| Shruti Sharma(AP/PTI)
Shruti Sharma, India’s entry in the current Miss World contest, appeared remarkably relaxed and confident on Thursday morning in the face of a growing campaign by feminist and other groups in Britain to have the whole pageant called off.
“I am enjoying myself a lot in London,” said the 22-year-old model from Mumbai, who added that she was well aware of the burden of expectation, given the success of Aishwarya Rai, Diana Hayden, Yookta Mookhey and Priyanka Chopra in winning the contest for India in recent years.
Shruti, who has come equipped with a extensive wardrobe designed by Ritu Kumar, Ashley Ribello and Hemant Trivedi, added in an exclusive interview: “I can’t promise I will win but I will do my best. I am aware there are expectations and responsibilities.”
Her “business as usual” attitude contrasts with a sense of crisis which has gripped the contest despite the pageant being forced out of Nigeria to London, where it has not really found a welcome.
Despite the opposition, Julia Morley, chairman of the Miss World organisation, is determined the show will go ahead on December 7 and take place at Alexandra Palace, a big venue away from the centre of London. This was the location a few years ago where the Hindujas invited 5,000 to their Diwali party where the chief guest was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Back in Nigeria, where days of rioting have left more than 200 dead, the affair has taken a new twist. The journalist, Isioma Daniel, who gave offence with an article considered insulting to prophet Mohammed, has had a fatwa issued against her by a Muslim leader, only to have the death sentence rejected by the secular federal government in Lagos. Despite this assurance, Daniel, who is being compared with Salman Rushdie, has gone to ground.
In London, some commentators have suggested that Morley was somehow morally responsible for the troubles in Nigeria.
This drew a sharp rebuke from her. “There is absolutely no way I feel guilty and to claim there is blood on my hands is incredibly hurtful,” she said.
“Miss World cannot be held responsible for the riots,” she insisted. “They were down to one journalist who wrote something which inflamed the local people.”
She said the 90 contestants were in “great spirits”.
This certainly seems true of Shruti, who said she had never felt unsafe even in Nigeria. “I have never had so much security in my life,” she explained.
Last night, the girls, who are staying at a hotel near Heathrow airport, were taken to the Royal Albert Hall. “It was a magic show,” she enthused. “This is my first time in London and it is so nice to meet so many warm people.”
Shruti, who was allocated Miss World by virtue of coming second in the contests organised by Femina magazine in India, said the beauty business had become perfectly acceptable in India.
This again contrasts with the prevailing attitude in Britain. Although feminist journalists have little objection to lap-dancing, strip clubs, topless pictures in daily newspapers, scantily-dressed models on catwalks and in advertising, explicit sex on television and so much else which could be considered better targets for their anger, there is something about Miss World which sets their teeth on edge.
The contest is getting more coverage in the British press than it has had since it was forced into exile in 1989 from London, its home since Miss World was established in 1951. But almost all of it is hostile.
“Miss World dinosaur should be put to sleep,” was the headline on a typical comment piece by one writer, Vanessa Feltz, in the Daily Express.
“For heaven’s sake, let’s move on and leave this televisual dinosaur to its death throes,” her piece concluded.