If you thought beauty pageants were just for girls, think again.
While glitzy gowns, lip gloss and sparkling tiaras may be some boys' worst nightmare. For brothers Jude, nine, and five-year-old Jake Collins-Godden, they're a dream come true.
Since March last year, the pair have been competing alongside girls in child beauty pageants across the UK. And they’ve proved a big hit.
To date, they’ve scooped 20 crowns, four trophies and 65 sashes – making them the most successful pageant boys in the country.
At home, in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, the shelves are stacked with their prizes – including a trophy for ‘Mr Personality’ as well as sashes for Mr Photogenic and Ultimate World Supreme King.
And then there are the crowns – covered in fake jewels and so heavy the boys struggle to keep them on their heads.
There are so many different prizes that parents Sara, 44, and Graham, 46, have had to store many of them in boxes to make space in their three-bedroom home.
But it’s not all about the winning, the boys have also raised £1,500 for charity by competing.
What’s the secret of their success? Sara, a former child performer and model, says it’s their natural charm.
The 44-year-old, who works as a community centre deputy manager, explained: “They both genuinely love being on the stage strutting their stuff with everyone cheering and clapping.”
Unlike the girls, it’s not all about lip-gloss and fake lashes for the boys – although Sara admits they do have a hint of mascara and face powder to accentuate their natural looks under the bright lights.
She said: “Boys in a pageant don’t generally wear makeup. They don’t have false hair pieces, spray tans or anything.
“If they’re under the light, they something on just to make them look less washed out. They generally have a bit of powder and a tiny bit of mascara to make them look healthier and happier.
“Jake would have it all, he’s such a tart. He’d have his face done, false eye lashes, false nails – the whole kit and caboodle. But right now they go on natural. It’s their eye and smiles that win it for them.”
She added: “All we’re trying to do is accentuate their natural beauty.”
While the girls sashay along the catwalk in their impossibly huge ball gowns for the formal wear round, the boys wear mini tuxedos – complete with waistcoats and bow ties. Jake calls his a ‘prime minister suit’.
Both know how to sashay down the stage before stopping for a pose and maybe blowing a cheeky kiss.
The contests also see the contestants wear fancy dress – Jake has a pirate outfit while Jude is St George the knight.
Sara said: “With the girls it’s very much glitz and glamour and polished routines.
“With the boys it’s just a nice bit of fun. It’s more about dressing up and going out there to charm the audience.
“They don’t have any routines and they don’t spend hours practising at home – they get out there and wing it. They blow kisses and wink. But it’s all down to them.”
She added: “Jake, in particular, absolutely loves it like you wouldn’t believe. He’s such a diva and he’s only five years old.”
The boys first began to show interest in pageants after watching their older sister, Ella, 13, compete.
Sara said: “Ella was very badly bullied at school and it affected her so badly that she wasn’t eating or sleeping.
“But then she heard about pageants after watching a television show called Toddlers and Tiaras and she said she wanted to give it a go."
She adds: “I was wary about child pageants at first and I wasn’t sure it was the right thing for a vulnerable girl to do. But we did our research and decided to give it a go. The moment she walked on to the catwalk she lit up the room.
“Her eyes were sparkling and her smile was beaming. She walked down the catwalk like she owned it and she was genuinely happy for the first time in years."
“I remember looking around at the boys to see what their reaction was and Jude actually had tears in his eyes.
“He said ‘Ella’s happy again'. That was it for me, I was completely sold.
“If going on stage and putting a bit of makeup on made my daughter and my family this happy, it was worth all the criticism from those who didn’t agree with pageants and it was worth all the money.
“After that both he and Jake wanted to give it a go too. They saw Ella happy and they wanted to get in on the act. I didn’t have any concerns at all.
“Graham and I agreed that if we were going to have children, we would give them every opportunity in life to experience whatever they want to experience.”
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She added: “Since they started the boys have become a lot more outgoing. Jude was always quite quiet and would happily melt in to the background but since he’s been doing pageants, he’s got swagger. I hope that this will help him in life.
“Jake is a natural on stage – he is just his normal self. He’s completely insane and hysterical and everyone thinks he’s wonderful.”
After the glitz and glam of the pageants, the boys are just normal kids who love Doctor Who and Star Wars.
Jude goes to the local primary school, while Jake is home-schooled.
In their spare time they still enjoy kicking a football around at the park or playing their favourite video games on their Xbox.
Sara admits that some parents frown on letting boys take part in what’s regarded as a feminine hobby.
And while Jude says that most of his school friends were ‘psyched’ when he told them about his competitions – he admits that some think it’s ‘girly’.
But the family is determined to prove that pageants aren’t girls-only events.
Sara said: “A lot of parents think that it’s a bad thing. It might turn their son gay or whatever it might be.
“Not for one moment has it crossed my mind that my boys would be anything but my boys.
“If they are exposed to pageants or drama or dance or any activity and it makes them into a fulfilled, happy adult, that’s fantastic.
“Whether that happy fulfilled adult is straight, gay, bisexual, whatever, I couldn’t care less as long as they’re happy.”
She added: “They’ll go over the park, they’ll play football, they’ll come home covered in mud.
“They’ll ride their bikes or go skateboarding, they go running with dad but if they don’t want to, that’s fine as well.
“They could be painting their fingernails for all I care. As long as they’re happy, I couldn’t care less.”
But it may be a while before they can convince the UK that pageants are just as much for princes as they are for princesses.
There are currently just five mainstream pageants that allow boys to compete and each only attracts between five and ten male competitors.
Pageants for boys only currently don’t exist - but Sara is about to break tradition by launching the first all-male contest this year, called Boys to Men.
She said: “There aren’t that many boys in pageants because there is a preconceived idea that it’s just an all-girl event.
“It’ll be about boys being boys. There won’t be one false hair piece or false eyelashes or hairspray – that will all be banished.
“It will not be a beauty contest, they will not be judged on their beauty at all – it’s all about their personality and self confidence.”
Sara admits there may come a time when the boys no longer want to take part in pageants.
Since they began competing, both have been signed to a talent agency.
Jake has already had a taste of modeling for a children’s magazine and Jude has auditioned for two feature films.
But, for now, she and Graham, a self-employed tennis coach, are willing to fork out the £3,000 a year in pageant entry fees and costumes. And they’re happy to ferry their the kids to contests all over the country.
She said: “We’re by no means well off. Things are tight. But if this is what the kids want to do, this is what they will do.
“We muster through. At the end of the day it’s a commitment we’ve made to our children to give them what they want.”
Graham added: “It makes me really proud to see all my kids on the stage.
“They surprise me with how much confidence they have. I can tell they’re going to confident for the rest of their lives.
“If the boys want to do pageants, it’s up to them.
“If they want to stop, they’ll stop. But until they say that, I’m quite happy to go with them, help them get ready and just enjoy them being confident on the stage.”Suggest a correction