Miss England: 'Face of Plymouth' changed my life – but I still love a pasty
She may now be Miss England and buddies with ‘The Body’ - AKA supermodel Elle Macpherson - but Martin Freeman discovers that former Face of Plymouth winner Charlotte Holmes is still a Cornish girl at heart, who is proud to count Herald photographer John Allen among her friends
CHARLOTTE Holmes was in Mauritius last Sunday and she'll be in China next week getting ready for a TV appearance in front of two billion people.
Think twice, though, about asking Miss England to talk about her glamorous lifestyle.
She's happy to give her thoughts about her lifestyle. But the word glamorous might make her laugh – and choke. Laughing is best avoided if you are eating a Cornish pasty.
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"My life isn't glamorous!" she insists and laughs, thankfully after finishing a bite of the pastry.
"I love modelling but it is hard work with long hours."
The kind of hard work and long hours that Face of Plymouth contestants dream of. The model search contest is where it all started for the 23-year-old from Torpoint, five years ago tomorrow. Who knows where it will all end?
The China jaunt culminates on August 17 with the final of Miss World in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The largest live annual TV event on Earth typically attracts an audience of 2,000 million or more across 173 countries. Can she imagine how it would feel to have the Miss World crown placed on her head?
"I don't even think about that," Charlotte insists. "You have to be in it to win it but I am not going there with any expectations.
"I am just really, really looking forward to having a good time and enjoying it."
That same philosophy carried her through to winning Face of Plymouth 2007 (FP07). However, if it weren't for a bit of a push from her mother Yvonne (Vonny to the family) the road to China would never have been trod.
"Is it really five years ago? Really? I can't believe that," Charlotte says. "It seems so long ago.
"I had just come out of A Levels and it was my mum who said I should enter.
"I wasn't really thinking about it. I can't remember exactly what she said but she persuaded me to go for it.
"When I got to the final I never thought I would win. I was just enjoying the whole thing, having my hair and make-up done and the whole night. I was so laid-back I was almost lying down.
"It was great to win but I was absolutely shocked, more than anything.
"You could say it changed my life, it really did."
Had she not won she might be more used to pummelling rather than being pampered.
Charlotte had not long finished A Levels in chemistry, biology, maths, French and general studies at Devonport High School for Girls – "the best school in the city!" – and was starting on a gap year before taking up a place at Cardiff University to do a degree in physiotherapy.
Five years on, university remains on hold and the world of modelling, pageants and personal appearances dominates her life.
That's all a far cry from growing up in Torpoint.
Charlotte and her sister Lucy, 21, were both IVF babies, as she proudly told readers of The Herald in her profile piece before the FP07 final.
Vonny is a teaching assistant at Carbeile Junior School, where Charlotte went. Her father, Ken, is self-employed, running a computer business from home.
Charlotte's big mention in The Herald before FP07 was... coming third in the under-11 section of competition to design a town badge for Torpoint in 1998.
After the final she was the talk of the town – and was invited to switch on the Christmas lights.
"I had such a great time in my year as Face of Plymouth," she recalls. "I enjoyed meeting all the people across the city."
Her prizes included representing The Herald for a year at events and ceremonies, plus an interview with the city's Glenbeigh model agency, with the possibility of joining its books.
There are no prizes for guessing that Glenbeigh snapped her up.
Crucial in her success was the portfolio shot for her by John Allen, The Herald's chief photographer.
Charlotte's first big photo-shoot was at Burgh Island for Devon Today magazine.
She never looked back. She was crowned Miss Cornwall in 2009 and competed in Miss England, picking up a couple of awards and finishing fourth.
Charlotte made the final of the national competition the following year, again winning two prizes.
Also in 2010 she enjoyed national TV exposure as she came close to being named Britain's Next Top Model.
The cameras followed Charlotte and the other contestants across the UK and to Spain, Norway and Malaysia for shoots.
She finished fourth – and supermodel Elle Macpherson ended up in tears on the reality show.
The UK-based Australian, who presented the series, sobbed as Charlotte was eliminated 12 weeks in and within a whisker of the final.
The national press loved the drama and the story was pored over in the tabloids.
The two have remained friends. "Elle is in the United states at the moment, filming," says Charlotte. "We'll meet up when she comes back in September."
It was third time lucky in the Miss England competition last month as Charlotte, by now the reigning Miss Devon, beat 59 other contestants in the final in Leicester.
This time it was her turn for tears. Charlotte broke down as she was crowned.
Emotions run high in such contests, clearly.
Winning is one thing. But how is it being rejected – isn't that what she feels when she doesn't win? And did she hesitate before having another tilt at the Miss England title?
"I did not want to give up," she says. "I was hoping it would be third time lucky.
"I had had a really good time before (in the previous two finals) and I met some really cool people.
"I was really overwhelmed when I won and there was a sense of relief.
"It's not about rejection when you don't win. It's not all about looks.
"It's about your personality and what you can bring to the brand." The contestants are judged on a set of measures including their abilities as a model, their contribution to charity, sporting achievements and any special talent.
"Who knows how I would have felt if I did not have another go. This was my last chance – I will be too old to compete next year."
As the press attention after winning the title, Charlotte admits much of that passed her by. "I didn't really see any of it because I went straight out to Mauritius."
The trip to the Indian Ocean island nation was part of the prize, but also deeply personal for Charlotte.
Her grandmother, Marcelle, 92 is Mauritian and her father is half-Mauritian.
Charlotte adds: "My grandmother was living out there when she was my age. It was fantastic to go there.
"I was with Miss India, Miss Brazil and Miss France. We were in the carnival.
"It was a fantastic time and very busy, but just before I left I was able to spend some time with my family out there.
"It was unreal. We keep in touch on Facebook but I'd ever met them before. One of my dad's cousins was so like him it was amazing. They were so proud and happy for me.
"I will got back with my mum and dad and Lucy and see them all together."
The few days between arriving back from Mauritius and jetting out to China are being filled with modelling work.
She is on the books of one of Europe's leading agencies, MOT in London, where she now lives.
Among her jobs this week was a flying trip back to Devon and Cornwall. That included work for Truro clothes shop Cargo, one of the Miss England sponsors, a dinner, a shoot in Torquay and an interview for BBC radio.
"I like to get back home whenever I can but it's not always easy," she says. "London is where most of the work is.
"It was weird driving past Plymouth and Torpoint on my way to Truro because there just wasn't time to stop.
"It really isn't glamorous," she adds, returning to that first theme.
"Your day can start at 6am and finish at midnight. It might sound nice having your hair and make-up done for a couple of hours but it isn't. Your hair is pulled around, your scalp is burned by the straighteners and your face is prodded and pushed.
"If time is tight and the job isn't finished, you just keep working on and on until midnight if necessary.
"But the work is very varied – there are really too many clients to mention – and that is fun."
The most gruelling shoots were, conversely, also the most enjoyable.
"I'd say the hardest I've worked but the most fun I've had was on Britain's Next Top Model.
"There wasn't a single day off in three months – and I wasn't even getting paid. We were busy every day. It was mentally and physically exhausting but fantastic."
Charlotte insists that she does not worry about her weight or concern herself with diets to keep her 5ft 9in, size-eight frame in shape.
"My body mass index? I don't know what it is, but I do know it is healthy.
"I do a lot of sport and I dance and run and don't worry. It's about eating healthily and having a healthy balance. I eat lots of fruit and veg, but I love a pasty."
As proof, one was being wolfed down in the back of the car as she was being whisked from Cornwall back to London this week.
"The debate about size zero and the rest is about the high-end catwalk models.
"Not all modelling is like that. Some girls are beautiful for different reasons and for different things."
She does not feel pressure to always look 'perfect': "I have my 'bad hair' days like everybody else."
And Charlotte is quick to dispel any image that there is about models and pageant contestants having little to offer other than their looks.
"With only one or two exceptions, they are all intelligent and enthusiastic girls," she says.
But what about the other cliché – the top model/beauty queen and the celebrity boyfriend?
Charlotte does have a boyfriend, one she wishes to keep out of the spotlight.
"I have my career and what I do – the pageants, the modelling the TV work – is my choice and completely separate from the rest of my life. My relationships are separate, too, including my family."
As for the future, she is simply enjoying doing what she does. She has not set herself goals, but says that longer term she would like to make broadcasting her career.
"I would like to go to university, but not to do physiotherapy. I can't see myself doing that.
"French, or law or journalism. I'd like to explore all the angles.
"If I did go into TV I would like to do it after a degree in broadcast journalism.
"Presenting a really good TV programme – that is something I would like to do."
But she is not about to forget where it all started.
"I made a lot of friends through Face of Plymouth," she says.
"I haven't seen Tommy (Rees, the male winner in Charlotte's year) since last summer or so.
"I got on really well with Danny (Harris) and Debbie (Grayson) who won the year after me. Danny is a great laugh."
She is grateful to The Herald photographer who was there at the start.
"John was there when it all began and what a legend the man is.
"His kind words and direction led me through my year as Face of Plymouth and I grew as a model under his watchful eye. He is a pleasure to work with and I'm proud to have him as a friend."
And as for words of advice for whoever wins FP12 at the Pavilions next Saturday night, "I'd say, 'Enjoy it – and be yourself'."
They might go as far as the Face of Plymouth winner of 2007 who is fast becoming a face of the world – and can even make a pasty seem glamorous.