fri 14/08/2020

Beauty Queen or Bust, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Beauty Queen or Bust, Channel 4

Beauty Queen or Bust, Channel 4

It's nail extensions at dawn in the battle to become Miss Black Country

Not just beauty queens, but 'ambassadors for their community'

Wolverhampton today, tomorrow the world. As unlikely as it was, that was the incentive for aspiring prize-winners in this first of three stories from Channel 4 looking at regional beauty pageants which in turn lead to Miss England and beyond.

The events themselves pretend to have moved on from the 1970s when beauty contests were screened live on television, attracting huge audiences in awe at the glamour of it all. Whisper it, but you’re not allowed to call them beauty queens any more. As we saw through the eyes of four young women from the West Midlands, vying to become Miss Black Country, now it’s all about “being natural” and being “an ambassador for your community”.

False nails aside, natural they certainly were. Diamond, an 18-year-old (pictured below right), could barely bash out a CV on the computer thanks to the length of her nail extensions. We saw her with her mates, pointing out the rough estate where she lives: drug dens, kids hanging about, cats crawling over the upturned sofa in someone’s front garden.

“This is the shop where we get all our alcohol from,” she told us, adding that she would still go in there dressed in her onesy “even if I won Miss World”. The women protesters who hijacked the 1970 Miss World final on the grounds that it was a cattle market, would have winced at her drinking and her threats to knock out three other females queuing for a nightclub, but there was something vulnerable about her as well. And it was this quality that impressed the judges, not least when she talked about raising £500 to pay for a teenage friend’s funeral after he’d been stabbed to death.

Diamond was one of four jewels in this entertaining if somewhat predictable film, each of them dreaming of a better life, a life within their reach if they could just get their lovely hands on that crown. Natalie (pictured below) was a mobile hairdresser who couldn’t drive, instead relying on the bus. Rejected as a chicken packer and as an elf (presumably seasonal work at Christmas, though it was never made explicit), she started her own business because she wanted to make something of herself.

Sammy-Jo was out of work and under pressure. “A beauty queen on a budget,” the voiceover told us, rather unnecessarily. She’d got all the time in the world but somehow still hadn’t prepared for her interview to get into the final (which she did. They all did; fancy that). And Ruby – the beauty pageant veteran who worked on make-up in Selfridges – seemed to have it all anyway, the £1,000 dress and the family willing to watch her shimmy up and down in it in the front room.

While the Miss Black Country contest brought mixed results for the subjects of our film, it did at least inspire them to do other, positive things with their lives. Two more towns are featured over the next couple of weeks and it’s difficult to imagine how those films might say anything that wasn’t said in this first episode.

Miss World in its prime would feature swimwear rounds and be seen by millions; Miss Black Country probably attracted less than 200 people and swapped the bikini for the eco-dress, something you had to make yourself from recycled materials. So while the rules may have changed, the hunger for something better is as strong as ever.

Diamond was one of four jewels in this entertaining if somewhat predictable film, each of them dreaming of a better life


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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