by Aidan Elder | Chief Lovely Girls Competition writer
It’s just something we like.
A beauty pageant that’s not about beauty.
It’s twee, patronising, old-fashioned and on the fringes of offensive. But it’s great.
Like thinking 11 degrees Celsius is acceptable shorts and t-shirt weather and mild alcohol poisoning is the barometer of a good night out, it looks bizarre to the outside world, but to us, it makes perfect sense. Cringe-worthy yet oddly compelling, it takes a strong will or a good liar to say they won’t be flicking over to RTE for even a few minutes this Monday and Tuesday.
The aim of the Rose of Tralee is to uncover a young woman with the personality and intellect to represent Ireland proudly across the world in the year of engagements that follows a victory. The formula for picking a winner is a subject of fascination. Smiles, niceness and intelligence are all important and being able to do a nice party trick doesn’t hurt either. But is there a checklist of things to look out for? Maybe not, but the Paddy Power Blog has had a look at some of the more interesting trends in the competition’s 53 year history.
Gentlemen might prefer blondes, but the Rose of Tralee judging panel certainly don’t. Maybe it’s a hair colour too associated with unsavoury things like lust, sinful thoughts or Kerry Katona, but there seems to be something about the fair-haired folk that the successive panels don’t take to. Only seven blondes have ever won the Rose of Tralee, representing just 13 per cent of all victories.
Despite being a tell tale sign of Irishness along the lines of a desire to start queuing to board a plane long before the place has actually arrived at the airport, the red-heads haven’t done well. Only once has a ginger won the accolade, making the hair colour about as popular … well about as popular as it is in real life.
Brunettes dominate and although they may not all look like Sofia Vergara, but the trend is clear. 85 per cent of all winners have fallen between the admittedly wide goal posts of being brunettes, so it’s one thing to bear in mind when perusing this year’s Rose of Tralee betting.
This is a far more subjective category. One man’s ‘cheeky glint in the eye’ is another man’s ‘result of an overactive imagination’. The exact definitions are harder to pin down than Bertie Ahern’s financial arrangements, but the ‘wholesome girl next door look’ is clearly prevalent. Other contests focus on sex appeal and the likelihood of competitors ever getting a Playboy centrefold, but the ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ style is the formula for success in Kerry.
Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the ‘cheeky glint in the eye’ and ‘girl next door’ categories. The best way of summing it is one will give you the faint hope that she’ll hold hands with you after only three dates and not the requisite 15. They’re all basically wholesome girls next door, but some of them can give off the general sexiness vibe. Mrs Brian O’Driscoll, Amy Huberman neatly sums up the characteristics.
’80s glamour model chic’ isn’t really something you need to worry about at the Rose of Tralee in this day and age. As the name suggests, it had its peak in the decade of leg-warmers and thinking George Michael loved the women. It basically involved posing and big hair. And that’s no longer a popular look these day. Unless you’re from Mullingar.
Winners by region
We know all the girls involved in the Rose of Tralee have some degree of Irish in them. And that’s not a dig at Daithi O’Sé. The Irish connection is a precondition for entering the competition and if you’re found not to be of Irish stock, Dana chases you around the streets of Tralee with a hurley. Allegedly. All the winners are to an extent ‘Irish’, but obviously they represent various diasporic communities around the world and here we examine this in more detail.
The first thing to note is winners representing Irish regions are actually in the minority. In the 53 contests so far, only 23 of the winners have represented local places, with 30 representing locations beyond the soggy borders of Ireland.
When it comes to Irish winners, Dublin leads the way and the Dublin Rose, Arlene O’Neill is 11/4 favourite for this year’s title. But – possibly due to the fact ‘mugging’ doesn’t count as a party piece – the dominance isn’t as great as you’d expect considering the city’s size advantage. The much smaller localities of Cork, Belfast and Belfast all weigh in with three wins each, which is much more success on a per capita basis. Impressively, Waterford and Limerick have managed a couple of winners each, but that smugness can be tempered by the fact they also gave the world Gilbert O’Sullivan and Terry Wogan.
On the international side of things, it’s the Americans eagerly forging ahead like it’s the invasion of a third world country. Fitting nicely into the military analogy, it’s the English not far behind. American roses have won the competition 11 times. This year they’ve got no less than nine entrants, giving them a great chance of making it a not at all dirty dozen. With eight wins, English roses already have history of success at the event, but this year their chances look as desperate as the line-up for Celebrity Big Brother. With the Sunderland Rose and the London Rose both being rated as 33/1 outsiders, success is looking unlikely.
Australian roses have also done pretty well over the years, getting their hands on the shiny tiara four times. Performing commendably are the New Zealanders with two wins. Canada, home of androgynous man-girl, Justin Bieber has recorded one win, with the quartet of continental European countries – Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy – also making a single notch of their Rose of Tralee bedpost.
As ever, the Lovely Girls competition is wide open. One sudden confession about a secret fondness for the opinions of L. Ron Hubbard can turn a red hot favourite into an also ran. Likewise, if they seem to be enjoying Daithi’s flirting a little too much, that can be taken as a warning sign of suspect moral fibre. It’ll be interesting and quite possibly cringe-worthy. That’s just how we like it.