A 19-year-old girl from Northern Ireland has become the first model with Down’s syndrome to win a global beauty pageant.
Kate Grant, who lives in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, had been invited to enter the pageant and represent Northern Ireland by its director, Taylor-Rae Hamilton.
The pageant is split in to three categories – one for kids, one for teens, and one for over-20s. It’s open to anyone regardless of weight, height or marital status, and is held to celebrate diversity and people who are ‘beautiful inside and out’.
The pageant supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which works to make poorly children’s dreams come true.
According to the Mirror, Kate had only a small amount of previous modelling experience, and her mother, Deirdre, had posted on Facebook asking people for support in helping the teenager become a successful model.
Deirdre spoke about the journey from the moment she learned her daughter had Down’s syndrome, to her becoming a pageant-winning model.
When Kate was born it was confirmed she had Down’s syndrome within hours.
The doctor painted a bleak future. He said she wouldn’t learn to read, her speech would be limited and she’d never hold full conversations.
I thought of him as she made her acceptance speech up on the stage at the pageant, describing her hopes for an inclusive society, one where people like her are treated as equals.
Deirdre contacted modelling agencies with photos of Kate in the hope she’d get some modelling gigs, but was often met with rejection.
I knew it was because she had Down’s syndrome. Kate was so disappointed. The emails left her crushed.
Deirdre then took to Facebook, sharing a photo of Kate, which had caught the attention of Taylor-Rae.
Taylor-Rae then got in contact with Kate, who agreed to do the pageant for experience, and travelled to the contest venue in Portadown to be interviewed by a panel of judges.
Kate’s mum Deirdre listened from outside the room, and heard her daughter making the judges laugh. In the evening, all of the candidates attended a tropical beach themed party together to get to know one another.
Speaking about her daughter, Deirdre said:
I knew she’d charm [the judges] but what made me most proud was how Kate looked after other candidates, encouraging and supporting them.
The following day, it was time to walk the walk. The first round on the catwalk was casual, so Kate simply wore jeans and a white t-shirt. The second round, however, stepped the glamour up a notch.
The round was called ‘Time To Shine’, and for Kate this meant ‘hair curled, make-up applied and a sparkling, turquoise sequinned dress’ channelling her ‘inner Little Mermaid‘.
For the formal round, Kate wore a black and white cocktail dress which a split up the side.
Up against contestants from all over the world, Kate was stunned when she found out she’d been crowned Teen Ultimate Beauty Of The World.
The pageant judges said:
Kate was the spirit and soul of The Ultimate Beauty and stood for everything it is about – inner and outer beauty. She’s such a star, she’s unbelievable and we’re so proud to have her as our teen winner.
Speaking about her experience, Kate said:
I sashayed down the catwalk giving it all my sass. I just wanted to have fun and truly expected someone else’s name to be called as the winner.
I was in shock. My family were all in the audience, crying and cheering.
My dream has come true. And that dream is to get a chance to inspire young people who have Down’s syndrome and other special needs to believe in themselves.
Now I’ll be attending photoshoots throughout the year and will be a judge and mentor at next year’s final.
Most importantly I’ll be involved in an appeal where we’ll deliver hundreds of toys to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. I want to give poorly children a moment of sunshine.
The way Kate is hoping to change the lives of young people with special needs, as well as help poorly children, is truly inspirational.
Congratulations, Kate! A truly worthy winner.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.