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She The First | Reita Faria: Won Miss World, Rejected Film Offers To Be a Doctor

On 17 November 1966, when bookies were betting, her odds were 1:66. But she created history as Asia's 1st Miss World

Updated
Gender
5 min read

(This story was originally published on 17 November 2021. It is being republished from The Quint's archives to mark Women's Day.)

Back in 1966, a young girl from Maharashtra walked the ramp in a swimsuit, taking the world by storm. She entered a beauty contest as a joke, travelling to London with only three pounds and a suitcase full of borrowed clothes and shoes from her friends.

But she created history with her sensational repartee on the need for population control in India. This is the story of Reita Faria – the first Asian to be crowned Miss World.

Reita Faria

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

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It All Started as a Joke...

Born on 23 August 1943 to Goan parents in Mumbai's Matunga, Reita Faria's father worked in a mineral water factory and her mother owned a salon in the city. Reita wanted to be a doctor.

While she was studying at the Grant Medical College in Mumbai, one day, her friends jokingly asked her to participate in a beauty show. Reita took up the challenge and entered the Miss Bombay contest organised by the erstwhile Eve’s Weekly magazine.

In an interview with The Indian Express, Reita recalled the days before she entered the Miss Bombay contest:

Courtesy: The Indian Express

(Graphics: Erum Gour/The Quint)

Winning the Miss Bombay Crown was step one. Next, Reita won the Eve's Weekly Miss India contest too in 1966.

Rs 5,000 for Miss Bombay and Rs 10,000 for Miss India was the prize money Reita won. She gave the Miss India prize money to her mother, who looked after a child in an orphanage in Mumbai.

Reita Faria at the Miss India contest

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Reita Faria

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Battling Odds...

Reita was chosen to represent India at the Miss World contest, becoming the second Indian woman to do so, after Fleur Ezekiel in 1959. In Reita's own words, she had no formal training, no suitable or fancy wardrobe, not even a passport.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

(Graphics: Erum Gour/The Quint)

Reita didn't know what to wear on the ramp. Her mother bought her some clothes. She borrowed a saree from a peer, and a bathing suit from actor Persis Khambatta.

She arrived in London with a suitcase full of hand-me-downs.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

(Graphics: Erum Gour/The Quint)

She carried a purse that contained only three pounds that she was allowed to carry to London, and a small make-up kit. With that money, she bought another costume and a few heels for herself.

At London, she felt like an outsider among the other participants who she felt were more glamorous and experienced than her. They were trained, they had proper outfits and shoes.
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The Making of History...

On 17 November 1966, at London's Lyceum Ballroom on Wellington Street, while Reita was prepping for the event, bookies were betting on who would win the crown. There were 66 participants that year and Miss UK – 20-year-old Jennifer Lowe – was the frontrunner to win the crown. Faria’s odds were 1:66.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

(Graphics: Erum Gour/The Quint)

Twenty-three-year-old Faria was the first Indian to walk the ramp in a swimsuit. When 5'8'' tall Reita walked the ramp in heels, she immediately grabbed eyeballs. Also, her medical background set her apart from other contestants.

Against all odds, Reita created history, as the first Asian to win the Miss World crown. She was also chosen as the 'Best in Swimsuit' and the 'Best in Evening Wear', for standing out in a saree.

  • 01/05

    Reita Faria was the first Indian to walk the ramp in a swimsuit.

    (Photo: Beauty Pageants/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria was the first Indian to walk the ramp in a swimsuit.</p></div>
  • 02/05

    Reita Faria created history as the first Asian to win the Miss World crown.

    (Photo: Beauty Pageants/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria created history as the first Asian to win the Miss World crown.</p></div>
  • 03/05

    Reita Faria after winning the crown

    (Photo: Beauty Pageants/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria after winning the crown</p></div>
  • 04/05

    Reita also won the 'Best in Swimsuit' title'

    (Photo: Beauty Pageants/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita also won the 'Best in Swimsuit' title'</p></div>
  • 05/05

    Reita with the first and second runners-up

    (Photo: Beauty Pageants/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita with the first and second runners-up</p></div>
In the final round, she was asked why she wanted to become a doctor, to which she replied that India needed more obstetricians and gynaecologists. When a judge said that India already had a lot of babies, Reita quickly retorted and said, "That is something we need to discourage!"

First Miss World To Become a Doctor

After winning the title, Reita was followed by the press everywhere.
But she turned down all modelling and acting offers because she wanted to become a gynaecologist.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

(Graphics: Erum Gour/The Quint)

But Faria had to serve as the ambassador for the Miss World Foundation for a whole year. She had to make appearances in different parts of the world. Which meant she couldn't go back to India immediately.

She joined the King's College Hospital in London. She used the 2,500 pounds that she had won as Miss World and some more money she received for her appearances, to fund her education.

  • 01/03

    Reita Faria after winning Miss World

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria after winning Miss World</p></div>
  • 02/03

    Reita Faria after winning Miss World

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria after winning Miss World</p></div>
  • 03/03

    Reita Faria after winning Miss World

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria after winning Miss World</p></div>
  • 01/03

    Reita Faria at the medical college.

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria at the medical college.</p></div>
  • 02/03

    Reita Faria at the medical college

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria at the medical college</p></div>
  • 03/03

    Reita Faria at the medical college

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria at the medical college</p></div>
  • 01/03

    Reita Faria and David Powell on their wedding day.

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria and David Powell on their wedding day.</p></div>
  • 02/03

    Reita Faria with David Powell. 

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria with David Powell.&nbsp;</p></div>
  • 03/03

    Reita Faria with her husband and grandchildren.

    (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Reita Faria with her husband and grandchildren.</p></div>
And a year later, she graduated from the King's College, becoming the first Miss World to become a doctor.

She finally returned to India in 1969. She married her mentor and endocrinologist David Powell in 1971, and in 1973, the couple shifted to Dublin where she started her medical practice.

Reita was a judge at the Femina Miss India contest in 1998, and has been a judge at the Miss World contests on a few occasions.

She is now the mother of two daughters and has five grandchildren and loves to visit her family in India once in a while.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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