South Burnett Times - - READ - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

With less than a month be­fore the Miss World pageant, you’d be for­given for think­ing prepa­ra­tions would in­volve high ro­ta­tion beauty treat­ments and walk­ing in heels with books on your head.

But just a cou­ple of weeks be­fore she leaves for China, Aus­tralia’s en­trant Taylah Can­non is off on a tour of dusty, drought-stricken farms, not wor­ry­ing too much about what it might do to her fin­ger­nails or her prox­im­ity to de­signer vi­ta­min wa­ter.

If you need proof that mod­ern beauty pageants are chang­ing, this is prob­a­bly it.

Since 2015, Miss World con­tes­tants have not needed to pack their bathers for swimwear judg­ing – bust, waist and hip mea­sure­ments are con­sid­ered im­ma­te­rial in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

These days it’s sup­posed to be about pur­pose, the cause en­trants cham­pion on an in­ter­na­tional stage.

Taylah’s choice is a top­i­cal one, the plight of farm­ers and towns in eastern Aus­tralia as drought tight­ens its grip on the land, with the coun­try now on of­fi­cial El Nino alert.

On a global scale, par­tic­u­larly in Asia, it means sharp drops in food pro­duc­tion and the dev­as­ta­tion of large swathes of agri­cul­tural land.

It’s not the typ­i­cal con­cern of a beauty queen but then 24-year-old Taylah is prob­a­bly not your usual pageant princess.

The trained vet nurse has never mod­elled be­fore – she was al­ways a bit shy, she says – and the Miss World Aus­tralia pageant was the first one she’d ever en­tered. It came about from a New Year’s prom­ise to her­self to do some­thing out of her com­fort zone ev­ery day.

That she is al­most im­pos­si­bly beau­ti­ful is a given, but it’s her sin­cer­ity that’s most touch­ing.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to learn­ing a lot more about the drought first-hand,” she says. “I’ve done a bit of read­ing and I’m ex­pect­ing it to be quite con­fronting, par­tic­u­larly the an­i­mal side of things.”

Taylah is an avowed an­i­mal lover. The Gold Coast woman has never ven­tured too far west but will be part of a team putting to­gether a doc­u­men­tary on the drought’s ef­fects and cur­rent re­lief ef­forts.

An edited ver­sion will fol­low Taylah to Sanya, China, where five en­trant-sup­plied doc­u­men­taries will be cho­sen for world­wide broad­cast to more than a bil­lion peo­ple in 74 coun­tries.

It’s all part of the so-called “beauty with a pur­pose” judg­ing cat­e­gory that pageant or­gan­is­ers will tell you is a key cri­te­ria for pageant suc­cess.

It’s used to gauge an en­trant’s in­tel­li­gence, per­son­al­ity, com­mit­ment and abil­ity to speak on hu­man­i­tar­ian or so­cial is­sues. In a com­plex judg­ing sys­tem, the cat­e­gory win­ner is also cat­a­pulted straight into the pageant semi-fi­nals.

Just as well it’s the judg­ing area Taylah feels the most com­fort­able tak­ing part in.

“I feel like that part is some­thing that comes nat­u­rally for me,” she says. “It’s not some­thing like walk­ing that you have to prac­tise.

“It’s just some­thing that comes from the heart and touches peo­ple’s lives.”

Taylah has barely had time to find a spot to stow her crown since win­ning the Miss World Aus­tralia ti­tle at Palazzo Ver­sace in late Au­gust.

In the cou­ple of months, she’s been to Malaysia, the Mal­dives and Noumea as part of her of­fi­cial du­ties. Then there’s her home­work, about two hours a day, study­ing up on cur­rent af­fairs, world events, arts, cul­ture, ge­og­ra­phy and what­ever else she may be asked about as part of the judg­ing process.

The Miss World fran­chise, the planet’s old­est in­ter­na­tional beauty con­test, will have you know there’s a lot more to win­ning Miss World than look­ing great in an evening dress, stand­ing up straight and smil­ing.

Taylah needs to be in China a full month be­fore the Miss World 2018 win­ner is an­nounced on De­cem­ber 8. She’s not ly­ing when she says she’s not en­tirely sure ex­actly what lies ahead.

“I’ve had a lot of help from the Miss World Aus­tralia team,” she says. “They’ve been great. It’s a big learn­ing curve.

“I’ve spo­ken to past ti­tle­hold­ers and they’ve said it’s like noth­ing you can ever imag­ine. Courtney Thorpe, who was Miss World Aus­tralia in 2014, even got goose­bumps telling me about it.

“One thing they’ve all said is it’s an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence and you’ll be amazed at the friends you make.”

While some na­tions, par­tic­u­larly in South Amer­ica and South-East Asia, turn out pol­ished pageant per­form­ers from pur­pose-built academies, Taylah’s plan is to just be her­self.

“I’m learn­ing what I can,” she says. “I’ve got my own lit­tle prac­tis­ing reg­i­men that I do – walk­ing and speak­ing and ques­tions and an­swers.

“I take a bit of ad­vice from ev­ery­one I meet and just take on board what res­onates with me.

“One thing peo­ple said to me after I won Miss World Aus­tralia was that I was re­lat­able; I was just my­self.”

In­deed, Miss World Aus­tralia na­tional di­rec­tor Deb­o­rah Miller, a pageant doyenne pre­vi­ously at the helm of Aus­tralia’s Miss Uni­verse fran­chise, says part of the charm of Aus­tralia’s pageant en­trants over the years has been their nat­u­ral ap­proach.

“The Aus­tralian girls are a bit unique in that way,” she says. “They’re not over-trained like you can get with con­tes­tants from some coun­tries who’ve been pre­pared for pageants since they were five years old.

“Aus­tralian girls have a more laid back aura about them, some­times a raw in­no­cence, and that can go over very well.”

Deb­o­rah says the in­ter­na­tional beauty pageant scene has un­der­gone ma­jor change dur­ing her years of in­volve­ment.

“It’s get­ting tougher and tougher I think,” she says. “They look at the over­all per­son now. They ex­pect high in­tel­li­gence, high achiev­ers and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, the abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple.

“Pageants used to be for su­per­mod­els but Miss World is a char­ity – the ethos is ‘beauty with a pur­pose’. There’s a lot of work they do in Third World coun­tries so they’re look­ing for some­one who can travel to those places, can res­onate and be a great am­bas­sador.

“The model cat­e­gory is still an im­por­tant part of the judg­ing but it’s re­ally not just about looks any more.”

There are sev­eral of­fi­cial judg­ing cat­e­gories, some a lit­tle more left-field than oth­ers. The sports chal­lenge sets com­peti­tors ath­letic or fit­ness en­deav­ours, some­times in a team event or a knock­out for­mat, with the even­tual win­ner given au­to­matic en­try in the semi-fi­nals.

Taylah has been in­cor­po­rat­ing fit­ness train­ing into her reg­i­men but is not ex­actly sure what might be in­volved.

Then there is the tal­ent con­test where en­trants can put up their hands to sing, dance or show­case their spe­cial gift in a bid to be no­ticed. Again the win­ner of the cat­e­gory gets fast-tracked to the semis.

Taylah is still un­sure whether she’ll nom­i­nate. She used to sing when she was younger and would’ve liked to have had time for the odd singing les­son to pol­ish up her vo­cals be­fore she leaves but her other com­mit­ments have taken prece­dence.

“That’s where some girls per­form their na­tional dances or songs. We’ll see what hap­pens,” she says sim­ply, a live ex­am­ple per­haps of the Aus­tralian laid­back ap­proach.

And in a con­ces­sion to the mod­ern world, there’s now a mul­ti­me­dia cat­e­gory that judges con­tes­tants on their so­cial me­dia savvy.

“To tell the truth, I was never a big so­cial me­dia user,” Taylah says. “I might have taken a photo and up­loaded it ev­ery cou­ple of months.

“But I’ve made a point to step­ping it up lately and post­ing a lot more.

“One thing that’s been so lovely out of it has been the feed­back. I’ve been touched by the mes­sages I’ve got. One girl the other day told me my story had in­spired her to sign up for Miss World Aus­tralia next year.

“Even just an in­spir­ing quote can change some­one’s day or help them. It can be good thing to have that in­flu­ence.”

In the mean­time, in the days be­fore she sets out to dis­cover what awaits her in China, Taylah will do her best to in­cor­po­rate what she learns first-hand about the drought with her other home­work and look after her health. She says she’ll worry more about the beauty side of things closer to her de­par­ture.

It hasn’t es­caped her that Aus­tralia has ex­pe­ri­enced its own Miss World drought since Belinda Green won the ti­tle in 1972, some 46 years ago.

“I would be ly­ing if I said I didn’t want to win,” Taylah says. “It re­ally has be­come my big­gest dream and I want to give it ev­ery­thing and make my coun­try proud and bring the crown home.

“But, at the end of the day, I re­ally am in it for the right rea­sons. I just want to make a dif­fer­ence in the world and help any­where that I can so I’m just grate­ful to have the chance to do that.”

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