'Grid girl' who wed racer Eugene Laverty urges NW200 not to dump models
The wife of road racer Eugene Laverty, who met him while working as a 'grid girl', has pleaded with North West 200 organisers not to ditch the promotional models.
Pippa Laverty described being a grid girl as fun and exciting, adding that the job opened her to other opportunities. She pointed out that most grid girls were more modestly attired than many celebrities in music videos.
She spoke to the Belfast Telegraph last night after NW200 race director Mervyn Whyte revealed that the use of the models could be reviewed following decisions by Formula One and the Professional Darts Corporation to stop using them.
Mr Whyte said grid girls had been "part and parcel" of the road racing event, which draws annual crowds of more than 80,000 each May.
"I am not saying we will make any changes, " he said.
"It is something that we will always review in situations like this, but I was surprised when I heard they were not being used by Formula One.
"They are used in the North West 200 to highlight the sponsor's name or for motorcycle manufacturers to highlight their products.
"What we do is completely different to Formula One or boxing, but I do think it is a sign of the times we live in that they have decided not to use them.
"It is something we will look at and review, but nothing has been mentioned to us as yet. I am not saying we are going to change but if something is brought to our attention we will certainly review it.
"If it is decided it is no longer appropriate we will have to make changes to the North West 200, but personally I don't have any issues with it."
The Women's Sport Trust has urged others to follow the decision by Formula One and the PDC.
A spokeswoman for the trust said: "We strongly encourage sports such as cycling, boxing and UFC to follow darts and Formula One and reconsider the use of podium girls, ring girls and octagon girls. These changes are taking place because global businesses are making a considered choice about how women should be valued and portrayed in their sports in 2018."
Feminist campaigner Goretti Horgan said the use of grid girls at any sporting event was inappropriate and sent out the wrong message about women.
But Pippa said she believed it was up to women to decide for themselves, and that decision should not be taken away from them.
"For me, part of being an empowered woman is having the choice to do something or not," she said.
"I was 16 when I started promotional modelling; I was at that point in life where I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and there was a lot of pressure at school to know what you want to do.
"So to be able to go out and work, meeting people who worked in all different industries - food and drink, marketing, PR - it opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities, and gave me a well-rounded perspective on things.
"It's not everyone's cup of tea, but you have a lot of girls signing up to work for modelling agencies - why take this away from them?"
She highlighted that many music videos feature women wearing much more scanty outfits.
"I would say celebrities such as Rihanna flaunting her stuff in music videos is a worse influence for younger children than a girl wearing a dress on a grid," she said.
"The girls are not twerking or being provocative, they are simply standing there. Some of the outfits are terrible, but to be honest you see girls who turn up wearing even less walking about the grid, and they are not being paid to do so. It's the day and age we are living in."