Stephanie Hill, 22, was named Miss World Europe at the famous annual pageant in the Chinese beach resort of Sanya on Saturday, November 18, watched by millions of viewers around the world.
The competition was won by Miss India, a medical student named Manushi Chhilar, but Stephanie became the highest-placed Miss England since 1992.
She said: “It feels incredible, it really hasn’t sunk in whatsoever. I set my goals for the competition, but you can never truly expect results like that due to every single candidate being so deserving.
“I was completely blown away to even be selected as one of the top five, so placing third was just incredible.”
She added: “One of the highlights was witnessing how incredible each and every woman was: how she had planned her future, the positive difference she is making in her home country, and how we all have so many things in common.
“I have taken away incredible memories and a huge appreciation for the beautiful cultures around the world, it is a true blessing to have gotten the chance to experience even a small snapshot of them.”
Entrants from more than 100 countries battled it out over five weeks of competition for the coveted crown and the role of global ambassador for the pageant’s charity Beauty With a Purpose, which works with disadvantaged children.
Despite the prestige, national pride and determination of competitors, the event strengthened bonds of friendship across borders.
Stephanie said: “The hardest part was saying goodbye to the candidates I had become so close to over the time we were there. There were lots of tears, we felt like we knew each other so well despite the short time we had spent with each other, and the uncertainty as to when we would see each other again was very difficult to come to terms with.
“The friends I have made are friends for life, we all miss each other terribly and have spoken every day since saying goodbye.”
Along the way, Stephanie demonstrated her talents for singing and ballroom dancing, as well as passing a gruelling fitness test, interviews and catwalk modelling.
The challenges were familiar, but the level of attention was unlike anything she had faced at home on the way to becoming Miss Chesterfield 2014, Miss South Yorkshire 2015, Miss York and District 2016 and Miss Hope Valley 2017, and four attempts at Miss England.
Stephanie said: “It means everything to me, to have worked towards the national title for four years and to have achieved a placing like that is such a wonderful feeling - to have years of work recognised and celebrated. I feel like I tried to showcase what English women are capable of and the incredible things we do every day.”
In the final test, each of the top five competitors was asked a question on stage.
Stephanie was asked what she would speak about to world leaders, if given the chance.
She answered: “I would like to address the inconsistency in global healthcare. There are vaccines and medicines available in the world. This crisis can be solved.”
Reflecting on the moment back home in Calver, she added: “I believe I answered my on-stage question to the best of my ability, and I understood that it was such an important element of the competition to decide the winner.
“To be able to deliver your views as eloquently, fairly and calmly as possible considering the circumstances is a huge factor in the placings.
It was an answer from the heart, and from experience, as on Wednesday, November 22, Stephanie took to the stage again at Sheffield City Hall to collect her first class honours degree in radiography and oncology from Sheffield Hallam University.
She said: “Both achievements complement each other. My degree gives me the qualification to practice within healthcare, and my achievement with Miss World gives me the platform to take my qualification and abilities worldwide.
“It felt rather surreal to be back but I appreciated seeing my friends from my university course so much, we spoke briefly about my adventures, and we caught up on everything that was happening in their lives. My lecturers were very supportive as well. Everyone at university has been a part of my journey too.”
In one section of the competition, Stephanie showcased her Magical Memories Foundation, a charity she set up where she dresses up as a princess and visits children in hospital to help children going through difficult cancer treatments.
She said: “It was inspired by my experiences on a clinical placement, where I would dress up as a children’s character to entertain and work with paediatric patients receiving radiotherapy.
“Now I regularly visit Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, and have worked with Derian House Children’s Hospice, Wishes4Kids in Leicester, and Weston Park Cancer Hospital while I was training there. I have plans to visit St George’s Hospice in Grimsby and the Sheffield Children’s Hospital in the near future.”
She added: “As much as the treatments for cancer improve the quality of life of a patient, it is essential to care for the holistic needs of the patient with equal importance.”
Stephanie has secured a place on a Master’s degree in translational oncology at the University of Sheffield medical school, and hopes to go on and become a clinical scientist.
She said: “Cancer research is improving at an exceptional rate, so many incredible people are collaborating on life-changing ideas that are being implemented into standard clinical practice every day, and of course cancer affects so many people worldwide.
“To be a part of these movements in the hope that I might have helped improve just one individual’s experience will make my years of training worthwhile.”
First though, she will now take a year out from her studies to fulfil her Miss England role travelling with Miss World on charity missions around the world.
She said: “I will be visiting a selection of countries to help and support their Beauty With a Purpose projects, which range from mental health campaigns to menstrual hygiene education and bringing solar-powered electricity to rural districts.
“I am looking forward to seeing these communities, finding out how I can help in whatever way I can, and returning to study with the benefit of new experience.”
For now, Stephanie is trying to absorb the enormity of her achievements and readjust to life back in Derbyshire.
She said: “I have been seeing family and friends to catch up, and resume life as normal. I have had so many messages from people, and had the chance to get back in touch with old friends I haven’t spoken to for years.
“I have so many thanks to say to family, loved ones, friends and the Miss England organisation were absolutely incredible.
“They encouraged me for four years and every day while I was away, I couldn’t have done any of it without them. I have had so much support, and am so fortunate to know so many wonderful people who were with me every step of the way.”
n To see Stephanie’s official entry video, and clips from throughout the competition, go to https://youtu.be/G9gTFyFowo
n To follow her next steps, find out more at www.stephaniehillofficial.com.