Elizabeth Grant on winning Miss England and raising funds for Derian House
PUBLISHED: 09:09 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:09 30 May 2017
A chance encounter in a Preston street led Elizabeth Grant to the finals of Miss World. She tells Mairead Mahon her story and the tragedy that spurred her on.
‘There really is a book waiting to be written about the psychology of beauty contests,’ says Preston-born Elizabeth Grant and, if that’s the case, there’s certainly no-one better qualified to write it. Not only is she the reigning Miss England, she is also a psychology student at Liverpool’s John Moores University.
‘Brains and beauty do mix and besides, beauty competitions are no longer concerned only with a pretty woman that can walk in high heels while wearing a bikini,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Bikinis do figure but they’re not itsby-bitsy anymore!
‘That round of the competition now takes the form of a fashion shoot, so it is much more acceptable. I have no objection to wearing a bikini – I wear one when I’m on holiday – but I didn’t want to wear one with high heels while walking on a stage in front of judges. ’
As in all the best stories, Elizabeth was completely taken by surprise when she was stopped in the street by a talent scout, who asked her if she would consider entering the Miss Preston competition.
‘I actually turned around to see who she was addressing - there was no way I thought it was me. I had just gone into Preston, no make-up and my hair in need of combing, to buy my boyfriend, Curtis Haley, a bracelet as a Valentine’s gift.
‘These days, he’s really proud of that bracelet as he teases that, if I hadn’t been shopping for him that day, this great adventure might never have happened. He’s right I suppose.’
When the scout had convinced her that she would make a great contestant, Elizabeth had a few questions of her own and many of those were concerned with just what would be expected from her – including the bikini question.
‘There was no way that I was going to enter a competition in which I would be judged on my looks alone. After all, this is the 21st century and sisters, as the song says, are doing it for themselves. ‘
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice.....memorial stone for her sister Melanie
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice......Tree of remembrance
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice....here in the soft play area with nurse Kelly Glover and Alyssa
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice.....here with Leon
Miss England, Elizabeth Grant, at Derian House Children's Hospice....here with staff members (L-R); Rosie Thomas, Louise Beatty, Katie Turner, Michelle Blackett, Kelly Glover, Leonie Makinson, Marie Platt and Lisa Morgan
Elizabeth discussed it with her parents, Desmond and Catherine, from Ribbleton, and Curtis, who is a teaching assistant, and they did some research. None of them had much clue about beauty contests but Elizabeth says her father, who is a DJ, has ‘become an expert on them – they’re now his speciality subject!’
Elizabeth, who eventually went on to win Miss Preston and then Miss England, before taking part in Miss World in Washington, finally agreed after discovering that entrants were also judged on their ability to fundraise for charity.
As Elizabeth has been heavily involved for many years with Derian House, the Children’s Hospice near Chorley, she began to see how this could be a great opportunity to make their work known to a wider audience.
‘I’m not the first beauty queen in my family, you know. My sister, Melanie, was the first. She was out shopping with my mum, Catherine, when a talent spotter asked her if she would like to enter a junior beauty competition that a local newspaper was running. She did and she won, having great fun in the process,’ says Elizabeth.
Sadly, Melanie became seriously ill with a brain tumour and was cared for in Derian House until she passed away at the age of 12, leaving the Grant family grateful for the care and support the hospice had provided.
‘I was only about five at the time but I have never stopped coming back and helping when I can. The hospice has to raise £3.85 million each year from its own efforts and I’ve been involved for a long time in helping to do my bit, whether it’s a sponsored nine hour walk – yes, I thought I’d never walk again – or attending a fundraising lunch,’ says Elizabeth.
The hospice was delighted that she wanted to use her celebrity status to highlight the needs of the centre, helping to raise funds for a new sensory garden and new building, Vinton Place, where children can relax with their families. When not fundraising – she is now a ‘Fundraising Ambassador’ – she regularly pops in to say hello, sometimes wearing her Miss England ball gown, sash and crown.
‘The children love the whole regalia and, let’s be honest, so do I although when I entered Miss Preston, the first hurdle was the fact that I didn’t possess anything that resembled a gown – they don’t tend to form part of the wardrobe of a university student,’ laughs Elizabeth.
The internet came to the rescue and she managed to secure one for £20, although her heart sank a little when she arrived at the contest, dress in a plastic carrier bag, to discover some of the others had taken it a little more seriously.
‘At that point, I wasn’t too fazed as I was just looking on it as an experience and, besides, I was thinking that it could make a great subject for my dissertation,’ she says. ‘I was glad to see though that my research had been correct. In the modern beauty competition, it’s not just beauty that wins through. As well as possessing good looks, contestants have to show intellect and a willingness to be involved with hands on charity or fundraising work – beauty with a purpose.’
Beauty competitions have a reputation for petty jealousies and cattiness so how did Elizabeth cope with it, especially as she was a complete newcomer to that world?
‘That’s just another myth. If it had been like that, I’d have left straight away. After all, when I entered Miss Preston I was just doing it for amusement, I had nothing to lose. It was just going to be a great experience, something to tell the grandchildren!
‘No one was desperate to win, there were no tantrums, maybe because most of the women had other careers, were students or even had their own businesses. Not winning was never going to be a crushing blow.
‘It was just great fun. It’s hard not to laugh when you’re hurriedly trying to zip up each other’s dresses. That’s another thing – no-one starved themselves to get into a dress, in fact I would have to say, boy, can those girls eat!’
However, it was winning Miss Preston that led to entry in the Miss England competition but this time, things were a little different. ‘I was representing my city and, besides, I knew that if I won I would dedicate my year to Melanie and to Derian House so, yes, I invested much more and my family and everyone at Derian were right behind me. When I won, I was actually lost for words because I knew what this could mean for all of us.’
Elizabeth has certainly raised the profile of Derian and will be announcing how much money she has raised at the end of her year.
‘I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved,’ she says. ‘I took a year out from my university course to concentrate on this and it will have been worth it. I do believe in taking every opportunity and I’m so glad this one came my way and that I didn’t allow an old fashioned view of beauty contests to blinker me.
‘It’s also made me think about what I want to do in the future. I won some super prizes, including a trip to Mauritius, as well as a TV presenter training course which was great and made me think about this area as a future career.
‘ Maybe I could combine it with using my psychology degree and become a TV psychologist. Look out for a television sofa near you soon – it might be me on it, although I probably wouldn’t wear my crown.’