The beauty ordinary life

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-9-19 9:06:00

Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir stands in front of the Iceland Pavilion at the Expo Park. Photo: Courtesy of

By Ni Dandan

People usually expect the Miss World crown to open doors to lucrative modeling and acting jobs, at least for a little while.

But after being crowned Miss World in 2005 in Sanya, Hainan Province, and spending the requisite year traveling the world on behalf of the pageant, Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir gave up the glamorous life of a beauty queen to pursue a more mundane existence.

"I was mostly flying from this country to another for different activities, most of which were for charity. But I found out after a year as Miss World that I'm not interested in being a celebrity or in show business. I wanted to go home and study like my friends," she told the Global Times.

The Icelandic woman said she turned down several offers to move to London and New York and appear on television. Instead, she went back to Iceland to finish her bachelor's degree in anthropology and to start law school. This year, she again took a break from academia to return to China to serve as deputy director of the Iceland Pavilion, where she was charged with managing the pavilion's communications and coordinating its events.

Neither Vilhjálmsdóttir nor the pavilion called attention to her past as a beauty queen, but news of her title slipped out this month during the Icelandic president's visit to the Expo, somewhat to Vilhjálmsdóttir's chagrin. During her six months in Shanghai, she only accepted two personal interviews, and only then because she was about to leave the country. "I wanted to prove myself in this very different field instead of showing off the old title," she said.

A reluctant queen

Born in 1984 in Iceland's capital of Reykjavík, Vilhjálmsdóttir never wanted to be a beauty queen, even though Iceland is known for producing champions, including two past winners of the Miss World pageant. She mentioned that beauty pageant organizers often visit Iceland to recruit potential contestants, encouraging many teenage girls to participate.

"They asked me three times when I was 18, 19 and 20. And I always said no," she said.

Vilhjálmsdóttir's mother, Unnur Steinsson, was herself a former beauty queen. She won the Miss Iceland pageant in 1983 and was a finalist for Miss World the same year.

In January 2005, Vilhjálmsdóttir's grandmother died, which led the then 20-year-old to try out for the pageant. Her grandmother had always dreamed of seeing her in the competition, Vilhjálmsdóttir said. "I decided to go because of my grandmother," she said.

A dress designer, Vilhjálmsdóttir's grandmother had always hoped she could one day see her beautiful granddaughter on stage in a dress that she designed for her. "She was like: Please, do it for me," Vilhjálmsdóttir said as her eyes welled up. "I wore dresses that she designed for me in both the Miss Iceland and Miss World competitions."

She added that she believes her grandmother saw her in the pageants.


Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir after she was crowned Miss World in Sanya in 2005. Photos: IC

Return to China

Vilhjálmsdóttir started working for Iceland's World Expo project in early January. She said she got the job because of her experience in China and previous work with Iceland's foreign ministry.

"They knew I worked hard and that I had some history and connections with China. So I decided to take a break from my studies when I got the offer because I thought this is a unique opportunity," she said.

Describing her experience in Shanghai as busy but amazing, the now 26-year-old said that she planned concerts, shows and other events while also handling communications with the international and Chinese media.

Without much work experience, Vilhjálmsdóttir grew increasingly independent and learnt how to coordinate a team and manage her own work.

Coming from a country with a total population of 323,000, Vilhjálmsdóttir was awed by the number of people who visited the Expo Park each day. "I remembered that a few weeks ago, the number hit a record high of nearly 600,000. That's twice the population of Iceland," she said.

Although she was kept busy most of the time, Vilhjálmsdóttir still got homesick every time she walked through the 500-square-meter Iceland Pavilion.

"I've been to all those beautiful natural places in Iceland. The capital city Reykjavík, my hometown, is shown in a very nice way. When you look at them, you're proud of your country. It's always very difficult to be away from home, from my parents and my boyfriend," she said. "There's one thing in particular I really miss about Iceland. That is: I can walk out of my apartment and stay by a lake by myself the entire time. There are many green areas in the cities, rivers, lakes and woods. The tranquility there can set your mind completely at rest."

After the Iceland's national pavilion day last weekend, Vilhjálmsdóttir left Shanghai to get back to Iceland to start law school at the University of Reykjavík.

Even though she tries to keep a low profile, Vilhjálmsdóttir remains a household name in Iceland.

She said she would accept invitations from local television stations to host shows that she is interested in, like Icelandic Idol, which she appeared on three years ago. Although she intends to start her career as a lawyer after she graduates in a year, she is still drawn to the spotlight.

"I enjoy the thrill of doing live broadcasts," she said.

Posted in: Profile

blog comments powered by Disqus