It’s hard to believe striking Helaina Morgan was once bullied for her looks.
With a dazzling smile and perfectly coiffed locks, it’s little wonder she has won a host of beauty pageant titles.
She is in this autumn’s Miss Great Britain final – which her mum competed in back in the day.
And her gran was a model too.
Yet Helaina, 28, was never confident of her own looks as a child – and faced taunts at school from bullies who cruelly dubbed her Ugly Betty, after the TV role played by America Ferrera.
The social media manager and reigning Miss Bolton says: “I went through an ugly duckling stage, I did get upset and was bullied at school. The boys would bully me.
“I grew up in the early 2000s when it was all about being skinny and I was never skinny.
“I had some puppy fat when I was younger and people were mean about that.
“I’m a curvy girl, I have a big bum, but in the modern day it is so good everyone is so accepting of body shapes now.
“I was always hoping when I was younger that I would grow up to look like my mum.
“I always felt a little awkward and in high school I was called Ugly Betty.
“I think it’s because the actress was Latina and I looked similar to her, with olive skin tone and dark features. We both had red glasses too.”
Helaina prides herself on being the third generation of models in the family. Her mum Wendy Rubins, 59, is a retired air hostess who modelled and won many beauty titles including Miss Blackpool and Miss Lakeland.
And Wendy’s mum June Phizacklea, 82, was a model in her 230s, posing in print for Marks and Spencer.
It doesn’t end there – Helaina’s father and two brothers also dabble in the world of modelling.
The Miss Great Britain final is in October – 38 years after Wendy competed in the same contest.
But it was all very different back then.
Long gone are the days when poolside pageants were all the rage – and the only enhancements were a good bikini and a fake tan. Wendy says: “There is more pressure today with social media and reality programmes for girls to want to enhance themselves more.
“When I entered, people didn’t have their breasts enlarged, we weren’t even allowed false eyelashes or wigs.
“The organisers would tug your hair to make sure it was yours.
“The only thing we were allowed was a false tan.
“Over the years, the focus of beauty pageants has shifted from just who is the prettiest, to more about personal achievements.
“We had heats that started in June and there were always around 40 girls who attended to compete, and the first heat was always a swimsuit round.
“People who were on holiday used to come and watch our heats, as they were held in Morecambe or Blackpool and there was usually around 300 people watching. As well as having a professional presenter in a dinner suit and judges, there was also the mayor and mayoress attending too. It was all professionally run and a big day for the city.
“For me back then it was for looks and personality and that’s what would make you win, as they had to choose the right kind of person who would then go to the events and functions.
“But they did always choose girls who were from all walks of life.
“When I went to watch Helaina, I realised there are so many new rounds.
“There is now an eco-friendly round and they have to make an outfit and describe why they made the outfit.
“There is also a sports round in today’s pageant, whereas there was nothing like that for me. The contestants now also don’t have to do the swimsuit if they don’t want to, whereas when I did them you had to wear one.
“But back then no one wore a bikini, it was a swimsuit and it was covered, nothing revealing like you sometimes get today. It brings back a lot of memories when I watch Helaina compete.”
Helaina’s gran June made her mark on the fashion world back in the 1950s.
Hour-glass figures – accentuated by fit and flare dresses and pencil skirts – were the order of the day.
Helaina loves to hear tales from June and Wendy’s modelling past.
She goes on: “It’s really special to follow in mum’s footsteps.
“I would love to do a catwalk with her. I tell her she should enter again, but she just wants to watch me instead.
“I know my grandma is proud too, whenever we talk about it she is so happy. It is more of a hobby that I do it in my spare time. I think pageants are so much fun and you meet so many different girls and make so many friends.
“I am making the most of my time as Miss Bolton and utilising my platform as Miss Bolton and as a Miss Great Britain finalist.
“I am supporting the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People to raise awareness for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“I have also been learning British sign language since 2018.”
And for the bullies who teased her, Helaina has just one comment.
“I feel like I had the last laugh,” she says.