Miss World CEO Julia Morley recalls how 20-year-old Aishwarya Rai stunned everyone: ‘Something magical…’ | Exclusive

Julia Morley, who has handled the operations of Miss World since the 60s, talks about the pageant’s return to India, and her memories of Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra.

The Miss World pageant is returning to India after 27 years. The pageant was held in Bangalore in 1996 but despite several Indian girls winning the coveted crown since then, no Indian city has hosted the event. That is changing this year. Ahead of the announcement of the host city, Miss World Organisation’s CEO Julia Morley spoke with DNA about the ‘homecoming’, expectations from hosting Miss World in India, and her memories of Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra from their Miss World days.

The last time Miss World was held in India was over a generation ago. Manushi Chhillar had not been born and Priyanka Chopra was only 14. “When we had the show in Bangalore, it was a different time, a different era,” agrees Julia, adding, “But now, it feels like coming home almost because since then, we have come here several times with Aishwarya, Priyanka, and Manushi. I am really excited for this now.”

So what took so long for Miss World to return to India? You ask and Julia responds with a laugh, “It’s just been that there has been so much demand from around the world. I am not trying to brag but we have wanted to take the show to newer places and regions where we can help boost tourism. Because wherever Miss World goes, the tourism and trade in that region see a boost. So we were doing all that and finding an organic way to return, which has happened now.”

India is one of the most successful countries at the Miss World pageant with six winners over the years, level with Venezuela at the top. Julia Morley has herself seen five of these girls become Miss World. Talking about her earliest memories of the likes of Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai (winners in 2000 and 1994 respectively), she says, “Priyanka was a totally different person, more reserved, which is always fascinating. But Aishwarya was a baby. We felt protective of her and wanted to mother her. When we have done recent Miss World shows, sometimes she has come over to say hello and there’s something magical about her giggle and smile.”

In fact, Julia remembers that when Aishwarya had participated in Miss World 1994 in South Africa, she had blown away even the organisers. “I remember her eyes! The director who was doing the show said, ‘my God, one of the girls has the most incredible eyes’. He didn’t know who she was. When we opened the show that year, he zoomed in on those eyes. I said, ‘is that favouritism’. He just said thank God I’m not a judge,” she recalls.

Julia says that Aishwarya remains one of her favourites in her five decades of handling the Miss World pageant. “Aishwarya is my baby. I don’t choose between the girls but my baby was Aishwarya. When she came into the competition, she was so young, only 18 (actually 20), all giggly. But she was lovely and she was a true, honest, open, happy, beautiful young woman. She was a joy to work with,” she says.

Aishwarya Rai was the second Indian to win the Miss World crown after Reita Faria in 1967. Since then, four other Indian women have won the pageant with Manushi being the latest one in 2017. The others are Diana Hayden (1997), Yukta Mookhey (1999), and Priyanka Chopra (2000).

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