In a world full of restrictions, fans come to Alternative Miss World, hosted at Shakespeare's Globe, as a night of freedom, equality and frivolityby Jessica Abrahams / November 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Welcome, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between, to Shakespeare’s Globe and the Alternative Miss World—a night when this hallowed stage is handed over to veteran artist and impresario Andrew Logan for what one audience member calls a “celebration of chaos.”
This is a pageant with a twist: contestants from all over the world compete in the traditional categories of daywear, swimwear and eveningwear, but beauty is entirely irrelevant. Instead, this catwalk is about “transformation,” and it’s not only women, but men and even inanimate objects that can win. Often described as a drag show, it isn’t quite that—though it’s hard to say what it is. Many of the entrants are fine artists and their out-of-this-world costumes can take months to create. While some resemble extravagant ladies’ wear, in line with the format of the event, others are unclassifiable. This year’s winner, Miss UFO, AKA Russian performance artist Andrey Bartenev, walked the stage in three outfits composed of cloth-covered balloons, which appeared to shape-shift as he moved.
Although gender fluidity is often dismissed as a new fad, Alternative Miss World is nearly half a century old—its tongue-in-cheek genderplay persisting from feminism’s second wave right through to its fourth. While Logan insists his show is about nothing but joy, it is hard not to see an element of commentary in it about the restrictive standards and treatment of women in beauty pageants. AMW’s first event came as the real Miss World’s popularity and influence was at its height—just two years after it was targeted by a high-profile 1970 “women’s lib” protest at the Royal Albert Hall, which ridiculed the show as a “cattle market.” In 1978, with the release of a documentary about it, there was a spot of legal difficulty as Miss World founder Eric Morley tried to sue the film-makers for use of the name. A young, unknown lawyer was hired to defend the artists and won. His name was Tony Blair.
Alternative Miss World began as a party-cum-pageant at Logan’s flat in a former East London jigsaw factory in 1972, and again the following year. With guests spilling out of the door, David…