A YOUNG beauty contestant glides gracefully across the stage to where the presenter stands, holding his arm out to welcome her. She takes him by the wrist... and suddenly he’s sailing through the air, before landing on his back at her feet.
No, it’s not a scene from Miss Congeniality, it’s an actual real-life event from Miss West Lothian 2009.
The contestant in question, Ashley Brown, now 23, who is also a former junior European and world taekwondo champion, explains: “It was the talent section and I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was so nervous I didn’t trust myself to speak so, I flipped him. Then I walked off stage.”
And no-one was more surprised than Ashley when she went on to win.
“When they were announcing the top ten I was standing cheering everyone on. I hadn’t been expecting to place at all, so when they called my name out last it came as a complete shock. I even did that clichéd beauty queen thing where you lift your hands up to your face, but it was honestly just my natural reaction.”
Four years on Ashley, from Armadale, has wowed the fashion world on both sides of the Atlantic. After coming fourth in Britain’s Next Top Model three years ago, she is now battling it out on America’s Next Top Model: The British Invasion. She says, things could have been very different if she hadn’t had people who believed in her more than she believed in herself.
Ashley, who is mother to Alysha, seven, and Jay, four, and is engaged to Scott Clarkson, 22, says: “My parents pretty much had to drag me to the BNTM auditions, I was sure they’d tell me no straight away because I wasn’t tall enough. And the first I knew about Miss West Lothian was when I got a text message telling me I had made it through the first cut. I remember being like: ‘Eh, mum, do you have something to tell me?’
“I couldn’t believe it when BNTM got back in touch and asked me to go to London for the next round. Then it all nearly fell apart again when I found out I had to wear a bikini – I hadn’t done that since before I’d had my kids.
“But my dad said: ‘We’ve come all this way, so get in there and show them what you’ve got.’ If they hadn’t kept telling me I was just as good as all the other girls I never would have applied for either competition. I thought I had no chance.”
Ashley’s mother Cath Emerson, 45, explains: “Ashley used to have very low confidence. Her dad and I saw the advert for open auditions for BNTM and we really had to push her to go. Miss West Lothian came up about the same time and I didn’t even tell her I’d sent in her picture.”
She adds: “That’s why it was so important to Ashley that her own modelling school had the word ‘esteem’ in the name. She has so much more belief in herself now and wants to give something back to girls who’re in the position she was once.”
Classes start at the Ashley Brown Esteem Modelling School – based at Hush Hair and Beauty in Livingston – tonight, with 45 pupils aged between the ages of five and 23 enrolled in lessons covering the basics of modelling.
The lower end of the age spectrum is sure to raise a few eyebrows but Ashley is ready to fend off criticism.
“I’m not trying to turn little girls into catwalk models,” she says. “I want to give them a chance to prance about in lovely clothes and have some fun. They wouldn’t be asked to wear anything they, or their parents, wouldn’t feel comfortable with and there’s no pressure to look perfect or be a certain weight. It’s about girls getting to dress up, look pretty and feel good about themselves.”
It’s not all about remaining ladylike – along with handy hints on good practice for staying safe while working in the industry, Ashley will also be giving her pupils taekwondo lessons.
Among the lessons pupils will be learning is the fact the business isn’t always as glamorous as it can be made out to be.
While Ashley has never been in any dangerous situations, she puts this down to always following certain rules: “My mother drilled the need to be cautious into me. You always check out a photographer before you go to meet them, and you never, ever, go to a shoot alone, even if the photographer seems completely credible. Remember that missing out on a job is not the worst thing that can happen.”
n Catch Ashley on America’s Next Top Model, Mondays at 9pm on Sky Living.