Miss World is the oldest of the Big Four international beauty pageants, along with Miss Universe, Miss International and Miss Earth. Although Miss Universe has become arguably the grandest of the competitions (thanks to the influence of Donald Trump), it is something of a misnomer, as there never seem to be any red-faced Martians, lithe-figured Mandalorians or genocide-inclined Klingons taking part.
Miss Earth has only been going since 2001 and features more environmental awareness than its three rivals. Miss International was founded in 1960 and has been dominated by the same country that heads this particular list. In case you were wondering, there is also a Miss Globe, Miss Model of the World and Miss Supranational to keep beauty queens busy all year round. There are even “Mrs.” versions of Miss World and Miss Universe aimed at married women.
“Beauty with a Purpose” is the motto of the Miss World organization. The organization, founded in 1951 by British entertainment guru Eric Morley, faced challenges in its history as it was labeled misogynistic, chauvinistic and anachronistic. Organizers stressed the charity operations of Miss World, raising millions worldwide whilst sending the reigning Miss World to locations around the globe to bring a smile (and the press) to areas that were suffering from deprivation.
Regardless of whether you approve or disapprove, beauty pageants are big business and wildly popular. The 1979 Miss World competition was watched by over 500 million people, and for those who figured it was an event suffering from apathy and dying interest, the 2012 event was broadcast to over a billion viewers. Even the epitome of empowered influential women, Oprah Winfrey, was a beauty queen in her youth. She won the 1971 Miss Black Tennessee contest at the tender age of 17.
This list is ordered by the number of individual winners a country has produced, with ties being broken by the amount of second places (tactfully rendered as first runner-up by Miss World organizers) and then third places (second runner-up) as necessary. Special mentions go to: France, who only won once (in 1953) but have had three first runners-up and two second runners-up; Israel, who also won once (in 1998) but had one first runner-up and an impressive six second runners-up; and Colombia, who surprisingly have never won but have come close with four first runners-up and one second runner-up.
So let the beauty parade commence:
10. Argentina: 2 winners and 2 first runners-up
Latin America is renowned for being a production line of beauty queens. Peru and Brazil have also had winners in Miss World, but Argentina enjoys second place (or first runner-up) from among the South American nations. The country’s first win was in 1960 when Norma Cappagli claimed her prize of a crown and a sports car. In 1978 it was Silvana Suárez’s turn to remind everyone that Argentina could produce world-class beauties as well as world-class footballers.
9. Australia: 2 winners, 2 first runners-up and 4 second runners-up
Australia has been much more successful at Miss World than its close neighbor New Zealand (which has had 2 first runners-up, though). The abundant beaches, surfing, sunny climates and constant running from the cornucopia of giant insects clearly have a positive effect on Australian beauty queens. A first victory came about in 1968 thanks to a librarian called Penelope Plummer and a second win followed shortly afterwards, when Belinda Green won in 1972.
8. South Africa: 2 winners, 4 first runners-up and 6 second runners-up
The Rainbow Nation has an impressive record in Miss World, with a total of 12 competitors involved in the top three spots. Penelope Coelen was South Africa’s first winner, back in 1958. Anneline Kriel won for the country in 1974, although she had initially been the first-runner up. However, Miss Kriel was promoted after that year’s winner promptly resigned her crown. Kriel later starred a cheesy martial arts film called Kill and Kill Again.
7. Iceland: 3 winners and 1 second runner-up
Who would have thought this isolated nation, famous for its majestically rugged landscape and houses with colorful roofs, would also be renowned for the beauty of its female population? Crisp clean air and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their fish-rich diet have probably helped the island win Miss World in 1985 (Hólmfríður Karlsdóttir), 1988 (Linda Pétursdóttir) and 2005 (Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir).
6. Jamaica: 3 winners and 3 second runners-up
Beauty queens from the Caribbean have impressed the Miss World judges on many occasions, but the biggest winner of the region is Jamaica. Carole Crawford was the first Jamaican Miss World, winning in 1954. The next winner was Cindy Breakspeare, who won in 1976. She went on to meet the legendary Bob Marley and is the mother of the reggae superstar’s youngest son, Damian Marley. The most recent Jamaican winner was in 1993, when Lisa Hanna claimed the crown. Hanna later became a politician, has a Master in Arts degree and is the current Jamaican Minister of Youth and Culture.
5. Sweden: 3 winners and 1 first runner-up
Scandinavian women have a reputation for beauty which has been upheld by a number of Swedish Miss World winners. Sweden won both of the first two Miss World pageants, in 1951 and 1952, with Kiki Håkansson (who controversially was crowned whilst wearing a bikini) and May-Louise Flodin providing the country with its champions. Sweden had to wait 25 years for Mary Stävin to become its third winner, in 1977. Stävin’s win raised her profile and allowed her to rub shoulders with the world’s most famous spy with a role in the James Bond films Octopussy and A View to a Kill.
4. USA: 3 winners, 5 first runners-up and 2 second runners-up
The USA has enjoyed great success in Miss World competitions, notching up a first victory in 1973. That year’s winner, Marjorie Wallace, was stripped of her title because of her celebrity lifestyle, which included an affair with Tom Jones. In 1990 Gina Tolleson took the title home for the USA and the third winner was Alexandria Mills, who won in 2010. Surprisingly, a woman often considered one of the most beautiful people in the world, failed to win for the USA in 1986. However, the fifth runner-up of that year ended up winning an Oscar 16 years later and became better known to the world as the actress Halle Berry.
3. India: 5 winners and 1 first runner-up
Reita Faria (1966), Aishwarya Rai (1994), Diana Hayden (1997), Yukta Mookhey (1999) and Priyanka Chopra (2000) are the five stunning Indian women who have won Miss World, a competition that India won four times in seven years. Faria became a doctor, Rai became a respected actress, Hayden wrote a book, Mookhey gained a diploma in computer sciences and Chopra is a very successful actress and singer who once considered software engineering as a career. Indian contestants have proved that intelligence and personality go hand-in-hand with their beauty.
2. UK: 5 winners, 6 first runners-up and 4 second runners-up
The UK has a terrific track record at Miss World, with 15 competitors managing to score top three places. However, the competition was held in London from 1951 until 1989 (when Hong Kong hosted) giving British beauty queens a home-field advantage. This is evident in the dates of UK victories: 1961 (Rosemarie Frankland), 1964 (Ann Sidney), 1965 (Lesley Langley), 1974 (Helen Morgan) and 1983 (Sarah-Jane Hutt). It has been a barren 31 years for the UK, made more depressing by the fact that Morgan had to step down after it was revealed she had an infant child at the time of victory and was involved in another woman’s divorce. However, in 2012 Miss United Kingdom, Sophie Moulds, was first runner-up – could the British Isles be making a comeback?
1. Venezuela: 6 winners, 2 first runners-up and 4 second runners-up
Anyone who knows the first thing about international beauty pageants will know being a Venezuelan beauty queen is a big deal, but it comes with the burden of great expectations. Six Miss World winners, six Miss International champions, two Miss Earth victors and seven Miss Universe titleholders are testament to the importance of being a beauty queen in this Latin American nation. Susana Duijm (1955), Pilín León (1981), Astrid Carolina Herrera (1984), Ninibeth Leal (1991), Jacqueline Aguilera (1995) and Ivian Sarcos (2011) demonstrate that Venezuelan dedication to and intense training in becoming a beauty queen are second to none.