Tiara seals runner-up's rise to title

By Harry Pearl

Talia Bennett says she's 'focusing on going forward', not on the controversy that has dogged the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant. Photo / Natalie Slade
Talia Bennett says she's 'focusing on going forward', not on the controversy that has dogged the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant. Photo / Natalie Slade

Months after being told she was runner-up, Talia Bennett was officially crowned Miss Universe New Zealand last night.

Ms Bennett, who was awarded her tiara at a small, private gathering in central Auckland, described her win as "overwhelming", but said she still could not shake the controversy surrounding the pageant.

"I'm not focusing on that, I'm focusing on going forward."

Ms Bennett, from North Harbour, was announced the winner last month, after South African-born Avianca Bohm was stripped of her title when her fast-track bid to gain New Zealand citizenship failed.

Ms Bohm had been awarded the prize in June, despite claims by contest director Val Lott that she had explicitly explained to the judges that the South African was not eligible to win because of her nationality.

Last night, Ms Lott said it was a huge relief to put the controversy of the event behind her.

"For two months I haven't felt like doing anything. I've dragged myself along to work and found it difficult to get through each day."

Ms Lott said Ms Bennett's win was the icing on the cake for her and it was great to be moving forward with someone so humble and gracious.

The replacement of Miss New Zealand was not the only controversy to hit the pageant. Emails passed on to the Herald revealed Ms Lott had asked judges to pick a blonde to please a sponsor, and Ms Bohm told a South African paper the contest director had distorted facts to "save her own ass".

Ms Bennett said she hadn't received congratulations from Ms Bohm, who is understood to be in South Africa.

Ms Bennett will compete in the Miss Universe competition in November.

- NZ Herald

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