: “I hope it can do some good. I think a lot of people have an idea about what a beauty pageant is, but it’s not like that anymore.
“You’re now judged on things like how you do in the boot camp, how you are on stage, how much money you can raise for charity and how you are in conversations with the other contestants.
“I managed to raise £1,250 for Safe at Last through car boot sales and bake sales, which I was pleased with.”
You’re now judged on how you do in boot camp and how much you raise for charity
Commenting on how it feels to have been crowned Miss South Yorkshire, Maryann, an online marketer for Vault clothing in Doncaster, said: “It feels incredible, there was a lot of stiff competition this year.
“My family are really proud of me, but then they always supported me in all of the beauty pageants I’ve taken part in.”
The contest, which took place at the Consort Hotel in Rotherham on May 12, took its 11 finalists through three stages - the interview round, the charity round and the stage round.
Contestants were also put through their paces prior to the competition, with a fitness bootcamp at Meadowhall.
Maryann was also was also awarded Miss Fitness for her efforts, physical strength and determination during the boot camp.
First and second runners up in this year’s competition were Aimee Barber and Stafanie Williams both from Rotherham.
Jill Faulkner, director of Miss South Yorkshire for Miss Great Britain, said: “I’m absolutely delighted with the effort that all of the girls put in this year, helping to raise an incredible £4,000 for charity.”
Maryann first started taking part in beauty pageants three years ago, and says they have helped her to feel more confident about herself.
She said: “I think I have really grown as a person through doing these pageants. I first competed in Miss South Yorkshire three years ago, when I came runner up, but I was confident enough to come back and try again.
“It makes you think yes, I can do it. You would think that you already have to be very confident to take part, but it actually helps to give you confidence. That’s what I’d say to anyone out there who might have been too nervous to take part in the past.”
And it is the confidence she has gained through being crowned Miss South Yorkshire, that Maryann hopes will give her a fighting chance when she represents the region in the Miss Great Britain competition this September.
Running since 1945, the Miss Great Britain pageant is the country’s longest-running beauty contest, and over the years has helped to launch the careers of celebrities including former Blue Peter presenter, Leila Williams and model and TV personality Danielle Lloyd.
Maryann says she feels privileged to be able to participate in a pageant with such a long history.
She said: “It’s been going for over 70 years, so to be a Miss Great Britain finalist is a big thing for me.
“I feel proud of myself for making it into the finals.”
She adds that the Miss South Yorkshire pageant is one of the toughest around, because of how much it asks of its contestants, which she believes will hold her in good stead when she competes to become Miss Great Britain.
“You’ve got to be quite a well rounded person to win Miss South Yorkshire, and I’m going to take everything I’ve learned through with me to the final,” said Maryann.
Miss South Yorkshire director Jill Faulkner said hopes were high for Maryann in the next round.
She added: “Maryann’s a well-rounded contestant, she’s the full package.
“We put her through a lot to win, with the charity work and the fitness, and she did really well with all of that so I’m confident she can do the same again in Miss Great Britain.
“All of our winners always have a great chance of winning because of what we put them through in our competition.”
The final of Miss Great Britain will take place on September 23 at the Athena Hotel in Leicester.
MISS GREAT BRITAIN
• Now in its 71st year, Miss Great Britain began in the Summer of 1945 under the name “Bathing Beauty Queen”, organised by the Morecambe Local Council in partnership with the ‘Sunday Dispatch’ newspaper. Morecambe went on to become the home of Miss Great Britain between 1956 and 1989. • The first ever Miss Great Britain final was watched by 4,300 people in a continuous downpour. The winner received a cup and according to the local newspaper ‘a paltry prize’ of seven guineas as well as a swimsuit. • By 1978, the prize fund had increased to £10,000 thanks to the competition’s sponsors, and the popularity of the competition was again on the rise.