Miss World comes home as contest turns 60
The glitz and glamour of Miss World returns to its British home to celebrate the global beauty contest's 60th birthday on Sunday, with a billion viewers expected across the planet.
A record 122 beauty queens from Albania to Zimbabwe take part in the pageant, which will be broadcast live to more than 150 countries.
The contestants have spent the past two weeks on a whirlwind tour of Britain, whipping up excitement ahead of the final, which takes place from 1700 GMT till 1900 GMT Sunday at the sold-out Earls Court Two venue in west London.
While beauty has always been at the heart of the event, brains, skills and good causes play a major role.
This year more than half of the participants are studying for a degree, one in four are graduates and more than half speak at least three languages.
"Every beautiful woman must have a purpose. Make your time worthwhile," Miss World chairwoman Julia Morley told the contestants as they kicked off their British tour.
The contenders were given a trip round Scotland to see the Gleneagles golf course, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle. They also tried out traditional Highland games, including caber tossing.
Next stop was the prestigious University of Cambridge, where they took part in a debate on social responsibility and had a punt race on the River Cam.
In London they went on a River Thames boat cruise to Greenwich, took a sightseeing open-top bus tour, went round the Tower of London and took a trip on the London Eye observation wheel.
The finalists have already been through five competitions which will help determine the overall winner: beach beauty, top model, talent, sports, and beauty with a purpose, where they can highlight a charity project.
The final will see footage screened from the previous two weeks, contestants performing national dances, footage from the talent show final and a parade before the winner is revealed.
Organisers are playing up the 60th anniversary homecoming, with past winners returning to take part.
The competition began in 1951, when Sweden's Kiki Haakansson beat 25 other contestants to the title.
Former Miss World contestants include Oscar-winning US actress Halle Berry, a 1986 finalist, and 1994 winner Aishwarya Rai, the Indian movie star. Twelve contestants have appeared in James Bond films.
"Miss World is proud to be celebrating its 60th birthday by returning to London, the city where it all began," a spokeswoman told AFP.
But the return of the competition to London has angered feminist groups, who have pledged to stage protests that may evoke memories of the 1970 pageant in the capital which was disrupted by feminist demonstrators.
The contest's charitable programme, set up 40 years ago, has raised $800 million (580 million euros) to date, the spokeswoman said.
Venezuela, India and the United Kingdom top the all-time leaderboard with five titles each, and leading British betting chains are tipping the South American country to claim a record sixth crown.
"This year's favourite is Ivian Sarcos from Venezuela -- and she certainly has the full package," said Ladbrokes news editor Craig Hares.
"Miss Venezuela, from a large family with 12 siblings, has a degree in human resources and currently works for a broadcasting company. She seems smart money at 7/1."
William Hill and Coral also made her their favourite -- Paddy Power chose Miss Bolivia at 5/1 -- with bookmakers ranking Ireland, Puerto Rico, Hungary, England, the United States, Indonesia and Belgium among their top five.
The chances of beleaguered Greece getting a Miss World boost are around 25/1.
The competition final was held in London until 1989, and has since visited Hong Kong; Atlanta, Georgia; Sun City in South Africa; Bangalore and Mumbai, India; the Seychelles; Sanya in China; Warsaw; and Johannesburg.
The last London final was in 2002 when it was switched from Nigeria after more than 200 people died in clashes sparked by a newspaper's suggestion that the Muslim prophet Mohammed would have chosen a wife from among the contestants had he been alive.
Miss United States, Alexandria Mills, won last year's final, held in Sanya.
Miss World has been running longer than its chief rival Miss Universe, which crowned Leila Lopes of Angola as its 2011 winner in September.
© 2011 AFP