Her ambition is to follow in her uncle’s speedy footsteps and win Olympic gold.
For Rachel Christie, that dream is still at least three years away. In the meantime, however, the 20- year-old niece of Linford Christie has just won another title–becoming the first ever black Miss England.
The professional track and field athlete swapped her running gear for high heels and a glamorous dress to win the contest on Monday night.
It means 5ft 10in Miss Christie will have to juggle her training schedule again as she prepares to face another hurdle–a bid for the Miss World crown in South Africa later this year.
But her win was under something of a cloud after the contest’s website showed that she had gained only nine votes in the public voting part of the competition, compared with fellow finalist Zoiey Smale, who got 2,013.
Although 20-year-old Miss Smale won the public vote, that was only enough to secure her a place in the last 15 of the final. In the event, she did not finish in the top three.
Part-time model Miss Christie had been one of the favourites to win Miss England, after being crowned Miss London City in May.
But she nearly did not make the contest after a car crash on Friday left her with whiplash and bruised legs. More used to being put through her paces on the running track–by her uncle or his former coach, Ron Roddan–Miss Christie was yesterday getting used to a whirl of beauty pageant publicity.
Speaking of her win, which she greeted with tears, she said: ‘It means the world; it really does mean so much to me.
‘One of my reasons for doing Miss England in the first place was because I wanted to show people, the younger generation especially, that you can do something positive with your life.
‘Whoever you are, you can be who you want and whatever you want to be if you just put your mind to it and have ambition and determination.’
Miss Christie trains six days a week at the stadium named after her uncle in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, and is already highly ranked at the 400 metres and the heptathlon. Her brother James, 22, also trains at the stadium.
Their father Russell had been a promising athlete but unlike his brother Linford, who won Olympic gold in the 200 metres in Barcelona in 1992, fell into crime.
On the night of Linford’s Olympic glory, a warrant was issued for Russell’s arrest for allegedly stealing clothes and handling stolen credit cards.
In 1994 came a three-year sentence for theft and beating up a lover. He was stabbed to death in 1996 after becoming involved in a drugs war.
Miss Christie, who lives with her mother Diana Kiss, two brothers and a sister, says it was her father’s death that made her think about ‘what’s important’ in life.
While her ambition and focus is fired by memories of her father, her inspiration is her uncle. Growing up in West London, the whole family used to gather round the television to watch him compete.
She began athletics training aged 11, but fell in with ‘the wrong people’ and lost focus until she realised that she did not want a future ‘on benefits’. After an 18-month injury break she is now fighting back, and aims to shave seconds off her personal bests to join the British Olympic team.
Her venture into the world of beauty pageants was partly driven by a need for more money to fund her training.
‘I applied to Miss England because I thought it might give me an entry into legitimate modelling and that would help me fund my training,’ she said.
She added: ‘We struggled for years, we had no holidays, no car–the day we children got something we wanted was a rare one. So I know I have to work hard.
‘When you begin with very little, maybe you have to aim high.’
Last night rumours continued to fly about whether her family name had helped her win a place in the final.
Miss Smale, who competed as Miss Oxfordshire, said: ‘I felt quite let down as did all the girls that I spoke to because the ranking three didn’t win any of the awards that were available for our hard work in the run-up to the finals.
‘There were so many things we had to do. Yet none of it mattered at the end of the day.
The public vote was supposed to be acting as one of the judges’ decisions. It was a big deal to me, but on the night it felt like it meant nothing.’
Calls to register a public vote cost more than 60p each–and only small print on the official website indicates that a ‘vote does not mean a contestant will win the competition’.
Organiser Angie Beasley said all the girls knew success in the public vote would only secure a ‘fast-track’ place in the last 15 and counted as one-seventh of the final judging decision.
She said Miss Christie also had a fast-track place because she was representing a cosmetics company. Half the finalists were fast-track contestants.
Soldier Kat Hodge is glowing with the thrill of taking second place in the Miss England contest–and nursing a pair of very tender feet.
In her day job, the Lance Corporal is used to wearing sturdy boots, but for the beauty pageant these were replaced by a pair of heels. The 22-year-old clerk with the Adjutant General’s Corps is probably the only entrant to Miss England who has a commendation for bravery.
Miss Hodge, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was only 18 and was serving in Iraq with the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment when she leapt into action after the vehicle she was travelling in overturned.
It gave an Iraqi insurgent time to grab two rifles and threaten the soldiers. Miss Hodge punched him and retrieved the guns.
She said she entered the competition because she wanted to do something different and promote the Forces. ‘I’m really proud to be in the Forces. The Army made me who I am. It’s taught me so much and given me so many skills, so I want to be able to give something back.’
She has been doing some modelling work, but added: ‘My ambition is still with the Army. I’m not kidding myself I’m going to be the next Kate Moss.’
As for the men she works with, she said: ‘They are more interested in the other girls in their bikinis. I’m just another lad.’
Rachel Christie (center) with second-place Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge (right) and third-place Viki Bailey (left).