Critics question Miss Universe entrant's national costume.

Miss New Zealand Talia Bennett will take part in the Miss Universe pageant tonight (Las Vegas time) at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, but her national costume entry has failed to impress some critics who've likened the design to a "tarty get-up better suited to the Victoria's Secret catwalk".

Reeeow. Beauty pageants can be bitchy - Bennett knows that all too well. She was crowned Miss Universe NZ in August after the original winner, South African-born Avianca Bohm, was stripped of the cubic zirconia crown when her citizenship application was denied.

It was manicured claws at dawn with catty remarks exchanged in the media between Bohm and long-time pageant organiser Val Lott, who stepped down from her post following the debacle.

Bennett, a 23-year-old model from Takapuna, has no issues with citizenship, but does her national costume suitably capture the essence of her home country?


The Miss Universe national costume parade took place last week. It's not a judged portion of the pageant competition, but a pre-recorded section that goes to air during the telecast. Each national delegation picks a costume based on the cultural history of the country.

Sure, the steaming mud pools, harbour bridge, black singlet, jandals, sheepskin, silver fern and the picturesque snow-capped mountains made famous in Peter Jackson's marathon movies are global icons recognising New Zealand. But how do we essentially make a dress out of who or what we are?

Not like this, says fashion designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet. "I'm not really sure what's going on here.

"I have never seen a New Zealand national costume like this before. What was she going as - the actual long white cloud?

"A few spray-painted ferns stuck on randomly, a bustier, a mini-skirt and a cloak in a cheap white fabric with platform shoes? I've been to many performances in which national costumes have been worn, and have never seen any of the performers clomping around in platforms.

"I only hope the cultural centres in Rotorua and other parts of New Zealand don't decide to change to this national costume, otherwise the 21.12.12 [prophesied end of the world] might be the better option."

Anika van der Berg, the South African-born dressmaker responsible for Bennett's costume, told The Diary she worked with a team of fellow South African immigrants to complete it. The inspiration, she said, was their love for this country.

"The big wings are big silver ferns because silver ferns are very big in New Zealand. And Talia looks amazing in silver. The train represents the long white cloud and the crystals are the beauty of New Zealand because New Zealand is a very beautiful place," van der Berg said.

Miss Universe reportedly has a global reach of more than three billion viewers and is said to be the second-most watched event in the world, after the Fifa World Cup. John Key, Tourism NZ, Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. may be gloating about the international coverage they've garnered for this country at the cost of millions and a Government law change, but it is somewhat ironic that a Takapuna beauty queen with a small budget and a team of South African seamstresses in Albany are pulling off their own national showcase to an audience of billions.

Charlotte Bellis to present 60 Minutes

Prepare for battle, Prime TV is entering the local currents affairs war by relaunching 60 Minutes in the new year with Prime news anchor Charlotte Bellis at the helm.

A rep for the network was reluctant to share details of the new-look show, including who will be joining Bellis on the team, saying "everything is under embargo until the end of the week".

But The Diary has learned Prime's current affairs programme will feature local stories using freelance reporters and producers on a per story basis.

The local component pitches it directly against current affairs competitors at TVNZ and TV3.

TV3 lost the 60 Minutes franchise because MediaWorks, TV3's parent company, chose not to renew its CBS licensing deal. The network is launching 3rd Degree, a new long-form current affairs show.

But with TVNZ's version, Sunday, in the middle of the battlefield, too, do we really need three hard-hitting local current affairs shows? Are there enough stories worth investigating? Or will it be an inquiry minefield?

Cut-price council Christmas

Peace has broken out on the Auckland Council in the lead up to Christmas with Mayor Len Brown warmly handing out bottles of cheap plonk to his fellow councillors and Christmas cards designed by Great Barrier Island school children. This follows in the wake of the council end-of-year boat and bus trip, as reported in The Diary, which cost councillors $60 each. Frugality is the theme du jour.

There's been no flash Christmas banquets on the ratepayer; instead, the mayor, who is eyeing up re-election next year, played Santa with bargain bottles of bubbly.

Cynics say the Scrooge McDuck routine is probably helped by the fact Brown was forced to cut up his council credit card during the 2010 mayoral campaign.

But the mayor's political nemesis, Councillor Cameron Brewer, seemed to approve of the cut-price gesture, saying that ratepayers need not fear as for once this year the mayor isn't throwing around the money. However, The Diary suspects with staff numbers at Auckland Council up by 12 per cent in 12 months, a cheap bottle of plonk is probably all they can afford.