Danielle Evans didn’t have the easiest start in life: she was born at 26 weeks with a five per cent chance of survival. But against the odds, she did survive, and now she’s breaking the stereotypes around pageants and women in sport.
This year Danielle was crowned Miss Brighton 2021 and she’ll be competing in Miss Great Britain in September. She’s also a rugby player, and last year launched a campaign #TryMe to address sexist stereotypes around the sport.
Here she shares her story, what drives her, and explains why you can do anything you set your mind to.
Starting out in pageants
“I first competed in Miss Brighton in 2019,” Danielle said.“I was relatively new to Brighton, I’d only been here a year. It was a way of making friends and getting to know people. Being able to work with the community and give something back.
“It was my first proper pageant so I didn’t know what to expect at all. That year I came in the top six and I won the Miss Publicity award for Brighton. I wanted to do it again as I loved it so much.
“At the end of last year, I submitted my application. I answered a few questions, why did I want to enter, why would I be a good ambassador? It was a bit different this year as it was all virtual.”
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Danielle explained that there’s a lot of charity work involved, raising money for and promoting the official pageant charities, Cancer Research and Alex’s Wish, as well as others of her choice, including Ronald McDonald House in Brighton which supports families of babies and children staying in Brighton’s children’s hospital.
“I also work with lots of organisations that focus on diversity and inclusion as Brighton is all about that,” Danielle said.
Being crowned Miss Brighton 2021
Last month Danielle learned she had won the title of Miss Brighton 2021 and now she’s preparing to represent the city in the Miss Great Britain finals in September.
“I’m practising walking in heels as I haven’t worn heels in forever! And I’m working with lots of organisations, volunteering and helping to promote them.”
On her title and the experience so far, Danelle said: “It is absolutely fantastic, I have watched pageants for years. I wish I had done it sooner.
“The amount of confidence it has given me, I never would have got up in front of loads of people and said my bit. I am so much more confident now. And it is so much fun, you got to meet so many people.”
A passion for rugby
As well as being a pageant queen, Danielle is also a rugby player.
“I started playing when I was in my third year of university at Southampton Solent. I needed something to get me out of the library. Through rugby, I made such good friendships and loved the sport.”
But it wasn’t long before she experienced sexist generalisations about playing the sport, so she decided to do something about it.
“I set up ‘Try Me’, a campaign to break stereotypes for women’s sport,” Danielle said. “I experienced a lot of generalisations, asking if the sport was full contact and if I was the only straight one on the team. The sport is so diverse. I have met so many people from all walks of life in rugby. It’s just about breaking these stereotypes.
“Why can’t you be in pageants and play rugby? I ended up going to schools and doing talks.
“In both pageants and rugby you have to be strong, physically on the rugby pitch, and on the stage, you have to know what you stand for you have to be able to tell people why you’re a good ambassador. Why can’t you be both?
“Do whatever makes you happy, you shouldn’t care what anybody else thinks.”
A difficult start
One reason behind Danielle’s determination and drive to go after what she wants is perhaps her difficult start in life.
“I was born at 26 weeks,” Danielle said. “I had a Grade 1 brain bleed, a five per cent chance of survival and I weighed 1lb. Fortunately, because of the amazing staff at St George’s Hospital, I survived. But when I was younger I did have cognitive development issues, I couldn’t process information very quickly.
“My start in life was not the best, but I am here today. I have chronic lung disease and asthma, but nothing holds me back.
“It does not matter where you come from and what is in the way, you can push past it.”
Danielle explained that her health does sometimes make things more difficult but she doesn’t let that stop her.
“I am not a star player in rugby but I still do it because I love it,” she said.
Believing you can do it
As well as her career in pageants and rugby, Danielle is a full-time social media executive, with a Masters degree in digital marketing, a degree in fashion photography and four diplomas. She’s a fan of online learning and said this has helped keep her busy during the lockdown as she has had to shield throughout much of the pandemic.
But what is it that brings this drive and determination to go out and achieve so many different things?
“There were many times in my life when I did not believe I could do things, I have proved to myself I can do it.
“I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and I love this Dumbledore quote: ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light’.”