Stunning brunette Sophie Hopes has what it takes to be crowned the next Miss Universe New Zealand. She’s gorgeous and funny, and an absolute knockout in an evening gown.
But what gives Sophie the edge over the other 19 contestants is her pedigree. It’s in her blood to be articulate and spontaneous – her father is outspoken and controversial broadcaster Paul Henry.
The 23-year-old has inherited Paul’s quick wit and profound honesty, which will certainly spice up the interview portion of next month’s hotly contested pageant, held in Auckland on October 5.
“I used to watch the Sandra Bullock movie Miss Congeniality, and never imagined that one day that would be me,” says Sophie, a self-confessed tomboy who entered the contest on a whim.
“When I’m up on stage, people might think I’m confident because of who my dad is – but that’s not the case. This is all new to me and I’m a little nervous.”
The Weekly spent time with Sophie and her dad at Paul’s Tudor-style mansion just outside of Auckland. It was refreshing for the former Breakfast host to have a photographer in his home and not be the centre of attention. In fact, the polarising figure avoided the cameras, because he wanted Sophie to have her moment.
The doting dad was beaming with pride as he watched his daughter in the spotlight. “Call the pageant off,” he declares. “Here’s the winner.”
Paul, who is also father to Lucy (24) and Bella (19), is amazed that Sophie is using something as public as a national beauty pageant to help bring her out of her shell.
“She’s the one least likely to be in the spotlight, the least likely to be seen with me at a public occasion,” he explains. Sophie is so media shy, she turned down the chance to appear with her dad and sisters when they graced the cover of the Weekly in April. She also chooses not to use her famous dad’s last name.
“All of a sudden, she announced she was going to do this. I’m enormously proud because she has put herself forward to be judged by others, and that’s the hardest thing to do,” he says.
Paul is well aware that his daughter will be competing in an evening gown and swimsuit, but the interview portion is where he expects her to shine. It’s a case of like father, like daughter.
“She has a very sophisticated style of humour, which some people will get and some won’t,” he explains. “Her honesty and razor-sharp wit could work against her. I hope they will serve her well.”
Sophie, who has worked in retail but is not currently employed, was spotted at an Auckland mall and approached by one of the contest organisers.
The woman, who Sophie now refers to as her “pageant mum”, suggested she enter.
“I was keen. I’m 23 and don’t have a degree, so I have to take every chance. I also thought it was an exciting thing to do.”
The pageant novice, who hadn’t even worn a ball gown before entering, made the cut and will compete in the televised finals. The winner will represent New Zealand at Miss Universe in Russia in November.
Sophie loves her time as a beauty queen, which thus far has involved “pageant boot camp”, and a promotional trip to Thailand earlier this month with the rest of the young women.
And her experiences have also been exciting for the entire family.
“It’s new for everyone. My sisters haven’t done a pageant before – and neither has my dad,” she laughs. “When you have two other sisters, it’s hard to find things that the other ones haven’t done already. So I’m the first, I’ve got this.”
The pageant has also allowed Sophie to step out from the shadows of her famous father.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wanted to take on more opportunities. I’m getting to know myself a bit more and coming into my own.”
If she wins, Sophie will wear the sash and crown with pride. She stands by the concept of the beauty pageant, despite the fact that such events still court controversy and criticism.
“They’re not outdated. They’re classic. You get to meet girls, gain self-confidence and learn so many new things,” she says.
“If it’s not your thing, then fine. But it should be around for girls who want to do it."
Photos: Todd eyre • Styling & Make-up: Luisa petch • Sophie wears:ketz-ke jeans, Glamour boutique top,
Mi Piaci shoes. Ruby dress and shoes, Veronica b necklace. Ruby playsuit and shoes, Diva bracelet