Alternative Miss World 2009

MILO RIVAL explores a competition based more on Crufts’ than a beauty pageant.

“My f***ing nipple tassel! Find my nipple tassel now! It’s fallen off!” Miss Trailer Trasher has lost her nipple tassel. Just one of the many minor calamities that must befall anyone who enters Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World. In a competition “more based on Crufts’ dog show than the famous beauty pageant”, where the competitors cannot rehearse, but can get very very drunk before going on stage, almost anything can happen. You could be bowled over by a giant teacup, you could slip on a spilt bargain-bucket of KFC (more on that later), your costume could fall apart at the poorly-glued seams on stage. And my job, as a dresser to Miss Trailer Trasher and Miss No Signs of Civilization Whatsoever, is to pick up the pieces – quite literally, as it turned out. “How many nipple-tassels have you got?” (Defensively:) “Four. Three in front and one on the back.” Miss Trailer Trasher is wearing a black-and-red feather plume, glittery scarlet heels (“aren’t they major?”), and a red lycra all-over suit stuffed with balloons, so it is senseless to ask why she has to have four nipple tassels: she is nipples all over. I watch her go on stage, pouting, flaunting, waving her long black cigarette-holder like the natural woman she is – for one night only.

Alternative Miss World *transcends gender*, and never has gender been more magnificently transcended. Backstage it is difficult to tell who is what unless they are completely naked – not an uncommon occurrence. The teacup was female – it was topless, brandishing oversized sugar-cubes, with beautiful body-paint-tea pouring into the oversized cup round its waist. And the creature with the giant lighthouse on its head might have been a woman: but as for the rest? I couldn’t tell. The entrants seem to be a mixture of pretty, serious Shoreditch boys called in as backing dancers, fashiony people, fun people, and a travesty of transvestites, who’ve just come for the laughs. The giant dove’s nest man has two fourteen-year-old boys to carry his train, and an incongruous group of children in frocks is packed away in a corner. And, as it is a truly international competition, there were “the Russians” – a scandal, complete fakes!

They weren’t Russian, just hired English dancers in Russian costumes, because the real Russians had got visas for their clothes but not themselves. I’m so glad they didn’t 5 The competitors are judged in three categories, the same as the original Miss World: Daywear, Swimwear and Eveningwear; and there are, of course, the interviews.“What would you do if you were crowned Alternative Miss World 2009?” asks Ruby Wax, noisily. Andrew Logan has got the brash, petite, American comedienne Ruby Wax to co-present. Now I’ve got nothing much against Ruby Wax, but she seems to have taken unfairly against us – we assume because Miss No Signs of Civilization Whatsoever is originally from Baltimore, and most émigré Americans dislike all the others. Yes, No Signs’ clothes owed more to Blue Peter than to the world of couture, he mostly frolicked around the stage naked except for golden Y-fronts, and when the interviews arrived he was so blotto that nobody could understand him, but we felt Ms Wax was harsh, unrelenting, not a little mean: every fabulous costume we floated was shot down before it had even seen the lights “What are you? And what are you wearing?” So to retaliate I took lots of photos of her looking a bit silly backstage and told the cameras filming the BBC4 documentary exactly what I thought of her. She was just wearing a boring dress anyway. Where’s the fun in that? (And I heard her son’s called Max. When your surname is Wax, is that a good idea? Really?)

But coming back to the competition: there was a theme, but since apparently nobody payed any attention to it there’s no point my telling you what it was. Between sections backstage is in a constant flurry – the Camden Roundhouse does not allow much space for the most baroque of the evening’s outfits, including a ten-metre pyramid of red cloth wrapped in crime-scene tape, a five-metre blow-up animal and a large bespoke wood and metal cage-thing with a cyclist, and large vials of bubbling chemicals, inside. These are not the only chemicals going round… the small arc of Roundhouse that is allotted to us resembles a long and rather grimy bar, and the bottles poke up like needles from every dressing-table. It is the dressers’ primary task to keep an eye on these while the competitor is either on stage or too drunk to notice, for the competition for booze backstage is as fierce as the real thing in front. Between times Oscar, Miss B (he wasn’t a contestant, that’s just his name) and I must disentangle contestants from disheveled outfits, disentangle outfits from disheveled contestants, get pissed ourselves, and run on endless errands. “Take these hats to Ken Russell – he’s judging – and tell him he puts his fingers in the rings and the puppet is the master.” (Miss Trailer Trasher is a hat-designer in another life.) “Go down Camden until you find a KFC and buy me a bargain-bucket of chicken to use as a handbag, because I’m going to throw the wings into the crowd, and get a whole nother bottle of Jack Daniels on your way. And could you blow up this sex-doll first?” (It was Miss No Signs Of Civilization Whatsoever who left the greasy KFC all over the stage that Miss whoever-was-after-him slipped up on.) “And while you’re at it, get your tops off: we need you onstage.”

And that was how we became extras in the show. Miss Trailer Trasher was going to rip off Miss No Signs’ makeshift costumes in front of the crowd, exposing the gritty reality, and a fair amount of flesh, beneath; and we two, Oscar and I, in boxers or tight swimming trunks and celebrity sunglasses, carrying our team mascot jar of “traffic jam” from Blenheim Palace, had to go on and retrieve the shreds of clothing. A cardboard motor-home is sacrificed to Miss Trailer Trasher’s rage, revealing the well-blown-up sex-doll beneath; and a loo-roll and paint scale-model Atlantis (Swimwear) is sunk by a wrathful leopardprint-bikini’d Poseidon. In the eveningwear section there appears to be no bitchy clothes-ripping, but we go on and knock the two of them to the floor anyway, tearing apart No Signs’ dormant volcano frock and popping all of Trasher’s body-ballast balloons. I think we stole the show: but in the process, tragically, two of the famous nipple-tassels were lost forever.

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In the end, what with Ruby Wax being a bit mean, our competitors completely inebriated, the Russians not real at all, and despite the fact that we gave one of the judges two fabulous hats, showed more nipples than was even possible and sabotaged the other acts with fast-food, we didn’t win. The crown and sceptre went to Miss Fancy Chance, the owner of the very expensive tailor-made cageful of chemicals and cyclist. Hardly Miss “Of The Moment” – whatever happened to Recessionista chic? The most expensive part of Miss No Signs’ costume was the Chicken Wings, which at ten pounds a bucket don’t really constitute a bargain. (This is apparently the fashion section; watch as I try to turn cheapness into a trend.) We liked Miss Flotsam’s dress made entirely out of plastic bottles, Miss Sustainable’s name, and all the origami hats and long tarpaulin dresses, unrehearsed magnificence. So this summer, instead of buying a new dress, grab yourself some plastic sheet and paint: with a dab of Uhu, who knows what you can do? We totally should have won Alternative Miss World, obviously. But don’t worry; we’ll be back. The pageant returns in a few years’ time, and we are going for the title.