I've been putting my daughter in pageants since she was a baby

Watching my six-year-old daughter Amelia strutting down the runway, my heart is in my mouth as she stops in front of the judges. 

She gives them her widest smile, then twirls around to show off her dress, a red and green gown with a full skirt that makes a swishing noise as she walks – just like we’ve practiced together dozens of times at home. 

Little do those judges know that Amelia’s dress is actually secondhand, borrowed from a friend, and just days before she was using that same smile to bring joy to people living rough on the streets. 

Some people definitely have a negative view of pageants – assuming it’s all fake tan, hair extensions, expensive clothes and bitchiness backstage.

But our experience has been the complete opposite. I only enter Amelia in ‘natural’ pageants, where make-up is banned on children and they’re only allowed to wear age-appropriate clothing. 

Most children tend to wear flat shoes or kitten heels. High heels, above-the-knee dresses, low-cut tops or figure-hugging outfits aren’t allowed. And when it comes to our good causes, me and my daughter use our pageants to raise awareness of Women’s Aid and homelessness. 

When the sparkly dresses come off, you’re likely to find us in our coats and bobble hats, giving out homemade care packages to homeless people in Nottingham or Derby city centres. 

The pageants we enter encourage charitable giving, but me and Amelia have chosen the causes closest to our own hearts. 

I’ve explained to Amelia that not everybody is as lucky as she is and we should help other people whenever we can. It’s a maxim she’s learned to live by.

Whenever she sees anyone sleeping in a doorway she’ll say ‘Look Mummy, can we help them?’

Pageants really opened my eyes to the world of charitable giving and supporting good causes, although I’ve always been that way inclined. 

I first started competing in pageants as a teenager: the pageants gave me the confidence to smile and hold my own. Amelia was just 10 months old when I entered her in her first charity pageant.

It was a spur of the moment thing, I just wanted to see if she enjoyed it. There are two types of pageants – there’s ‘glitz’, which is the American-style competition you see in the movies.

Then there are the ‘natural’ pageants, which have stricter rules on what children can wear and often have a charity focus. I’ve done a bit of glitz myself but when Amelia started competing I decided natural would be a better route for us. I didn’t want her to get any criticism or backlash from other people. 

Amelia used to be quite a shy child but pageants have really helped her open up and be more confident. When we’re backstage I’ve taught her that she needs to be kind and share with the other children, so now she’s got loads of friends at school because she’s learned to try to be friendly to everybody. 

I’ve also explained to her that it doesn’t matter whether she wins or loses as long as she’s done her best.

She should always clap for the other competitors, smile and be happy for them. It’s meant to be a fun experience. 

I work full time as a carer for the disabled, and also have a five year-old son, Coleson-Christopher, so our pageants have to fit around our busy lives. 

They can be very expensive – with entry fees, transport and accommodation costs –  so we tend to focus on one big pageant each year, budgeting around £600 for the weekend to do it on a shoestring, then do as many charity events as we can. 

To keep costs down I buy our dresses secondhand or borrow them from friends. My aunt, who’s a brilliant seamstress, alters them for us. Me and Amelia are doing our charity work constantly and we keep it as low-key as possible. It’s just a part of our lives. 

Frankly I’d rather give my money to people in need than spend thousands on a glitzy pageant dress. 

In December we collected over 100 selection boxes to give to the women and children in our local Women’s Aid refuge. And we’re always working on our care packages for the homeless. I have an Amazon wish list page but I also buy a lot of the items with my own money.

I like to include things like warm blankets, hats, scarfs, gloves, toiletries and sanitary items, underwear and foods like breakfast bars. Once we’ve got a few packages together, me and Amelia just drive into one of our neighbouring cities and look for people to give them to. The reactions we get are brilliant.

To many people, homeless people become invisible, so they’re always so pleased to have a little girl bringing them gifts and wanting to talk to them. We always stop to chat and find out about people’s lives.

I want Amelia to grow up knowing that she shouldn’t take anything for granted. Pageants are a brilliant way to learn this important life lesson. Because they actively encourage charity work, Amelia is part of a community of people who all regularly help others. She doesn’t know any different. 

We recently both competed in Dreams UK 2022, which is a big annual pageant in Liverpool. I was named Optional Grand Champion and Overall Runner Up. As soon as I came off stage in my sash and crown Amelia ran into my arms, shouting ‘Mummy I’m so proud of you’. 

She didn’t win anything herself but I was proud of her too as I watched her clapping for the other children and sharing her toys, sweeties, and even glitter spray with them backstage. 

During her interview round she told the judges that she likes to help homeless people. She said: ‘My name’s Amelia Rose, I’m six years old and I like to help people with my Mummy.’ 

There are so many misconceptions about pageants so I hope that by telling our story we can bust a few of them. I always tell Amelia that pageants aren’t just about looks.

You can be the most beautiful girl in the world, but if your heart is cold then you won’t win. That goes for life too. 

To support Portia and Amelia’s homeless collections visit here. Portia is also currently fundraising for Nottingham Central Women’s Aid. Visit here.

As told to Jade Beecroft

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