Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke reflects on the recent Miss World competition in India where she did Northern Ireland proud

Perfect teeth, a love of children and animals and hopes for world peace are no longer anywhere near enough for a Miss World contestant.
Miss Northern Ireland Kaitlyn Clarke with the other Miss World contestants in IndiaMiss Northern Ireland Kaitlyn Clarke with the other Miss World contestants in India
Miss Northern Ireland Kaitlyn Clarke with the other Miss World contestants in India

These days the modern Miss World-wannabes are put through a rigorous vetting process, where they must display not just beauty, but brains, sporting prowess, a talent, public speaking ability, and evidence of their humanitarianism.

Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke, who has recently returned from the competition in India, and did Northern Ireland proud by scoring highly in two categories, agrees the event is far removed from the days when the girls would prance around the stage for the ‘infamous’ swimwear section.

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People might think beauty pageants are outdated, but actually their ideas of what a beauty pageant is outdated, says Kaitlyn, 27, who is originally from Belfast, but now lives in Antrim.

Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing her national costume at the Miss World competition in IndiaMiss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing her national costume at the Miss World competition in India
Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing her national costume at the Miss World competition in India

"People think these girls just have big hair, wear high heels and look pretty on stage and I can guarantee you that it's not the main event of what Miss World is about – some pageant circuits, maybe, but definitely not with Miss World.

"So, for example, some of the the girls that were competing (in India), included Miss England, an aerospace engineer, who has been invited by NASA to take part in projects they've got going on. There were girls that are human rights lawyers. There was one girl who had just made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 list for a business she owns. There were doctors that are involved in cancer research. There was one girl who had built the first secondary school in her village in Uganda."

Kaitlyn, who works as a primary school teacher alongside freelance social media work, and has a background in musical theatre, spent three weeks in India, where she was one of 113 contestants.

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"It was amazing. You're never ever going to go anywhere in the world, where you will have that many cultures under the one roof.

Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing a sari in India during the Miss World finalMiss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing a sari in India during the Miss World final
Miss NI Kaitlyn Clarke wearing a sari in India during the Miss World final

“We spent a week in New Delhi and then travelled to Mumbai for two weeks. The final was held there.”

Kaitlyn said the contestants had a hectic schedule of rehearsals, which didn’t leave much time for sight-seeing, but they did visit the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in New Dehli.

"This was just as the sun was rising and the sun in India seems to always be orange. It is just gorgeous.

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"We also visited the Mahatma Gandhi Museum, which was actually at the house where he lived. That was beautiful.”

The Miss World competition is a huge global spectacle, with a viewership spanning over 140 countries and territories and an audience exceeding one billion people worldwide.

"The opening ceremony of Miss World was in New Delhi. It was outdoors on a massive lawn, the size of two football pitches, with a crazy large outdoor stage,” said Kaitlyn. “Each girl got to wear their home country dress. I had a beautiful green linen piece which was created by Anastasia McGivern, who is based in east Belfast.

​"Every girl comes out and takes the mic and introduces themselves and then they do their walk. So when I was called up I took the mic and said ‘What's the craic India? I'm Kaitlyn Clarke representing Northern Ireland’,” she laughs.

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"For the remainder of the trip all the girls would say, ‘What's the craic Northern Ireland’. It was just so funny to hear it in so many different accents.”

In Mumbai Bollywood choreographers taught the contestants dance pieces and a local designer made them saris. And whilst there they completed a series of challenge days.

"We had the Sports Challenge day which I'm proud, but also not proud, to say I was the first person in Europe to be put out of the bleep test,” said Kaitlyn.

But she did significantly better in the talent round, where she showed off her singing skills with a rendition of Don’t Rain on my Parade by Barbra Streisand, and was placed second.

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An important element of the Miss World competition is Beauty with a Purpose, which motivates young women to create or support important charity causes around the globe.

Kaitlyn added: “One of the biggest challenges of Miss World is called the head to head challenge. And that is where we will discuss and present on different economic and social issues worldwide. We each got the opportunity to go to the G20 Summit location in India where the world leaders met back in September 2023.

"We got to present our Beauty with a Purpose project for the first round, so I got a chance to speak about the Northern Ireland Hospice (she is an ambassador for the charity) on a world scale, which was a privilege to say the least.”

Kaitlyn reached the top 20 in this challenge, which meant she was able to go on and present on one of the G20 topics.

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"I spoke about the digitalisation of beauty standards and safeguarding social media for, in particular, young women and the youth of today. There's a lot of harmful trends, there's a lot of targeted advertising that maybe isn't the most positive in terms of body standards and beauty standards. I looked at how we combat that and use social media more intentionally and positively in terms of body image.”

The Miss World competition has a top 40 ranking, which unfortunately Kaitlyn didn’t make, but she wasn’t disheartened.

​”I was in it for the experience and I wasn't expecting to place in anything. So placing in two categories was like winning to me. I performed a lot better than what I had ever aimed or thought that I would.”

And she said one of the loveliest things whilst she was there was the support from home.

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“I got so many lovely messages on Instagram. I think the nicest thing is a lot of people have said I did the country proud.”

Indeed, during her time in India, Kaitlyn was keen to promote Northern Ireland’s many attributes.

“I am a die hard fan of our country, I was bigging up our coastline, bigging up our people, the things that we have here in terms of tourism. I'm very, very passionate about that. People said I didn't go and just try and be a beauty queen, I went and tried to represent our country, which was really a lovely compliment to hear.”

Kaitlyn was crowned Miss NI last May and is coming to the end of her year in the role. She said one of the highlights of her tenure has been being an ambassador for the Northern Ireland Hospice, taking part in fundraising walks and coffee mornings, volunteering in the charity shops and more.

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“People think hospices are where people go to pass away, and it’s not, the hospice provides so much wraparound care for patients. It’s all about symptom management care, they have outsourcing teams that go into the community to work with people, they have prenatal care for parents, they have bereavement care for families, they are doing so much all the time.”

After the whirlwind of the last few months, Kaitlyn is looking forward to spending time on the north coast, then a good summer holiday with her partner Simon. Career-wise she’d love to move into TV presenting or a role that shows off her undeniable public speaking skills, but for the moment she is now back teaching part-time until the end of June and “prepping” herself to hand over the Miss NI crown at the Miss NI 2024 final at The Europa on Monday, May 27.

"We are currently in the middle of searching for our next Miss NI, so I'm very lucky that I get to host a lot of the heats for that and I get to mentor the girls, which is lovely. Any girl that is thinking about applying for Miss NI, my advice would be, go for it. Don’t worry about fitting into the cookie-cutter pageant mould. I didn’t fit into it. You can find out more information from the Miss NI Instagram page or my messages (KaitlynJClarke) are always open for anyone that has a question.”

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