« Back to articlePrint this article

'When you win Miss World, doors open everywhere'

Last updated on: March 06, 2024 10:50 IST

'In my time, I didn't have that kind of guidance.
'I asked to speak to the international pageant winners before I went and nobody spoke with me.
'It doesn't take away from your title when you help others. It just brings more accolades back to our country.'

IMAGE: Miss World 1997 Diana Hayden looks just as lovely today. Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden


From managing pop stars in India to joining an exotic, alien world where she travelled first class and lived in presidential suites, winning the Miss World 1997 crown was a seismic shift for 24-year-old Diana Hayden.

The beauty queen, who now lives in Austin, Texas, reflects on her surreal overnight transformation as she learnt to navigate encounters with dignitaries, pose on red carpets and find herself as the face of various endorsements.

Diana recalls her extraordinary life post Miss World, sharing the rollercoaster of emotions she experienced as her life underwent a rapid overhaul.

"One of the major changes in my life was the charity work I did as Miss World. It made me a better person," the gorgeous 50 year old tells US Contributor Abhijit J Masih in an exclusive interview.

IMAGE: The moment Miss India Diana Hayden was crowned Miss World; 86 women from around the world competed in the pageant in 1997.
Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Can you share the personal and emotional journey you experienced during the drastic and rapid change that winning the Miss World crown brought to your life?

To put it simply, it went from being in a bus with 86 other girls to stretch limousines and travelling first class, private planes, presidential suites and bodyguards.

Overnight, everything changed around me. And the dichotomy is that, inside, you are the same person. So, for me, it was bizarre.

There were endorsements. I was doing red carpets, going to the White House and to Prince Charles's house. You end up being a guest at all these events.

What were some of the immediate and long term changes?

There were so many. I went from earning a salary of Rs 12,000 to winning $100,000 as prize money. The rest is history.

There were a lot of endorsements and appearances and events.

One of the major changes in my life was the charity work I did as Miss World. It made me a better person.

I grew up in India where we just accept the life of poverty and wealth living on the same street, beside each other. After winning Miss World, it hurt my senses and I did as much as I could; I still do whatever little I can.


IMAGE: Miss India Diana Hayden poses for photographers after winning the Miss World Pageant in the Seychelles. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

What was life like before becoming Miss World?

I had lived in a world where, because I was alone, I had to fend for myself. I didn't have family protecting me. I lived in hostels and I lived as a paying guest. It was me against the world.

I remember, when I won and went back for my homecoming, Mr Pradeep Guha (then the president of the Times Group) told me, 'You can stop now. You don't have to fight the world anymore.'

That really resonated with me.

What factors led you to focus more on charity work after winning Miss World? How did you discover your passion for speaking and connecting with people?

When you win Miss World, doors open everywhere. You get all these opportunities that you can choose from. You have offers from Bollywood.

I gravitated more and more toward charity work because I really enjoyed it. I'm not Mother Teresa; I just found satisfaction in doing this kind of work.

My definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

I found my space was in speaking. I connect with people.

My biggest strength is people. My second biggest strength is communication.

IMAGE: 'Seal it with a kiss!' Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden/Instagram

After your successful reign as Miss World, how have you been occupied professionally?

Right now I am at a space where I do motivational lectures and grooming lectures.

Actually, my grooming lectures have morphed into motivational lectures. I do it for corporates, I do it for groups. I do it for multinationals and individuals.

I also trained Sree Saini, who represented the US at the Miss World contest last year; she was the first runner-up.

I've written a book. It sold thousands of copies. I just didn't go in for a reprint. I plan to re-launch it as an e-book.

Diana Hayden

IMAGE: 'Dark skin is so much more beautiful and exotic,' says Diana. Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden

How do you respond to societal beauty standards, particularly regarding skin colour? There was an incident when a politician questioned your win.
What message would you like to convey to young girls about embracing their unique features?

Professionally, I should not react to such remarks because my father used to say, 'Tongues don't have bones so they will keep wagging.'

The reason why I reacted is because, in India, for so many women, including myself when I was growing up, it is such a minus point when you have dark skin. What people don't realise is that it is so much more beautiful and exotic. I take pride in it. I love it. I reacted because I know the issues you face and the lack of confidence that can result because of your dark skin.

When something as silly as that, as ignorant as that, is brought up, I would like to use that opportunity to let people know, let those girls know, that you've got something really special.

Do you think societal perceptions have evolved since the time of your reign as Miss World?

It has become a little better for women who are dark-skinned.

Everyone has their own strengths and insecurities; you have to change that in your head.

I know how long it took me. I won Miss World and I still had my insecurities. It took me years to realise when people in Paris and Rome, who didn't even know me as Miss World, Rome would come and say, 'You're gorgeous', 'You're so beautiful'. Those are the things that helped me.

We still have issues in India. It's a very big country and we are trying to change hundreds of years of baggage. But we've come a really long way.

Yes, I do think we're going to begin appreciating skin colour and exoticness.

We are one of the few countries that still have strength and beauty and femininity all at the same time.

Miss World Diana Hayden

IMAGE: 'Whatever you are doing, give it your 100 per cent,' says Diana. Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden

Do you think beauty pageants have been able to contribute to women's empowerment and the promotion of positive role models?


One of the biggest compliments I have ever got -- and I still get these compliments -- is when mothers come up to me and say, 'I get my daughter to watch your interviews. I get my daughter to try and emulate you.'

This is the kind of person I'd like to be.

As a mother now of three children, I can tell you, there is no bigger compliment you can receive.

Women are pretty stingy with their compliments when it comes to other women.

A mother's love is selfless; if she tells a child she wants her to be like me, that's the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

What advice would you give young individuals aspiring to succeed in modelling, acting or entrepreneurship?

Whatever you are doing, give it your 100 per cent; leave no stone left unturned because the worst emotion you can feel as you get older is regret. When you look back, you should be able to say you gave it your best.

But while you're doing that, my personal advice would be that you also hold on strongly to your values. Keep your feet grounded, never lose sight of the bigger picture and never lose sight of right and wrong.

IMAGE: 'It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always,' says Diana. Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden/Instagram

Can you talk a bit more about your experiences advising and guiding pageant contestants who followed you like Yukta Mookhey and Priyanka Chopra?

Yes, I did advise and guide them.

I spent hours for months together with Yukta.

I had a long chat with Priyanka over the phone because I was in London at the time. I remember the contestants were giving her a tough time; they were playing head games with her. Kudos to her, she won on her own merit. No one can take credit away from anybody who wins.

In my time, I didn't have that kind of guidance. I asked to speak to the international pageant winners before I went and nobody spoke with me. It doesn't take away from your title when you help others. It just brings more accolades back to our country.

Did you also experience instances where people played mind games with you?

No one can play games with me. I came from a very different life. I was working from the time I was 14 years old.

I was living on my own. I lived in hostels. I knew the dog-eat-dog world.

I managed popstars.

I sold attar in bulk in Crawford market (south Mumbai) when I was 18 years old.

While I'd like to believe I don't play them, I do recognise mind games.

IMAGE: Diana with her three lovely kids. Photograph: Kind courtesy Diana Hayden/Instagram

In the midst of the beauty, glamour and the obvious anxiousness of being a Miss World finalist, what prompted you to quote the poet William Butler Yeats when you introduced yourself in the semi-final round?

I'm an eighth standard dropout, but a voracious reader.

I am self-educated beyond what the education system in India did for me. And I don't know where there is a better education system than what we had in India. It does not even exist in the UK.

Our culture is about study, study, study, get it right, because it's a sink-or-swim world we live in. One of the best things that the Brits left behind is our education system.

What do you think is the most impactful thing you have done that gives you a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment?

I don't care if it sounds clichéd.

The most impactful thing in my life are my three children. The most impactful thing that I ever did was freeze my eggs that just changed my life.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/