Ahead of Alternative Miss World’s 50th-anniversary event, the British artist and sculptor shares his memories of the “pansexual beauty pageant” that has featured Derek Jarman, Leigh Bowery, Stephen Jones, and more
DIY, technicolour and completely chaotic, the theatrical pageant Alternative Miss World is incomparable to any other event, even if it does draw elements from drag competitions and is a subversion of the original Miss World Contest. A longstanding institution among a particular crowd of London fashion designers, artists and eccentrics, for 50 years the competition has invited people of all genders to present their looks and talents on stage across its three categories; daywear, swimwear and nightwear.
What results is a parade of performers, drag queens and latex lovers that resembles a cross between an LSD trip and Crufts dog show – which is not surprising given that acid and Crufts were two of creator Andrew Logan’s key inspirations. An artist, sculptor and jewellery maker, Logan views the competition as an extension of this work. “I see Alternative Miss World as another sculpture, one that involves hundreds of people,” he says. “We create it, then we let it run.” Logan does not like to impose too many rules on the competition, although each pageant has a theme (“water”, “earth”, “fire” and “air” in previous editions, along with “the universe” and “the void”).
The 2022 Alternative Miss World marks the 50th anniversary of the pageant, and the 15th edition to date. The anniversary will take place at The Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank with the theme “gold”. Alternative Miss World takes place at random intervals, Logan explains, because he likes to keep things sporadic, exciting and unexpected, rather than annual or routine. He will put on an Alternative Miss World when the idea comes to him. “There is nothing logical about it at all,” he laughs, when asked how he decides about the timing.
The first two Alternative Miss Worlds were held in Logan’s Loft in Hackney 1972 and 1973 as an intimate event among friends. Over the following years, Alternative Miss World grew, drawing in an exciting roll call of guests. Derek Jarman was crowned the winner of 1975 edition at Logan’s then-studio Butler’s Wharf (where other infamous parties and events would draw in the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones.)
In 1978, the pageant moved to a circus tent on Clapham Common with a circus theme. “That was a favourite,” says Logan. “It was in the round, and we had the judges in a lion’s cage. There were ridiculous steps, almost 90 degrees, and I think the winner slipped down them.” Drag queen Divine co-hosted (alongside Molly Parkin), having been brought to a party at Butler’s Wharf the year before, by Logan’s friend and longstanding Alternative Miss World collaborator, the designer Zandra Rhodes. “I will always remember Divine hosting in the circus tent,” says Logan. “I said, ‘Hello would you give us a few tips?’ and Divine said: ‘EAT, EAT, EAT!’”
In 1981, Alternative Miss World returned, this time at Kensington Olympia (with a “royal” theme to befit the location). “We had a catwalk that was 250-feet long,” remembers Logan, which was too long for 35 contestants – something that became clear when the event “took so long we finished at three in the morning… the music had been turned down, they had switched off the heating and most of the audience had gone home.”
The milliner Stephen Jones entered in 1981 as “Miss Mash” – her daywear look was mashed potato and her evening wear look was chips. Jones entered again in 1985, says Logan, on the day of his birthday, the same year Leigh Bowery entered. “That was the first time Leigh Bowery was on stage,” remembers Logan, “I think AMW brings people like that alive, they think: ‘I can do this!’ It inspires them to create.”
Over the next two decades, Alternative Miss World popped up at the Clapham Grand, The Hippodrome and the Roundhouse, with hosts including Richard O’Brien, Julian Clary and Ruby Wax, before settling at its current home of the Globe in 2014 with artist Grayson Perry as co-host. Now in its third year at the venue, Alternative Miss World has found its most constant home. The demographic has shifted, in that “we are all old now” as Logan jokingly puts it of the team behind the event. But in recent years, there have been 16 contestants, “eight old faithfuls” (like Logan’s sister Janet, a nurse, who enters every contest) as well as “eight spaces for new contestants.” Logan hopes this makes the event a rare example of one that is truly intergenerational, as well as being “inclusive to everyone”.
No longer quite the impromptu underground fiasco it started as, this year’s anniversary event sold out online in minutes. “Well, over 50 years I suppose it gets a bit of a following, and there’s nothing like it,” muses Logan. Still, he maintains that Alternative Miss World retains its spontaneity – “I never really know who is entering apart from Janet,” he says – and also its intimacy; “the good thing about The Globe is that you can stand right beneath the stage.”
He also hopes that the contest continues to champion the iconoclastic, individualised and DIY idea of fashion that inspired it, a sentiment that was informed by his group of friends in the 1970s when the competition first began; these include Rhodes, and the London designers Thea Porter and Ossie Clarke. (You can even buy a poster of Vivienne Westwood at the 1975 edition of Alternative Miss World, seated with Malcolm McClaren, who attended again in 2014.)
After the 50th anniversary event is over, Logan is planning a photo book cataloguing the best of the contestants’ costumes over the years, and hopes to keep hosting the pageant in his trademark host outfit, which is based on an old British variety show costume he found in a jumble sale. One side of it – the “hostess” – is designed by Rhodes, while the other side – “the host” – is by Whitaker Malem. Just like the competition itself has been since its inception, the look is a witty play on gender and performance.
“My goal for Alternative Miss World is to carry on doing it until I die,” says Logan, before hanging up the phone. “I could be carried on on a stretcher,” he says. And is there anything he hasn’t done yet that we can expect from future Alternative Miss Worlds? “I love that the audience always gets dressed up – it would be great if we could have one long catwalk and have everyone in the audience run along it. That would be great fun.”
The 2022 edition of Alternative Miss World will take place on October 28 at 7pm. You can watch the livestream here.