Anger as US-style kids' beauty pageant coming to Belfast
A US child pageant company is planning to hold a beauty contest for kids as young as 18 months in Belfast and is offering free entry in a bid to win support.
Texas-based Universal Royalty chiefs say they want to make up for the chaos that surrounded the staging of its debut Irish pageant last September in the south, which led to dozens of furious parents pulling their children out of the event.
Plans to host last year's controversial 'Toddlers & Tiaras'-style competition were initially thrown into turmoil when bosses of their first-choice venue, The Bracken Court in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, suddenly pulled the plug on the event.
Desperate pageant chiefs were then forced to scramble across the country to secure an alternative venue, which they only managed to confirm hours before the scheduled event.
In the end just 30 of the 75 youngsters, who had been booked to participate, took part in a slimmed-down contest at Corrigan's Kitchen, a pub and restaurant premises in Castleblayney, County Monaghan.
There was outrage when it was revealed that competitors aged from 18 months to 14 years dressed competed in beauty, talent and Irish theme-wear rounds.
There were audible gasps as a six-year-old girl wearing a green bikini danced to Feeling Hot Hot Hot.
However, the company's boss Annette Hill said she is determined to make up for last year's mayhem by staging up to three free pageants this year in Dublin, Cork and Belfast.
She said: “We had 75 contestants booked in last year, but because of everything that happened only 30 competed in the end.
“It's going to cost me a lot of money to do this, but it's a goodwill gesture because lots of people felt let down last time because they weren't able to compete in the pageant.
“At the moment I'm looking at putting on a pageant in Dublin in March, then one in September in Cork and another one in Belfast at some stage, because I've received a lot of interest from parents in Northern Ireland.
“They're going to be huge events, because they'll be free of charge, so I've no doubt there'll be hundreds taking part in each pageant.”
She added: “But next time I'm over, everything is going to be organised properly so we don't go through what we did before.
“I've put on free pageants before in the US and it's something I like to do for the kids. I also want to show Ireland a positive image of pageantry.”
SDLP councillor Claire Hanna, warned parents ahead of the pageant’s potential visit to Belfast: “It's not for me to say how people should look after their children but society gives children so many messages that their worth is based on their looks.
“We need to show kids that their worth is based on so much more than their looks. There are so many activities that a parent can do with their child, that gives them a positive image of themselves, not a negative one.”