The day after I won Miss England in July 2019, I came back down to earth with quite a bump. I’d just graduated from Nottingham University, and was starting my first day as a junior doctor at Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire.
I’d stayed up for the after-party and then had to catch the 4am train from Newcastle to Boston, dragging all my luggage – my Miss England outfit, work clothes and my new crown in its special case – with me.
I was trying to focus on the induction, but my phone kept ringing and I was bombarded with emails. By the end of the day, I had a huge blister on my foot and left the hospital with just one shoe on.
I’m not sure what the waiting media, outside the building, made of it! I thought to myself, “What a way to become Miss England!”
But that’s been typical of my journey to become the country’s first South Asian Miss England. It’s been a question of balancing my geeky, studious side with my other interests – first dancing when I was a teen and now modelling.
I’ve always been independent, travelling all over the country for competitions and castings. One year, when I underperformed in exams, my dad suggested I put modelling on hold.
That’s when I told myself, “If I want to do one, I have to do the other right. To be able to dance or model, I have to make sure I do my work too.”
My parents, who came to the UK from Kolkata, India, when I was nine, always drummed into me the importance of getting a sensible job.
There was an expectation I’d go into medicine – it’s a revered profession in Asian families – but on a personal level I also wanted an academic career. Being a medic keeps you on your toes and I enjoy the feeling when you help fix someone’s problems.
Making a difference
Although being a beauty queen and a medic might sound like two very different things, in some ways I was drawn to competing in pageants for the same reason.
I wanted a platform for myself, and I’ve seen a lot of successful women come out of the industry and make a difference in their field of work.
The thought of entering Miss England hadn’t occurred to me – it can be complicated for ethnic minority women here who might have an identity crisis about who they represent – until the organisers
of Asian Face Of Miss England got in touch.
I won that competition, and from there I progressed to Miss England.
Beauty pageants have evolved. There’s no swimwear round and Miss England introduced a ground-breaking element this time which had us all turning up in the same outfit, with no make-up on at all.
When you go to castings it’s easy to spend thousands on a look, but not everyone can compete with that. This was about being yourself and it was liberating.
Of course, for the finals you put on a glamorous evening dress, but the judgement is made on months of hard work the finalists put in.
I had a good feeling, but I wasn’t expecting to win. When you see the standard of all the women competing, your confidence nosedives, but you do your best. My victory hit me like a bus – it didn’t feel real!
For two months I continued working, but then took a gap year to focus on the Miss World competition in December 2019 in London, and travel opportunities.
Suddenly, I was jetting across the world from Turkey to Africa to India, little knowing life was about to be turned upside down for the second time in six months.
When the pandemic first started to gather pace, I was in India at the start of a tour of Asia. There was a lockdown and I was stranded in a hotel.
My colleagues were messaging me about the Covid-19 pandemic and how busy the wards were. I felt useless and thought, “I should be doing something right now.”
It sounds weird to describe it as a fear of missing out, but I had a strong sense I wanted to be part of the effort to beat Covid. The country was in the middle of an emergency, and it was the right time to hang up my crown for a while.
The transition from beauty queen to medic again was seamless because in my head I knew why I was coming back. The world had changed in the space of just a week.
Forming close bonds
At the beginning, when we were all unsure where it was all heading, the clapping for the NHS was an amazing, emotional thing. I was just doing my job, but suddenly everyone was on our side.
As a result, I formed such a close bond with my colleagues at Pilgrim Hospital. I’m quite an introverted person, and wasn’t expecting to go to work and find such a genuine set of friends.
Some even came to watch me compete in Miss World, and because of the fight against the virus, we’ve become even closer.
I wrote a poem called Invisible Halo about the unceasing work of the staff, how we support each other, and “fallen heroes” we’d lost during the pandemic.
We turned it into a film featuring staff at the hospital, to celebrate their duty, dedication and sacrifice. It closes with them taking turns to wear my crown, symbolising that all NHS workers are heroes.
Since then I’ve moved on to the Royal Derby Hospital. I work on the urology ward, but when you’re on call any of us can spend time on the Covid wards.
Life is a mix of 12-hour day and night shifts and weekends on call.
While you’re caring for other people, your own health comes last. Of course, some days I’m tired and I’ll eat the wrong things, and wearing masks makes you prone to breakouts.
Everything I do – skincare, diet and exercise – I try to do mindfully, for the long term.
When the gyms were closed, I did online workouts instead. I use Cetuem products on my face, which are made with gold, and my mum Mita, who I live with, cooks me lovely fresh food. I try to heal from the inside.
Like everyone, I’m looking forward to this year being a fresh start. Due to the pandemic, the Miss England finals have been postponed until April, so I’m now the longest-serving winner.
I’m hoping once the travel ban is lifted, I’ll be able to do more charity work as the reigning Miss England.
I’ve been able to show that being a beauty queen means so much more now.
I’m proud to represent England as well as celebrate my Indian heritage, and while my long-term goal is to be a GP, I’m keen to use my platform to educate people on preventative health care for conditions like Type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
As the Miss England slogan says, it’s all about beauty with a purpose.
- For more on Cetuem products, see cetuem.com. Find Bhasha’s health and beauty tips on the new Miss England app at missengland.info