Never too old to follow a dream: What it's like to be beauty pageant queen at the age of 54
After a difficult few years Karen Wilcox, was determined to start following her dreams and top of the list was becoming a beauty queen.
Although traditionally associated with young girls and women, pageants are increasingly welcoming more mature ladies into the fold.
And now, at the age of 54, Karen has sashayed her way to the title of Young European International Ms Classic.
In June she will travel to Texas to represent the UK at the finals where she hopes to impress the judges and return home with another crown.
The mother and grandmother, who is also a mature model, believes you are never too old to follow your dreams and hopes to inspire others to follow her lead.
“After having six operations in three years, pneumonia and going down to six stone in weight, I decided to go back into modelling while recuperating.
“I learned a lot about pageantry and loved the sound of it so much that I decided to enter the pageantry system and I’ve never looked back.
“My journey is to inspire ladies over the age of 45 to follow their dreams because dreams give you a sense of meaning, purpose and drive you into your chosen future,” says Karen.
After taking part in local community and charity pageants, the mother of two entered her first international pageant Pure in January. She finished as first runner-up in her category and also won the Ms Photogenic award.
Her success spurred her on and she decided to enter the Young European International contest, which this year was offering the Ms Classic category for women aged 46 and over for the first time.
The pageants aim to help girls and women, from the age of seven, to gain confidence, experience and friendship while encouraging them to support their chosen charities and communities.
Karen and the other contestants took to the stage at Brierley Hill Civic Hall earlier this month and performed in a show-stopping opening number.
She also modelled her fashion and evening wear, showed her patriotic side in red, white and blue wear and answered questions about her charity and community work during an on-stage interview.
“It was a long day of rehearsing the dancing and walking on stage and then you have the pageant itself but I loved it all. I was overwhelmed and so happy when I won,” says Karen, who lives in Lower Gornal.
Since beginning her beauty pageant journey, she has also thrown herself into her charity work, helping to raise thousands of pounds for good causes.
This has included charities supporting people affected by Parkinson’s and dementia – two causes which are close to her heart.
Her dad Alan Hadley, 78, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 17 years ago and has also been living with dementia for the past three and a half years.
“Parkinson’s a cruel illness like dementia, so I am passionate about doing all I can to raise awareness of it as I don’t think people understand as much about Parkinson’s as they do about other illnesses. There isn’t as much support for people in this area so I want to improve that,” says Karen, who is a member of Parkinson’s UK’s campaigns network.
In September, she organised a charity fashion show in aid of both Parkinson’s UK and Dementia UK at the Station Hotel in Dudley, raising £500.
She is also an advocate for the Saleem Foundation, which aims to help those in need who face hardship due to youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or any other disadvantage.
It was set up by Shaz Saleem of Dudley to continue the good works of his grandfather and charity campaigner Mohammed Saleem.
Karen has also championed other good causes including Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the British Heart Foundation and Asthma UK as well as charities supporting people affected by cancer and sepsis.
“I’ve always supported charities but doing pageants has inspired me to do so much more. It is very rewarding to work with these charities. It’s given me confidence and made me a stronger, happier person knowing that I’m supporting these charities,” she tells Weekend.
Now she has been crowned Ms Classic, she will travel to Texas to compete with other winners from around the globe at the event, which will be shown on television in America.
Armed with feedback from the judges, she is busy preparing for her time at the Young Ms International and Young American Ms International pageant finals next summer.
“If you want to bring that crown back everything has to be perfect. I know I have to smile all the time and keep my shoulders back. I get a lot of support from pageants director Jeyanne and queen of queens Hannah. It’s like one big family. I’m working very hard to bring back a crown,” says Karen.
She believes entering the world of pageants has been one of the best decisions she has ever made.
“I enjoy dressing up and meeting new friends. It’s given me confidence and it’s something different to focus on to keep me and my mind active.
“I also enjoy my charity work and I’m going to continue working hard to help more charities next year. I’ve realised that life is too short not to follow your dreams,” says Karen.
Karen is looking for sponsors to help her continue her pageant journey and anyone who is able to help can contact her via email@example.com
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