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 are taking 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 Sunday evening 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 also 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.
Before the winner is revealed, the final will see footage screened from the previous two weeks, contestants performing national dances, footage from the talent show final and a parade.
Organizers 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 U.S. 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 program, 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 leader board with five titles each, and leading British betting chains are tipping the South American country to claim a record sixth crown.
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.