Beauty Queen

Blankly she stares through mascaraed eyes, a soulless being with a painted face. For hours a tumultuous swarm of activity has ebbed and flowed around her. It is only now, with moments to spare, that the hurricane winds gather pace. Faceless fingers tug her hair into a style that defies both gravity and reason. Yet more tend to her nails, pinch her cheeks, tweeze her brows. Quietly she sits in the eye of the storm; watching, waiting.

From behind the chair upon which she is borne aloft a camera clicks. She smells the cloying odour of stale alcohol before she sees the photographer’s face in the mirror. Sweat oozes from his forehead like ectoplasm, sticky and wet. His lips purse, he blows a kiss at her then laughs, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. She does not respond, merely looks away.

Her rosebud lips are painted pink, a final wash of blusher applied to the apples of her cheeks. She steps down from the chair. Her vantage point lost, she feels her diminutive stature acutely. The layers of cream and pink tulle on her princess cut dress are adjusted. Her feet are prised into crystal slippers; replicas of Cinderella’s, or so they told her. A cloud of perfume and hairspray shrouds her, stinging her eyes and throat like nettles. Now she is unrecognisable even to herself, she is ready.

The curtains pull back and she steps onto the runway, drawing collective gasps. “Isn’t she beautiful?” “What a darling little thing.” “Only five years old, you say? Well I never.” “Adorable.”

In the glare of the studio lights nobody notices the single tear that slides unbidden down her painted face, dropping from her chin into obscurity.

This gorgeous little girl was at a centre for disabled children that I visited in southern India. She’s quite the opposite of the girl in my story – naturally beautiful and enjoying her childhood, just as she should be.

In another life

If you had to choose five alternative careers what would they be? I’ve thought about this question for some time and my five (besides being a famous author, which I haven’t put on the list since I’m hopeful it might yet happen) would be:

1. Restaurant critic

It’s no secret that I love food (the only eating disorder I’d ever be capable of would be extreme binging – without the post-binge purge), so I’ve always thought being a restaurant critic would be right up my culinary street. Can you imagine making a living out of stuffing your face? Not only that-stuffing your face with top quality fare (because I’d obviously only be sampling the delights of the top rated Michelin star restaurants, not Happy Eaters or Wetherspoons. Hang on, do Happy Eaters even exist any more? Oh God, I think I may be showing my age).

2.Chocolate/cheese/wine taster (ideally all three)

On the same theme as number one, this is a no brainer. Chocolate, cheese and wine are unquestionably three of my favourite things, so why wouldn’t I want to spend my working day sampling them? One possible danger of this career choice would be risking getting sick of what you spend all day tasting. Possibly also the high chance of becoming morbidly obese and/or an alcoholic. Would still be fun though-for a while at least…


I have my second job to thank for my  interest in photography. A colleague – who sadly passed away from a brain tumour while I was working there – taught me the basics of working in a studio with an SLR camera, and when I subsequently went travelling I bought my own second hand SLR to take with me. In the years since I’m ashamed to say the manual settings have taken a back seat in favour of automatic, and after my camera died a death (RIP Canon EOS 3D) I reverted to taking snaps on my phone, as I still do today. The iphone does have a good camera but nothing beats the feel of an SLR in your hand and the thrill of capturing a really crisp, professional looking shot. I wish I hadn’t let my photography skills slide. I think I’ve got an eye for a good picture and could have been a good professional photographer.

4.Travel journalist

Another no-brainer; I love to travel, I love to write, hence getting paid to do both would pretty much be my dream career. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after and competitive careers out there. But a girl can always dream…


I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and have always wondered whether I should have pursued it as a career. I’m interested in all of the theory (in particular Freud’s psychoanalysis) but in practice I was never all that academically minded, and I was beyond useless at statistics. Perhaps I’m just looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but if I had my time again I might just consider taking it forward. Fortunately I now have a job that has an element of psychology to it, so I suppose I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Thinking about it, in one way or another my life does incorporate most of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s just that not all of them bring financial gain. And as everyone knows money can’t buy happiness, that suits me just fine.


Of course another career could have been as a pop star. I think I look right at home with McFly in this picture, taken way back when they came to play at McDonald’s on the Strand for competition winners when I worked for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Can’t think why they didn’t ask for a duet…