How Milla became the first plus-size Miss England (2024)

Newly anointed Miss England Milla Magee does have a crown on her head (it comes in its own box with a handle, who knew?) but she isn't sounding much like a beauty queen right now. She tells me that she's never applied fake tan in her life and although her teeth are brilliant white – they're entirely her own.

Her hair is the blondest blonde but she reckons this is part genetic ('No idea how because my mum is really dark') and partly because she's always in and out of the sea so there's some natural bleaching going on.

Nor – and this is mind-blowing – has she perfected the essential beauty queen art of sashaying in heels while wearing a swimsuit.

'I have NEVER worn heels with a swimsuit,' she says, horrified. She reminds me that when she's not beauty-queening, she works as a lifeguard. It would be hard to save a life in a pair of Louboutins, we agree.

The reason Milla, 23, has sparked headlines this week, though, is that she has broken what we all assumed to be the first rule of the beauty queen: you must be able to slip effortlessly into a size 10 frock, ideally one that is backless and possibly nearly frontless too, yet with enough space for sequins.

When she's not beauty-queening, Milla Magee, 23, works as a lifeguard

Milla, sixth from the right,proudly admits to wearing plus-size dresses as well as XL clothes and says she's not your 'standard' beauty queen

She, meanwhile, is a woman who has been known to need a size 14, even a 16, depending on the cut.

But over the course of the two-day contest, Milla shared her vision for how she was going to change the world and beat all the other skinny-minnies to make history by becoming the first ever plus-size winner of Miss England.

We can quibble about whether size 16 (the average dress size of a British woman) should be considered plus size – as ITV viewers did, after Milla's appearance on Lorraine on Friday provoked indignation on X, with many echoing one comment: 'Plus size??!! She looks slim to me!'

But Milla says: 'I'm happy to show women that when it comes to clothes sizes, they're just numbers. Somehow we get fixated on them and they don't matter,' she says.

'So I'm happy to admit I will buy a size 16, or an extra large. When I was younger it was a very different thing – but that led to mental health issues.'

She adds: 'I think the message I'd like to get out today is that you don't have to conform. You don't have to wear a certain size because you want to fit in. I can see now that I was never going to be petite. I don't have the bone structure, for starters, but the pressure for young women to conform is something I very much understand.'

In the flesh, Milla is gorgeous, exuding health, vibrancy and youthful promise. I tell her that at times she reminds me of a mermaid – she does talk a lot about the sea. 'It saved me,' she says – or a young Kate Winslet.

This is quite the coincidence because Winslet is her heroine. 'Oh, she's been a great inspiration to me, because she's someone who has also suffered from body confidence issues.

'Her drama teacher told her when she was 14 or something that she would never make it because she was fat. She's very open about it. Yet, she's done it. She's beautiful and stunning and she's made it on her own terms.'

Was Milla called fat when she was younger? 'Oh yes,' she says. 'Fat, overweight, all that. I look back and think they were children so it wasn't their fault, but the point is that they were conditioned by this society of ours that says it's OK to use those words.'

While the body positivity movement has taken off in recent years, the beauty pageant industry has not necessarily followed.

The core Miss England competition – the winner of which traditionally goes on to compete in Miss World – has tended to only feature women who conform to expectations.

'Actually, the dress sizes have got smaller,' says Angie Beasley, who organises the contest and was once herself a beauty queen.

Milla found it hard to make friends at school as she was often bullied for her height and weight

Milla met Prince William at a recent event in Newquay and shares environmental interests with him

'In my day, most of the girls wore a size 10 or 12, even a 14. But in recent years, the norm has been size 8 to 10, or even a 6. One girl recently was a size 4. That's what makes Milla's success so interesting, and wonderful.'

So where has Milla sprung from? The idea she has emerged from the sea in her beloved Newquay, where she now lives, is enticing, but alas untrue. Her background is way more rock and roll. 'Though I'm not,' she insists. 'I don't drink. I have never touched a drug in my life. I am going to be the most boring Miss England ever.'

She grew up in London's privileged Primrose Hill, surrounded by some of the supposedly most beautiful (and thin) people on the planet. Her mum (who now drives her everywhere) is Katrina Russell, a former record company executive best known for making the Gallagher brothers, aka Oasis, household names.

Kat moved in circles that included Robbie Williams and Steve Coogan (she is rumoured to have dated both), and hung out with Michael Hutchence and Kylie Minogue. Paul Weller was a family friend, ditto the actor Ray Winstone.

Kat remains close to Noel Gallagher's ex-wife Meg Mathews, whose daughter Anais became best friends with Milla. 'Anais and I were born at the same time, so we grew up together,' she says.

Milla went to private school ('I had to buy my school uniform at Harrods') and when she wasn't hanging out with her parents' cool crew ('they would take my sister and I along to the parties. It was just our normal'), she would be pitching up after school to one of her father's restaurants.

Brenhan Magee catered for the decadent crowd, and Milla particularly recalls hanging out in one of his restaurants, where Made In Chelsea was filmed. 'I got to know a lot of the stars,' she says. 'I'm still friends with some. But all that was never really 'me', although I did try to conform at the time.'

She's baffled about how people are fascinated by her upbringing. 'I didn't know, at the time, who half the people in our house were'.

It's quite the life leap, though, when you consider that this woman now talking about body confidence and the dangers of young girls feeling that they have to be thin, once had Kate Moss herself in her kitchen!

For all her outward privilege, though, it doesn't sound as if the young Milla was particularly happy. 'My childhood was, and my family life has always been wonderful,' she says. 'My parents have always been really supportive.' At her posh school though, as she grew (in all senses) she felt increasingly ostracised and alone.

It wasn't just her weight – Milla is also 6ft and recalls bending her legs to try to appear petite. 'I didn't have that many friends, and there was bullying,' she says. Because of her size? 'Yes. I'd always been tall – at school I'd be taller than a lot of the boys, never mind the girls, and there was a stage where I'd probably had too many pork pies.'

Aged 14, she weighed 14st, and tells me, pain evident on her face, this felt like the worst thing in the world. 'I just wanted to fit in. No one wants to be different.'

You felt that you had to be thinner to be in the gang? 'Absolutely. So there was the being called 'fat', but actually more damaging is the mind games. You want to be a certain way, to be accepted.'

In her case, the mind games weren't just at school. 'I was born into this life I felt I had to conform to. Because of my mum surrounded by those people, and my dad, and his industry, well you create an image of what you think you should look like, what people expect you to look like.

'And I've been told I was overweight, that I shouldn't look like that. Not naming names, but in those industries people told me that I didn't look like what a woman should look like.'

Male people or female people? 'Female. They weren't trying to be negative. It's just that they believed you had to look a certain way. I became determined to challenge that.'

But not before Milla almost destroyed herself trying to fit in (and not just into a size 10).

In her teens she did diet and did 'succeed' in becoming thin. 'And it wasn't healthy,' she says, clearly cross with herself now.

'I went down to a size 10, even an eight, and it was too thin for my frame. And that was when the mental health issues kicked in.'

Around this time, Milla's parents facilitated her getting professional help. 'I did see someone,' she says when I ask about counselling. 'And I'm not afraid to say 'Yes, sometimes you need help'.'

READ MORE:The beauty experts' six simple steps to getting a beautiful bottom before bikini season

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She also – and this seems to be key to her recovery – left that private school; indeed quit London completely. The family had always holidayed in Cornwall, where her grandmother lived, and Milla always loved swimming and surfing. When she was at her unhappiest in London, she would become 'another person' in Cornwall.

'I came to realise this was the real me,' she says. 'I need to be close to nature. And I was always happy in a swimsuit when I was in the sea. I lived in them!'

By the time she was 15, with her parents divorced, she had moved to Cornwall. 'I keep saying the sea saved me, which sounds very dramatic, but it did. I realised that I didn't have to be part of that world I was born into. I could be me.'

She still pops back to London, of course, where her dad still has restaurants. And the showbiz connections are still very much intact. Meg Mathews let her go through her wardrobe when she was putting together clothes to wear during the Miss England contest.

Why did she enter, though? It was while training as a lifeguard that she was approached locally and asked to model.

This led to her applying for, and winning, Miss Newquay, which led in turn to Miss England. And now... world domination? 'I don't know when the Miss World contest will be, but yes, and it will be such an honour to represent my country.'

Many are still sniffy about beauty pageants and Milla admits she might have been in the past, but she says that world has changed beyond recognition. 'The contest part of it is just one day,' she says. 'But there is so much more involved. You have to have a mission, have evidence that you are doing something to make a difference, contributing to your community.'

Her vision isn't the vague 'saving the world' variety that you associate with beauty queens, either.

Milla's lifeguard training, particularly in CPR, has led her to start a campaign to have CPR training taught in schools. 'It's my passion. I want to see it introduced in all schools.'

She met Prince William at a recent event in Newquay ('this was even before I was Miss England') and shared that vision with him. Ditto her other campaigning work on environmental issues.

'People who think Miss England is about turning up in a swimsuit and heels are simply wrong,' she says.

Although this beauty pageant scrapped the swimwear round some years back after it became mired in controversy, Milla, now surely the most confident woman on the planet in a swimsuit, would support it being introduced again.

Minus the heels, though.

Milla Magee won the Miss England 2024 final sponsored by Watermans Hair at the Grand Station Wolverhampton. She will represent England at the 72nd Miss World next year

How Milla became the first plus-size Miss England (2024)

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