Miss World owner: How a mother and housewife gave the beauty pageant a positive legacy
Julia Morley, chairman and owner of the Miss World Organisation, tells Emma Sinclair why the 60 year-old beauty pageant is so much more than bikinis and washboard stomachs – raising around £300m for charity and boosting local tourism and trade since its first competition.
Variety, the children's charity, last week hosted one of the property industry's most successful networking and fundraising events at a glitzy hotel in London. Target Parking, my company, is a regular supporter of the event, called "the PROPS", and we hosted Julia Morley,chairman and owner of the Miss World Organisation, together with the current Miss World, Yu Wenxia of China.
The event raises money for disabled, disadvantaged children who need wheelchairs and each year, Julia attends with the reigning 'Miss,' crown, sash and all, who presents awards to individuals and companies in the property industry who have excelled.
Julia Morley at Miss World, Sun City, 2001
Miss World has grown substantially since Julia took over the business in 2000, when her husband Eric died. Charity has always been at the heart of the MWO: under her chairmanship, it has raised an unbelievable £300m for charitable causes – and 60 years since its inaugural event, it still boasts a billion viewers a year and has a massive impact on everything from tourism to foreign investment to local philanthropy.
How was Miss World conceived?
In 1951 the first Miss World pageant was introduced as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations to boost national pride and garner overseas attention. After a decade of war, Eric Morley, Julia's husband, was tasked with creating a PR exercise for Mecca (who owned everything from cinemas to ice skating). Twenty-six of the 'world's most beautiful women' gathered together in one place – and so, Julia tells me, "Miss World was born". At its peak, the show claimed an audience of 27.5m in Britain alone – a figure comparable to that of a Royal wedding.
Did Miss World and ladies in swimwear ruffle feathers in the early days?
The Miss World competition is not without controversy - here members of India's main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party protest in New Delhi against the "Miss World-1996 Pageant".
The first Miss World, Sweden's Kiki Haakonson, was the first and last winner to be crowned in a two-piece swimsuit – which dispels the belief that Miss World was and is one big bikini fashion show. And in 1959, Loretta Powell of the USA arrived at the House of Commons clad in a stetson, ruffled shirt and cowboy trousers. The two stern-faced coppers in charge demanded she hand over her 'firearms' as even copies are not allowed in the British Parliament.
How has MWO grown?From 26 countries in its first year, 15 years later, some 86countries participated– the very year that Halle Berry represented the USA. At its 50th anniversary in London, a television audience of 2.3bn witnessed India retain the Miss World crown and in the UK alone more than 8m people tuned in during the two-hour broadcast on Channel 5.
Halle Berry, Hollywood actress, is a former Miss World contestant
Last year 137 countries walked the catwalk and by next year, Julia anticipates 150 contestants and countries will participate including newcomers such as Kazakhstan, Haiti, Guinea Bissau, Uzbekistan and Kosovo. This year thehost city is Jakarta, Indonesia, where finals will be held on September 28.
Why do so many countries participate?
Julia is in the business of tourism, she says. MWO has a staggering effect on local economies which is hardly surprising given 14pc of the world's population (me included) watch it every year. The proof's in the numbers.
South Africa's Sun City saw its overseas visitor numbers treble during the four continuous years that Miss World was broadcast from there between 1992 and 1995. In 2000, when Miss World was held in the Maldives, low season bookings jumped from 60pc to almost 90pc of capacity as a direct result according to their Ministry of Planning and National Development.
In 2006, more than 20,000 new jobs were created and an estimated £41m was added to the country's coffers as a result of Miss World taking place in Poland and Sanya in China, who hosted Miss World in 2010, saw international tourist figures rise by 42pc following the event. The City's foreign exchange revenues from tourism and increased international trade rose by 70pc, in what their mayor described as the "Miss World effect".
Miss World 1967 Madeline Hartog-Bel
So it's not just about bikinis and washboard stomachs?
Definitely not: Just look at the bios of some of the competitors. As early as 1966, India's first Miss World, Reita Feria, qualified as a doctor and every year there have been engineers and opera singers as well as models and Hollywood actresses.
In 1980, Julia formally implemented changes in the judging process to reinforce that. For the first time personality and intelligence came into the evaluation and, of equal importance, was that vital statistics were no longer deemed "vital".
What about the boys?
Five years ago Julia started Mr World, "to promote the boys as well as the girls". The next pageant is in May next year and could well be in London.
How big is the business?
MWO is a huge, international network and countries who participate license the Miss World name from MWO. Some years ago, Julia downsized. "I didn't like being part of a big organisation which didn't allow flexibility in management decisions," she says. Now there's no Board which is something she doesn't treat with frivolity and has allowed her to make quick decisions when she needs to. She has small team where "everyone piles in", a modest turnover of £5-6m per year and, she enthuses, "I love it."
Julia Morley with two favourites to win Miss World in 2000 (Stephen Lock)
What has been your biggest achievement in business?
"UndoubtedlyBeauty with a Purpose," Julia says. In 1972, "I was a mother and housewife in an unfamiliar business world" when Eric asked her to get more involved. She didn't think women having to go on stage in swim suits – walking and turning – was enough. So she talked to participating countries about how they might work alongside the contest to leave a lasting effect on local charitable causes and 40 years later, her brainchild has raised nearly £300m.
By encouraging the organisation, the Miss World contestants and the winner to initiate or assist in leaving a positive legacy, MWO ceased to become a mere PR exercise overnight and became "so much more than a pageant". Instead, she points out, it turned into a business with social cohesiveness, good intentions and global education firmly at its core.
Arguably Miss World is one of the world's biggest international networks. Julia, I am certain, has a friend in every port and city in all four corners of the world and, "until the day I die", will be working tirelessly to use it continue the incredible work she started giving Beauty, inner and out, a channel and purpose to do good.