Belfast Telegraph

Tears and tantrums as 'toddlers and tiaras' child pageant in Northern Ireland is axed

By Nick Bramhill

A US child pageant company's attempts to host a glitzy contest for young girls in Northern Ireland have fallen through, forcing organisers to axe a planned pageant.

Texas-based Universal Royalty was due to stage a 'Toddlers & Tiaras'-style competition next Saturday at a secret venue in Belfast, as well as holding separate meet-and-greet events in Dublin and Cork.

It would have been the group's second pageant in Ireland, following a storm of controversy and chaotic scenes that almost derailed the debut contest last September.

But with no official comment yet from the company's boss, Annette Hill, it was still unclear yesterday exactly why the scheduled pageant had been pulled.

Adele Povey, one of the Dublin-based co-organisers of last year's pageant, said: "The pageant is not happening next weekend. A friend of mine who's involved with the event has been told by Annette that it's not taking place in September and has been postponed.

"I don't know the reasons why it's not happening, but I think it would be unlikely if it took place before Christmas at this stage."

The postponement and lack of contact from Universal Royalty chiefs have also caused a headache for Belfast-based Stirling Productions, who had teamed up with the American company to film a fly-on-the-wall documentary on the build-up and staging of the contest.

Anne Stirling, who worked with Universal Royalty to make last year's RTE programme The Irish Child Pageant Storm, said: "We're disappointed that we've not been kept up to date with plans from the pageant people. As of this moment we have stepped down our camera crews.

"It's a great shame, as a documentary on the first American-style pageant in Ulster would have been of huge interest to viewers."

Ms Hill, from Texas, previously admitted she was shocked by the media uproar and outrage from children's watchdogs and even politicians she encountered towards child pageantry on her first visit to Ireland last year.

Her plans to stage the pageant in the Irish capital quickly fell apart when bosses of the Dublin hotel she had booked unexpectedly pulled the plug on the event. After frantic last-minute negotiations, the US-themed child beauty competition was eventually held in a much smaller venue in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.

But dozens of angry parents stormed out of the re-arranged competition, furious that organisers had left it to the last minute to inform them of the new venue.

However, earlier this year the determined Texan outlined ambitious plans to stage three separate pageants this month – in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. She also promised not to charge contestants this time round as a goodwill gesture to make up for last year's fallout.

But just last month she was forced to ditch both the Dublin and Cork events following a cool response from hoteliers, leaving one scheduled event in Belfast.

Ms Hill was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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