“I feel like a princess.”

Lorraine Downes, Miss New Zealand 1983 at the Miss Universe 1983 pageant via Te Papa Tongarewa.

Lorraine was 19.

The year was 1983. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited with Prince William, Dave Dobbyn had won Male Vocalist of the year at the NZ Music Awards and in a matter of weeks, Lorraine Downes became a household name.

Miss Universe Trophy via Te Papa Tongarewa

Lorraine had arrived in Saint Louis, Missouri about three weeks before the Miss Universe competition was to commence. Like all the other competitors, Lorraine had left her life behind to chase bigger dreams. She was competing against girls from the USA, Germany, Australia and Japan to name a few. In a sea of girls competing for the coveted Miss Universe title, Lorraine began working on her act.

At fifteen, Lorraine was a typical school girl with average grades, hoping to pass her end of year exams so that she could apply for a position studying at the teacher’s training college. An opportune experience with a photographer that said, “I think your daughter has great potential as a model,” led to Lorraine considering the career path, despite admittedly being shy by nature.

Her involvement in modeling was at a time when few girls from New Zealand could earn a living this way. She began involving herself in modelling contests at the behest of those who acted as her support group; her family, friends and those who worked with her. After qualifying for Miss Universe, by winning first place in the Miss New Zealandcompetition in April of 1983, Lorraine had only two months to get ready for the biggest pageant of all. 

Evening gown ensemble, Miss Universe, 1983 via Te Papa Tongarewa

Lorraine remembers feeling peace and serenity when they announced Miss USA as the runner up; she was so sure that Miss USA (Julie Hayek) would win. The scores had been wiped for the final round, but before this Julie had been leading overall. But the girl from New Zealand had won and it left Lorraine stunned for for those first few minutes. She second guessed herself in moments after the crowning but with certainty, one for the judges stated that her “inner beauty shone through.”

Lorraine has gone on to live her life more at home in New Zealand after her year as Miss Universe in anonymity, marrying and settling down with her familyRecently Lorraine had released her biography ‘Life, Loss, Love’ about life before, during and after the competition. Her heartfelt book acts as a way of coping after the loss of her father and husband and of how to continue with life afterwards.

-Maddi McTavish
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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