Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK
London - Horia El Hadad
The Copthorne Hotel in London was the location of this year’s Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK, a typically glitzy Lebanese event which was attended by hundreds of guests who wanted to celebrate the country’s culture, music and its beautiful women.
The event was part of a worldwide competition which aims to find the most beautiful Lebanese woman living outside the Arab country. The Miss Lebanon Emigrant Committee in the UK is just one of 35 similar committees worldwide that have recently held beauty pageants in countries known for their prominent Lebanese populations.
One of the key organisers of the event was Rania Milat Sejaan, the show’s presenter and self-appointed mentor to the pageant candidates. Rania told Arabstoday a bit about the competition:
“The title of Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK is part of a worldwide title. In many countries outside Lebanon, pageants like these will select a Queen who will eventually go and compete in Lebanon.” She said.
“There are Lebanese communities everywhere. For example we have some competitions taking place in Peru and Mexico! All the Queens selected from the national competitions will eventually go to Lebanon in August to compete for the title of Miss Lebanon Emigrant 2012, which is an official title in Lebanon.” Rania added.
In total, 9 contestants entered the UK competition over the weekend, vying for the attention of a panel of experienced and professional judges who assessed them on how well they did via a series of tasks.
Rania, a former finalist of Miss Lebanon Emigrant Iraq, opened the show with an introduction to all the contestants, who began by paying homage to their Lebanese and British identities. In a show of respect for the two nations which have helped shape them, the girls stood proudly and sternly with military hand salutes to their heads until the very end. Introductions and formalities aside, it was now time to begin the competition.
After taking part in the first catwalk, for which they all wore skimpy army print dresses, the girls then burst out onto stage with a choreographed dance routine to Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka’. The audience, without any encouragement, also got up from their seats, dancing along to the music and shouting words of encouragement for the a high energy performance which would set the tone for the rest of the night.
The girls left the stage to make way for performances by UK based Lebanese singer, Samar, who entertained the crowd with performances of old Lebanese favorites by Fairouz and Sabah. The audience cheered and sang along to the familiar tunes - while some men, young and old, jumped on stage for a spontaneous Dabka dance. Young girls chose a less conspicuous location in the back of the hall for more modern moves.
Rania said the competition was a way for the Lebanese community to celebrate their culture and explained why she got involved:
“I helped organise Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK firstly because I’m Lebanese and I thought this event would be good for the UK Lebanese community.” Rania said, adding: “I competed in the same pageant in 2008 and I was the second runner up. In 2011 I represented Miss Lebanon Iraq, because I was born there. I won that title and went through everything that tonight’s winner will go through, so I’m very excited for whoever wins.”
London-based Egyptian Dj Funky Pharaoh worked the music decks and sound system for the night and blasted out a bass-injected mix of Arabic, hip hop and Latin party anthems. For the swimwear catwalk, he chose a high energy hip hop track, getting the audience out of their seats once again and to the front of the runway to get a better look at the brave contestants. The girls paraded (some rather nervously so) up and down the runway in nothing but revealing swimwear and high heels, showing off their immaculately toned and fit bodies. This part of the competition could have been awkward for family members of the candidates to endure, but it was in fact largely popular, with the majority of the audience hooting and shouting words of encouragement for such a daring task.
The girls looked nervous but Rania said she was proud of what they had achieved:
“I think the girls were under so much pressure, which was made worse by the fact that there was not enough time for them to prepare.” She said.
“For things like these, the girls need to be prepared and not stressed, and to be honest, I probably added to their stress by constantly remaining them of what to do and how best to practice. But I also think I got the best out of them.” She added with a proud smile.
Meanwhile, nerves were running high backstage as the candidates prepared for the final stages of the competition; the evening dress catwalk and judges questions.
Upon entering a large off-limits room backstage, high pitched screeches, overpowering designer fragrances and camp hairdressers made up the flurry of colorful activity that signaled this was definitely the dressing area.
One after the other, the girls anxiously asked questions like: “Why aren’t my shoes buckling?” “Shall I just do my own hair if the hairdresser’s not free?” “Does it matter which hand I use on my hip?” “Can you fix my bra?” or “My dress is stuck! Does anyone have a knife?”
However it was the judge’s questions round which the girls were mostly worried about.
Anastasia Elias, a half Polish, half Lebanese contestant, said told Arabstoday how she was feeling: “I’m very worried about the final questions, especially as my heels are so high. It would means so much for me to win. It would definitely mean a lot to my dad. My family has been so supportive and I would feel a lot more nervous if they weren’t here tonight.”
Despite their anxieties, the girls performed the last catwalk with grace and elegance. The judge’s questions took places shortly after, and aside from a few nervous answers and technical glitches, it seemed the judges and audience had finally decided on a winner.
As Vanessa the Brazilian belly dancer entertained the guests, a long wait ensued as the judges and audience caste their votes.
Shortly after the ballot was counted, Rania was called to the front of the judging panel, which sat in front of her with a distinct air of authority and importance usually displayed at Arab beauty pageants. One of the members handed Rania an envelope, to which she dramatically, and only half jokingly, looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was sneaking a cheeky peek. Eventually she gave a reassured smile to the judges, who smiled back in agreement. It was clear they were happy with the result of the competition.
Jessica Dagher was eventually crowned Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK 2012 and accepted the title with roaring cheers from the audience who obviously agreed with the decision. Cue the seemingly endless photographs, interviews and congratulations from well wishers and journalists; signaling the beginning of something which is about to get a lot more intense. In August, Jessica will join dozens more finalists from national Miss Lebanon Emigrant competitions to compete for the sought after title in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
The event was a huge success but for many who attended the weekend’s festivities, it was not just the beauty pageant which was the main focus; it was the sense of community and joviality the event offered. It was a chance for London’s Lebanese to get together and celebrate the identity and culture they are so very proud of.