MISS Ireland, Aoife O’Sullivan, is counting down to December 8 when the moment she has been preparing for for the past three years finally arrives.
When we chatted, the 22-year-old from Ballinadee was midway through her month in Sanya, China, where all 124 Miss World contestants are under intense daily scrutiny ahead of the on-stage show, this Saturday, when the winner will be announced to a global audience of millions.
The primary school teacher, who taught juniors in St Maries of the Isle before her life-changing win, has described the experience so far as better than she could ever have imagined.
Speaking from Sanya, she said: “It’s like paradise over here. The weather and the scenery are amazing. We are kept busy but it’s everything I enjoy doing.
“There is a pressure to perform well in activities like talentw, interviews and press calls, but it’s all very exciting and I enjoy doing things that put me on the edge of my comfort zone.”
The determined young woman finished second runner up (in third place) in the Miss Ireland competition in 2015 and decided right then to prepare, and come back and take the title.
And so far, it’s all going according to her plan.
The stage show, which is televised worldwide, is the final element of the competition which sees the girls clock up points through a variety of challenges throughout the month.
“I auditioned for the talent challenge and made it to the top 40 out of 125. I sang the Eurovision song. We will find out the final cut soon — the top 10 get to perform on stage at the final.
“We also had a head to head challenge whereby six countries answer questions and the public has an opportunity to vote for the best answer. I was up against British Virgin Islands, Brazil, China, Bangladesh and Denmark. I answered my questions well (why did I choose to become a teacher and what have been my biggest accomplishments) but it is down to the public for now.”
The last element to the competition is ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ which sees Aoife, a model with the Andrea Roche agency, supporting mental health group Jigsaw.
Aoife has adjusted well, she said, to the change in culture, heat and eight hour time difference.
“The weather is very hot and humid as it is the most southern point of China. This isn’t ideal when you are filming in 27 degree heat hoping that your make-up and hair looks presentable!”
Although, by the sounds of her packed schedule, there isn’t too much time to think about things.
“The days are extremely busy. We wake at 6am and go to breakfast together. This could be followed by filming for the final, interviews, auditions for talent/dance, meetings with the organisation, rehearsals for the show, press conferences, etc.
“Our last meeting is at 10pm every night informing us what is happening on the next day, so every day is a surprise.”
If there’s any free time, she tries to catch up on some rest, and post on social media — as that’s something else they’re judged on.
Aoife is rooming with Miss Iceland.
“We get on very well and the room is full of suitcases, and a variety of dresses, shoes, handbags, earrings, etc, but we do our best with it!
“We are in the Mangrove Tree Resort, which is a five star resort that is all inclusive. Sanya is described as the Florida of China and the resort is full of tropical gardens and pools.
“We are not allowed leave the resort alone and have someone waking with us at all times as Miss World is very popular over here and a lot of people want to get in to take photographs and record you.”
Aoife, who is in a relationship with Cork hurler Colm Spillane, insists there isn’t any bitchiness among the girls.
“We are being judged all the time on our interactions with other contestants and with your team leaders. We are all away from home and came here alone so everyone is very friendly and supportive.”
She’s the eldest of three, and her parents, Liz, an intellectual disability nurse in Cope, Clonakilty, and Michael, a sales rep for Munster Joinery, will be travelling out to see their daughter’s moment on stage.
“They are coming to Sanya for the last week to watch the final show and I’m really looking forward to seeing them. I know they will love it here.”
High points so far include immersing herself in all the different cultures that surround her.
“I love learning about all of the girl’s customs and different ways of life. We also see everyone dressed up in their traditional costumes and performing their traditional dances.
“I have been learning different phrases in many languages and learning about the work that the girls are doing in their own country for beauty with a purpose.
“We have also gone on bus trips visiting different tourist attractions. We went to a rainforest and Chinese theme park. We are shown different Chinese traditions and encouraged to get involved and take part and be in our best form for filming and meeting the public.”
But for Aoife, it’s all about staying focused on the big event: This Saturday, December 8.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time and doing my best every day. We are judged over the whole month so I just try to put my best foot forward at all times. We have started rehearsing for the show already as there is a group dance and three hour show to fill so a lot of moving around on stage.”
She’ll be wearing a blue gown designed for her by Brendan Marc Scully on the night and on her mind will be her late granny Brigid Coughlan who, she said, always encouraged her and believed in her and who she regards as her lucky mascot.
Regardless of the outcome of the final, Aoife has taken the entire year off from teaching to explore any options it might bring.
“So far, this has been everything I imagined and more,” she said.