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Mandy Herrick, Resource and Content Developer, National Services Te Paerangi

Dazzling the crowd at the 1983 Miss Universe in Missouri, a 19 year-old from Pakuranga Lorraine Downes tearfully accepted the crown, beating off the competition from the home-ground favourite US contestant Julie Lynn Hayek.

All of the contestants were rated on a number of competitions– a swimsuit challenge, a gown showdown and an interview challenge which tested their ability to tackle questions about topics such world peace in a short televised interview. Over 600 million people tuned into the 1983 pageant.

Overnight Lorraine became a household name and over the next year toured the world carrying out Miss Universe duties, including a meeting with the U.S President Ronald Regan.

For New Zealanders it was the equivalent of having your own homegrown princess and no doubt helped to boost local audience numbers as people feverishly following the trials and tribulations of each Miss New Zealand year-on-year.

Miss New Zealand was televised from 1970 and attracted around a million viewers in the 1970s and two million in the early 1980s . More New Zealanders watched the 1981 Miss New Zealand contest than viewed Prince Charles and Diana's wedding.

In this video which was created for the exhibition Miss Universe is at Te Papa, Lorraine Downes explains how she arrived in Missouri with a tiny suitcase that contained only three gowns.

Since its heyday, Miss Universe has had a decline in viewers with only 2.7 million people tuning into its 2022 pageant. Miss Universe New Zealand was screened for the last time in 1989. A number of countries - Israel, Sweden and Kazakhstan - have chosen not to participate in recent years due to a lack of local support.


Kerryn Pollock, 'Beauty contests - Beauty contests, 1960s to the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Luscombe Belinda (9 Jan 2023), Exclusive: Miss Universe, Under Pressure, Plans a Reality Show Makeover, Time.

McKenzie-Minifie, Martha (27 December 2006). "Catching up with: Lorraine Downes, dancing queen". New Zealand Herald.

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