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purpose Miss Northern Ireland wants to do her bit for Ukraine on Miss World journey

'I feel this is going to give me the chance to work with children’s mental health on a greater scale around the world'

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Anna on stage at the contest

Anna on stage at the contest

Anna on stage at the contest

Miss Northern Ireland Anna Leitch is ready to roll up her sleeves and help Ukraine in the next part of her Miss World journey.

The 28-year-old has made history as the highest placing contestant from Northern Ireland at the global competition.

She was in the top six from 98 contestants as new Miss World Karolina Bielawska from Poland was crowned in Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

It means Anna is now Miss World Europe after she took the continental queen title and the Cookstown primary school teacher plans to throw herself into the role.

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Miss NI in Puerto Rico with her new Europe sash

Miss NI in Puerto Rico with her new Europe sash

Miss NI in Puerto Rico with her new Europe sash

She’s already an advocate for children’s mental health as an ambassador for Aware NI and says the war in Ukraine has underlined the importance of caring for kids.

“I want to do my bit for the world and help disadvantaged people, especially in Ukraine,” she says.

“Yes, Miss World is a pageant but at the heart of it is beauty with a purpose.

“I feel this is going to give me the chance to work with children’s mental health on a greater scale around the world.”

Anna’s success in the competition means she will be working closely with the Miss World team for the next year.

She will be in talks with the competition organisers over the next few weeks to iron out her role.

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Miss NI leaving from Dublin for Miss World

Miss NI leaving from Dublin for Miss World

Miss NI leaving from Dublin for Miss World

“I love the modelling and the getting dressed up side of the job and it’s wonderful, but I want to do more.

“I want to be able to get up and scrape my hair back and get on some old clothes and do my bit.

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“Watching young children in Ukraine who have had to leave their fathers and grandfathers behind to get to safety is just heart-breaking.

“I want to be able to help them. I might have to take time out of my work but what’s far more important is helping those people.”

The Miss World finalists paid a touching candle-lit tribute on the stage in San Juan to the millions of people affected by the Russian invasion.

Anna had also befriended winner Karolina, a master’s student who shared the impact on neighbouring Poland, which has taken in two million refugees fleeing the war.

“We flew over together, and she was telling me that Poland has had so many refugees from Ukraine and will have taken thousands more by the time she gets home.

“That’s having a dreadful impact on those kids. I can’t even think what it would be like to have to leave my father behind.

“When I went to Miss World, I thought to myself there is so much going on in the world, is everyone going to forget? But there was a lovely moment where we paid tribute to the people of Ukraine and remembered all those people who have suffered so much.”

Anna didn’t know until the coronation dinner on St Patrick’s Day that her top six place had given her a new place within the Miss World family.

She was still reeling from her historic success and had gone to the final, postponed from December after a Covid outbreak, determined to simply enjoy herself and soak up the atmosphere of the 70th anniversary of the competition.

“I went out and thought I’m here and it’s an amazing experience and so many girls would love to be here and I’m just going to enjoy it.

“I wasn’t expecting to make it into the top 12, let alone the top six. There was the most incredible atmosphere and a huge audience.

“When my name was called, I had to ask Karolina ‘is that me?’ I think I was just a bit shocked.”

Anna also had to answer two questions in front of a TV audience of millions, about what she’d learned as a teacher during the pandemic, and her views on Nelson Mandela’s statement that Miss World is empowering for women.

“I spoke about the opportunities that Miss World has given us to spend time and listen to each other.

“We’re all from different backgrounds and cultures and we were able to learn so much from each other. My motto is never stop learning.”

Anna arrived home yesterday to a hero’s welcome from parents Christopher and Jane and a celebration at her Lisburn home organised by sister Lydia. She celebrated last night with partner Matt Good as he performed with the Shamrock Tenors.

She’ll share her good new with her P1 pupils at Cookstown Primary School this week, and says she’s been deluged with congratulations.

“I have made history for Northern Ireland. It’s a remarkable achievement and I’m very proud that I was able to go out there and do my country proud,” says Anna.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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