In a first, two rival French beauty contest winners claim their crowns
For the first time in history, France has produced two major beauty queens: Laury Thilleman of Brittany was elected Miss France 2011, while Barbara Morel of Provence took home the title of a rival pageant launched by the former Miss France organizer.
It was a weekend to go down in French history: for the first time ever, France produced two major beauty queens from rival contests.
On Saturday, 19-year-old business school student Laury Thilleman of Brittany was elected Miss France 2011 by viewers of television channel TF1 in the traditional competition. But the very next day, that contest’s long-time organizer, Geneviève de Fontenay was busy hosting her own spin-off: the "Miss Nationale-Geneviève de Fontenay 2011" pageant, in which Barbara Morel of Provence, also 19 years old and a student, was selected by a jury.
Fontenay had been president of the Miss France committee since 1954, but recently sold the competition to French production company Endemol.
“France deserves two winners”, Fontenay declared to the French press. “The French will choose the one they prefer. My winners have always adhered to the values I promote - dignity under all circumstances, respect of oneself and of others”.
Though she initially remained involved in the contest’s organization, disagreements with Endemol led Fontenay to leave the contest entirely. According to widespread rumours, Fontenay felt that the company did not respect her standards for the contestants. She was said to be particularly unhappy with revelations that certain former participants had previously posed nude.
When she said that she planned to set up a rival competition, Endemol took the 78 year-old icon to court. The court ruled in Fontenay’s favour.
New contest, old icon
The Miss France 2011 contest attracted one million fewer viewers that last year’s edition. But the winner said she was glad to have participated in the older French beauty contest. “For me, Miss France is the only prestigious contest, a myth and a dream”, Thilleman told the French press. “I really didn’t see myself participating in a parallel competition”.
Meanwhile, the winner of Fontenay’s “Miss Nationale” competition, which was held in Paris, couldn’t seem to disagree more. One of 25 contestants to model evening gowns, one-piece swim suits and wedding dresses in front of an audience of 600, Morel said it was Fontenay, and not the name of the contest, that made her title special. “Mrs. de Fontenay is a symbol representing values that are more important than the Miss France label”, she told French reporters.
The winner of the contest was chosen by a jury led by journalist Henry-Jean Servat. Other jury members included a television personality, an Olympic fencing champion and two former Miss France winners. The seven finalists had been selected by 40,000 Internet users who voted on the Web site of French weekly magazine Télé Loisirs.
Reflecting on her new endeavour, Fontenay said: “A page of my life was turned last night, and it’s bittersweet”.
But, she added, her new contest would be back next year.