Siobhan Brindley-Lewis is a beauty queen with a difference – she is deaf. Jane Tyler tells her remarkable story.
It’s a hard life being a beauty queen. You can’t risk putting on an ounce, live in fear of one dimple of cellulite appearing, spend a fortune on spray tans and single-handedly keep your hairdresser in business.
But if you’re disabled then life on the catwalk is doubly hard as Birmingham beauty queen Siobhan Brindley-Lewis can testify.
Siobhan, aged 22, is profoundly deaf and in May will make history when she sashays down the catwalk of Birmingham’s International Convention Centre.
She is the first deaf woman to win a place in the finals of a mainstream British beauty contest.
Siobhan, from Quinton, will be competing in Miss Universe Great Britain on May 3.
Like the other 39 contestants, she will parade in front of the eight-person judging panel in a little black dress, swimwear and an evening gown.
And just like the other girls, Siobhan will look stunning with her perfect size 8 figure, long tumbling brown hair and perfectly-applied make up.
But it will be during the interview stage that her disability will mark her out.
Unlike her rivals, Siobhan won’t be able to engage with the compere in easy banter as she will be relying either on lip reading or may need a British Sign Language interpreter by her side as she answers questions about her life ambitions and charity intentions.
But Siobhan is adamant her deafness will not put her at a disadvantage to the other girls.
“I decided to enter the contest to show that having a disability should not stop you doing things,” she says.
“I especially want to encourage other deaf girls to follow their dream and not be held back.”
Siobhan lost her hearing after she contracted meningitis as a three-year-old. When she was seven she had a cochlear implant (a form of hearing aid) fitted which allows her to understand and communicate with people on a more or less normal level.
Despite her disability she went to mainstream schools, first at Percy Shurmer School in Balsall Heath, Shenley Court in Weoley Castle and then to Walsall College to begin her training as a beauty therapist.
She completed her beauty training with a degree from the University of Derby in Buxton, which involved living away from home.
Another reason she entered Miss Universe Great Britain was to help in her search for a job. Despite graduating last year with top notch professional qualifications, she has been unable to find work as a beauty therapist.
“I can’t prove it, but I do think it’s because I’m deaf,” she suggests.
“I declare my disability on the application form and then I don’t hear from them, I don’t even get an interview which I find surprising because I have all the qualifications they require.”
She used to do occasional shifts as a personal trainer at the Isis Health and Beauty studio in Walsall.
“People find it surprising that I work as a personal trainer when I’m deaf but it’s actually very easy,” she adds. “As long as my clients talk slowly and clearly I can understand them.
“I can also demonstrate the moves I want them to do, or as a last resort, write them down.”
Keeping a trim figure is essential for any beauty queen, but for Siobhan it is crucial as she used to be overweight.
“When I was at university I was so depressed at getting up at 6am every day and enduring a two-hour bus journey to and from campus I comfort ate and went up to 14 stone,” she said.
“That was way too much as I’m only 5ft 6ins. So when I graduated I was determined to lose it.
“I didn’t bother with joining a slimming club as I don’t believe in them. Instead I ate healthily and sensibly, did loads of exercise, and within eight months was down to 9st 6ins and a size 8.”
Siobhan, mindful of the weight re-appearing, now goes to the gym seven days a week.
She has already begun preparing what she is going to wear on May 3, doing research online and in the shops to find the perfect outfits.
It will be her second beauty contest, having won the best evening wear section in last year’s Miss Deaf UK pageant.
To get through to the finals of Miss Universe Great Britain she had to fill out an online application. She was then one of 100 girls from the 500-plus who entered to be invited for an interview, from which the 40 finalists were selected.
The winner will go forward to the Miss Universe final in the summer, which is owned and run by the American tycoon Donald Trump.
Just winning the British heat will open doors as last year’s winner, Lisa Lazarus from Swansea, can testify for she is filming a Bollywood movie in Mumbai.
Watching Siobhan proudly at the ICC will be members of her family, including her grandmother Lorna Browne, mother Sonia, dad Derek and 15-year-old sister Jazzmin.
Her grandmother, with whom she spends a lot of time at her Erdington home, said the whole family were proud and impressed by Siobhan’s achievements.
“She has such a positive attitude, she passed her driving test and doesn’t let anything – especially her deafness – hold her back,” she says.
* CHARITY APPEAL
As part of her entry requirements to the pageant, Siobhan will have to raise £500 for the Joshua Foundation. This is a charity which helps terminally ill children have life experiences, holidays and gifts.
Last year the 40 finalists raised £35,000 which funded a trip for 25 families to Lapland.
Siobhan is appealing for people to help her sponsorship efforts by voting for her.
To do this ring the voting line number on 0901 656 15 55 and then putting in her contestant number which is 10. Or it can be done by texting Siobhan Brindley-Lewis to 84205.
All votes cost 60p plus standard network charge. Voting lines are open now, closing at 12 noon on May 1.