Last September saw the UK’s oldest and most prestigious pageant celebrate its 76th anniversary at the Athena in Leicester. With over 400 guests watching the live event, 58 ladies took to the stage in fashionwear, swimwear and eveningwear before being interviewed on stage for their chance to win the Miss Great Britain titles. Supported by two charities, Cancer Research UK and Midlands-based Alex’s Wish, conquering Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the 2021 event raised over £47,000 for the worthy causes.
Bringing the event into the 21st century, the 2021 Miss Great Britain pageant saw two new divisions introduced, including Ms Great Britain and Miss Great Britain Classic. Previously the competition capped contestants at age 27, however, these alterations now allow for more women to enter regardless of age. National Director, Kate Solomons said: “Our finalists are strong, independent and empowering women, and marital status or being a mother should not disallow them from entering a pageant, or carving out any career they choose to have. Now allowing women over 40 to compete is really helping to smash misconceptions of beauty pageants and help to demonstrate that women over a certain age are certainly not past their ‘sell by date’.”
Solomons added: “We have three outstanding winners and we are very excited for the year ahead.” One of these winners includes 38 year old Kat Henry, who took home the title of Ms Great Britain 2021/22. Originally from Croydon and now located in Oxted, Surrey, Henry works as a full-time Zumba instructor and blogger – whilst also competing in many big-named pageants.
We spoke with Kat to discuss her win, the negative stigmas around pagaenting and the lack of representation in mainstream media.
How did it feel winning Ms Great Britain?
“It’s been a long time in the process so hasn’t really sunk in yet but it feels amazing. It’s really cool to be able to represent people, who often don’t really get a look in, so I’m proud to be making a mark in society.”
You were also the first plus-size person of colour to win the title, how important do you think for someone like you to win this competition?
“I stand for representation of all different body shapes, sizes, ages, races, genders; in my opinion, we’re all worthy. It’s really important for the younger aspect of society to look up to people who look like them, or someone who they can actually relate to – to see those people in mainstream media, and to see them in strong, positive, role model roles. It’s really important to see those people making a difference in society. So for me, to actually have that opportunity and be given that platform, it allows me to reach people that maybe have never been reached before.”
Outside of pageantry, what is your daily life like?
“I’ve worked for the past 20 years in the corporate world, holding management and leadership roles within the finance, insurance and legal sectors. In January, as a result of Covid, I was made redundant from my position. It made me think, “this is a sign and a point in my life where I need to re-evaluate and see what I want to do with the rest of my life”. I’ve been doing all these things as a side hustle for over 7 years, and I’ve always said if I got the opportunity to make my passions into my full-time day job, then I would like to take that opportunity. Now I’m a full-time Zumba instructor, I teach 21 fitness classes a week; I’m a blogger, vlogger, social media influencer. I’m also a local radio DJ for Ridge Radio and Miss Great Britain, so I’ve got a very busy schedule and trying to juggle all of that – I thrive on being busy.”
What made you want to enter this year’s Miss Great Britain competition?
“I started pageantry in my thirties and Miss Great Britain used to cap at the age of 27, so I thought I’d never get the opportunity because I was too old. For their 75th anniversary , they launched a new category and I placed third; the minute I stepped off the stage, I thought “I’ve got to go and do it again”. If I want something, I really want it and I won’t give it up until I get it; and I knew I wanted to represent Miss Great Britain, so I wasn’t going to give up until I succeeded. I went back the following year and I’ve got the crown!”
How do you think the lack of plus size women in mainstream media affects women and young girls’ perceptions of body image?
“It’s very difficult for somebody who does not fit society’s conventional idea of beauty, to feel seen or heard in society today. They are deemed as lesser or unworthy in some way, and actually, that’s just not the case. There are strong women of colour, plus size women all over the world of all different shapes and sizes who are figureheads, and they are achieving great things. The problem is the mainstream media don’t seem so willing to share those successes as much as what you see of thinner counterparts or even the White counterparts. There is a lot less representation of people of colour generally within the press, so it’s hard as a youngster growing up to feel like they can relate to anybody. If they can’t see it on the TV or in a magazine, how are they even going to know it exists?”
“Social media has a huge responsibility, it’s both a blessing and a curse. In some ways, it’s given youngsters opportunities to see people they may not have seen because it’s more diverse on social media, but it’s also a curse because you’re battling with a heavily filtered society of people only showing their best sides and not showing the reality. I pride myself on keeping it real, especially on my social media. It’s really important for youngsters to see real, authentic people doing fantastic stuff. That stuff should be shouted about, praised, and published so people can see it all over the world. The fact that someone of my size has won this title and it’s not in the mainstream press is worrying, why would you not want to share that? We are one community; we are one human race and we all come in different shapes and sizes so there is no division in my mind. We’re all human, we’re all beautiful and we should all be entitled to love and respect regardless of who we are. But we have a way to go.”
What charity events have you taken part in?
“For Miss Great Britain, there are two main charities which we support, Cancer Research UK and Leicester-based Alex’s Wish. Both my mother and father have had forms of cancer, so that’s very close to my heart. However, I have also spent a lot of time raising awareness and funds for many causes throughout my pageant history. Philanthropic and volunteer work is important. I try not to stick with one cause because my title and platform can be used to amplify a few different causes, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Do you have any beauty products that you’re really loving at the moment?
“This season doesn’t work for me, I hate being cold, I’m more of a Spring/Summer person! Layering is the biggest thing for me because I need to be warm. In terms of beauty, I’m a big fan of certain brands for my makeup. I really love Il Makiage for face coverage, their 60-second colour match quiz online is fantastic! For skincare, I swear by Garnier, I have all their products. I use all the same products that I have for many years. My tip is to find something you like and stick with it!”
Earlier you touched on the fact that you are a mother, from what I’ve seen your daughter likes to pageant too?
“Yes! When I won Miss British Beauty Curve in 2015, she was anti-pageant and I’m not a pushy parent, I’m very much, “do what you want to do and I’ll support you regardless.” Then as I began to become more emersed in this pageant world, she was like “I might just try one” and now she’s fully in. She should’ve been going over to Texas to compete for her international title but because of Covid, it all got cancelled. Now she’s in her second year of university, it’s hard for her to juggle her time effectively, to give pageants time, dedication and study full-time. She’s put a hold on it for now, to focus on her studies and then revisit it. She’s still quite young, she’s only 20 so she’s got a whole plethora of different systems that she can go and try. Who knows one day she might be taking home the Miss Great Britain title, you never know!”
What are your next steps?
“There are other things that I would like to do with this title, but for this year I’m going to focus on representation and using this voice and platform to amplify the fact that we need to see different representations. Pageantry can have a Marmite mindset, people either love them or hate them and it’s hard to change someone’s opinion if you’ve never experienced it first-hand. A lot of people will look at a beauty pageant as anti-feminist or objectifying women, but if you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll know it’s completely the opposite. There’s so much of it that is centred on volunteering work, charity fundraising, empowering women. So, I would say, don’t judge something unless you’ve experienced it yourself.”
Fancy giving it a go yourself? Applications for the 2022 competition are now open!