Despite a successful career, a beautiful family and a reflection in the mirror that was the envy of many, life in the UK for 40-year-old Sapanaa (not her real name. OBVIOUSLY. No one spells Sapanaa with a brace of a’s) was often tedious and monotonous.
And if tedium was getting Sapanaa down, spare a thought for Kareena.
In her 30’s, she is a single mother of a child below the age of 10, she’s struggling to give them the best life possible, running a household while working long hours in the retail industry.
Sapanaa and Kareena were among a group of women for whom life appeared to have much to give but rarely came calling at their door, leaving a rain soaked scrap of paper through the letter box asking them to trudge to the nearest collection point instead.
So when the opportunity presented itself to have a bit of fun, to take the tedium and monotony out of their lives for a short period, they pounced.
The opportunity came in the form of Rachanaa Jain, a glamorous young woman who was fishing around for participants for her inaugural Mrs Asia UK beauty pageant.
Having failed to secure a podium finish at the Mrs India UK pageant 2017, an aggrieved Ms Jain – she claims that she was “disrespected” at the event – decided to set up her own event.
Mrs Asia UK was meant as a beauty pageant for the women left behind by life, whose vital statistics had been thrown asunder by the small inconvenience of giving birth and for whom a thigh gap sounds like a third rate Thai restaurant.
Enter stage left Ms Jain, a self-confessed “International Speaker, Energy Transformation Coach, Master Coach, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Practitioner, Pranic Healer, Psychotherapist, Realm Reader, Fairyologist, Numerologist, Crystal Healer, Practitioner of Holistic Medicine, and a Reiki Master”.
And lately, a beauty pageant organizer.
The UKAsian and its sister publication http://www.indianladiesuk.org was approached by some of those who participated after dreams of fun and empowerment turned into something of a nightmare and what we found makes for extraordinary reading – in particular how easy it is to exploit gullible individuals with the promise of glitz and glamour.
The Mrs Asia UK pageant was publicized on Social Media in the last quarter of 2017 while auditions were held via Whatsapp and Skype. (Now why didn’t Donald Trump think of that for the Ms USA competition? Could have avoided all of those harassment claims.)
Sapanaa and Kareena were among the 19 who were chosen to compete in the grand finale on 27th January.
Beauty pageants are a strange world. At one end of the spectrum, taking part in the likes of Miss India or Miss America can bring staggering rewards, irrespective of whether you win the pageant or not.
The Miss America pageant gives away tens of millions of pounds every year for educational scholarships, among other things while Miss India is just a way station on the way to Bollywood superstardom.
The costs can be equally staggering.
The physical sacrifices aligned with the cost of getting oneself looking just so. Not to mention all the books and magazines one has to invest in to prepare for the judges questions on world peace and LGBTQ politics.
Mrs Asia UK 2018 was decidedly at the other end of the spectrum.
For Sapanaa, Kareena and the other girls, the costs began coming in thick and fast soon after the audition stage.
The cost of that audition? £50. A further £200.00 was coughed up for “grooming”.
Contestants were also required to pay £400.00 for 4 “VIP” tickets (more about that VIP experience later).
You want to win a beauty contest? You need to bring along four people with you to make up the numbers – equating to 76 people, or approximately a quarter of the chosen venue, the Hilton London Kensington.
The “audition”, according to Kareena et al, was merely a way to find out which chump could afford the initial outlay. All the participants were asked to transfer the funds into the account of World of Winners Ltd – Ms Jain’s appropriately-named new company – before any contract was signed.
All the contestants were also asked to try and find sponsors – as that’s par for the course for beauty pageants; spend money on getting into an event, sponsor the event and then hope to walk away with the crown. Or at least a sash!
Paying to enter beauty competitions is not a new concept but it is usually agreed on with the hope of some gain, regardless of how minuscule it is.
But what would compel a completely sane individual to so freely give their money away to someone who had never organized a beauty pageant before?
The appearance of “legitimacy” is certainly a factor.
Whether you’re organizing award ceremonies or beauty pageants, the first prerequisite is not experience, intimate knowledge or first-hand experience but “legitimacy” – or, in the case of the British Asian community, a very slight whiff of it. And what better way of showing off how legitimate you are than getting your mug in a picture with a celebrity?
For Ms Jain, the opportunity appears to have come in the form of J T Foxx, an author, “billionaire in waiting” (aren’t we all?), motivational speaker (I’m seeing a pattern here when it comes to multiple titles) and wealth coach – the kind who asks you to cough up anywhere between £4000 – £20,000 by convincing you that he’s going to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams.
Oh, and he is a self-described “personal friend” of the likes of the rapper 50 Cent, John Travolta and Al Pacino.
For more info, may we direct you to a comically bad “documentary” on Youtube which details Mr Foxx’s life story and which features an appearance by none other than Eric Trump, the slightly less cerebrally-challenged junior Trump.
Among Mr Foxx’s many scams, sorry…INITIATIVES…is “Megapartnering” where Mr Foxx pays tens of thousands of dollars to celebrities like Pacino and 50 Cent to appear at “meet and greet” events.
The millionaires in waiting who pay to attend these events at airside hotels then get on a conveyor belt to pose beside the celeb of the day who sits on a bar stool looking either bemused or like he or she is experiencing acute pain.
A good case in point is the face of Al Pacino – a face that has lit up the screen and stirred our souls in such wonders as ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘The Godfather’ but which in these pictures suggest someone is doing unspeakable things to his little toe.
Ms Jain’s personal website is full of rather amateurishly cropped images with the likes of Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Mone, Calvin Klein etc.
The smell of the all-you-can-eat buffet
It all has the whiff and feel of a two-star motorway hotel with tatty carpets and where the all-you-can-eat buffet features powdered eggs and sausages made of pate.
Ms Jain is clearly a disciple of Mr Foxx for it appears that she brought that same whiff and feel to her beauty pageant.
For instance, the final participants, having coughed up £650.00 were given “gift bags”. It contained Ms Jain’s own self-help brochure with the shouty title ‘Awake Your Dreams – Stop Procrastinating, Start Achieving!’ which Ms Jain sells for £9.99 (!!!) and a chain with a pendant, which she insists cost her £49.99.
The participants who spoke to us are, shall we say, dismissive of that claim and having seen one, we are inclined to agree.
Ms Jain says she also brought the contestants “Christmas bangles” worth £9.99.
A photo session for the participants was organized at a London studio after which, one contestant was told by the photographer that the session had been paid for with Groupon vouchers. Classy indeed.
Ms Jain tells us she sees nothing wrong with cutting some corners to keep the costs down which seems a fair assessment.
Cost cutting also included, according to the participants we spoke to, a failure to provide such basic essentials as water and a kettle. But hey! At least they got Christmas Bangles eh?!
In one response to one of our many emails, Ms Jain offers this nugget for her failure to offer anything by way of refreshments: “Offering refreshments was never a part of the deal as If I start giving refreshments and food then I will not be able to run the pageant with not much money. And normally if you go any dance classes, they don’t offer you refreshments as part of it. I already told the finalist that they will have to bring their own food and share.”
But this wasn’t a dance class – this was a beauty pageant for which the contestants had already paid £650.00.
Contestants were promised that the pageant itself would be streamed live on Zee TV who Ms Jain claimed was a sponsor. However, there wasn’t even a live stream on Ms Jain’s various Facebook pages.
In fact, gaining sponsorship or the backing of even little known names, appears to have been a challenge for the organizers. The official website lists its partners as, erm…, “page coming soon”.
One contestant tells us that aside from the up-front payment, she brought in an additional £1500 in funding in return for a re-imbursement of the up-front cost. She’s still waiting for the funds to be returned.
The “International Journey”
Most remarkably of all, the contestants were promised the “amazing opportunity” of an “international journey” after the pageant, which would see them being whisked away to the Caribbean to participate in something called the “United Nations International Pageant”.
All they had to do was to pay up to £2500 each – a handy commission of which would end up in Ms Jain’s wallet – for the amazeballs chance to participate in a “united nation” pageant on a Jamaican beach but which had absolutely nothing to do with the actual United Nations.
You know, that global organization which fights world poverty and nuclear proliferation.
In fact the UN (the real one) press office informs us that it has for years tried to stop the pageant from using the name.
“We’ve asked them to cease and desist,” U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told Women’s eNews in a terse e-mail response.
After the Ms Asia UK pageant, many of the disillusioned contestants couldn’t bring themselves to convince their already irate husbands and children to allow them to pay up even more to go on a gander to Jamaica.
The result of which has been threatening “legal notices” from Ms Jain demanding reimbursement of deposits, which she had paid – without gaining the explicit acknowledgement from any of the contestants that they would eventually go on their much-vaunted “international journeys”.
Ms Jain’s response to us is strange, to say the least.
This is it, verbatim: “First of all, I didn’t take no money from finalist for international journey as it was only possible after the Grande Finale national event in January. I invested my own money into paying for the deposit towards the crowns and sash and title. They all signed the terms and conditions which implies that they agreed to reimburse the costs should they decide not to continue on the international journey. Yes I have never forced anyone to be part of international journey, all I am asking is to pay the reimbursement costs and return the official crown which is not their property and we all can move on with our lives. I had to pay for the crowns and sash and some deposit towards the title as any pageant has to offer crowns and sash to winners and especially with United Nations it has to be their own copyrighted crowns so I couldn’t use my own crown when it has to be their copyrighted crowns.”
Yes, it is as convoluted as it actually sounds. The contracts that “imply” things are the best kind, aren’t they?
Incidentally, the organizers behind the “united nation” pageants have confirmed that it is patently false that extra money needs to be paid towards the “crowns” and “sashes” if the contestants of the Ms Asia UK pageant decide to not participate in their events.
One contestant who accidentally transferred an extra £200 into the accounts of World of Winners is still twiddling her thumbs in anticipation of reimbursement.
But hey! At least she’s got her Christmas bangles right?
Oh, Ms Jain also assures that all the finalists were offered “sponsored” hair and make-up on the day of the event, in addition to lunch. Presumably there was no dinner then.
And as the icing on the cake, all participants were offered another goody bag containing the following:
– A hard copy of ‘World of Winners’ magazine, in which they were featured
– Spa vouchers with a £25 discount
– A mani-pedi with a 20% discount
– Free mehndi and nail extensions
– £25 vouchers from an obscure fashion label.
All adding up to, according to Ms Jain, £150 each.
Three months after the event, those contestants who have refused to go on Ms Jain’s “international journey” have been sent emails demanding the return of the gift bangs and nail extensions and discount vouchers.
North, South, East and West.
The guests who paid up £100 for tickets for the evening at the Hilton, London Kensington didn’t fare much better.
One told us: “It was an absolutely disgraceful event. I cannot remember the last time I went out and got so bored. I paid £100 to be served cold food with no drinks. There was total chaos and confusion on the stage with crowns given to all the contestants! And there were numerous categories that didn’t mean anything and to top it all off, the organizer (Ms Jain) gave herself a gold crown at the end of the night!”
Another wrote on the pageant’s Facebook page: “This event was an absolute scam and shabbles ! Not worth even 1. So badly organised and shame on the organisers! Felt for the contestants as they put in so much time and hard work . The awards were given out aimlessly – seemed more like it was fixed and the organiser decided to give herself an award – what was all that about ?? At the end of the evening the audience didn’t even know who was the winner of the title – Mrs Asia UK!!! Absolutely ridiculous !! Total disappointment. Avoid all future events by this organiser.”
In the interest of balance, the negative reviews are balanced by a curiously EQUAL number of positive reviews.
Speaking of numerous categories, “titles” were handed out like heavily discounted turkeys at a local Tesco superstore three days after Christmas.
There was a vast array of winners, as well as 1st and 2nd runners up for Mrs Asia UK Universe, Mrs Asia UK International, Mrs Asia International South, Mrs Asia International North, Mrs Asia UK International Classic, as well as Classic North and South, Mrs UK United Nations, as well as United Nations North and South AND East and West (hey, why not eh?), Mrs UK United Nations ‘ELITE’ (because erm…the other titles were working class riff raff…?), Mrs UK United Nations South and “regular” classic, etc.
When asked about the number of titles, Ms Jain gave us this bizarre response: “In November and December I was receiving at least 6-8 calls per day with at least 15-20 minutes per call from contestants complaining to me and crying about other contestants bullying them, harassing them and fighting internally and saying bad things to each other. I wanted to surprise the contestants with so many titles and didn’t want to reveal to them but due to so much negativity in the group and I was very hurt with this behaviour and I posted in the Whats App Group that there are many winners so that they don’t try to fight with each other and let each other down and love each other.”
Make of that what you will.
In one extraordinary email to the participants, Ms Jain explains that all the “winners” would be given “official sashes” and “subtitle crowns” after she receives full payment for their “international journeys” – which obviously many had not decided upon.
So Mrs Asia UK was a sideshow? A launching pad? If so, for what? Or just the first brick in a wall of commission payments?
It’s difficult to come to a conclusion. Ms Jain states, “Mrs Asia UK was a collaboration with three international pageants which is Mrs Universe, Mrs United Nation and Mrs Asia International.”
She claims herself to be the “National Director” for Mrs United Nation (once again, not organized by the actual United Nations) and Mrs Asia International as well as the “regional director” for Mrs Universe in the United Kingdom.
She went on to tell us: “There was 1 category in the Mrs Universe which leads to 1 title winner, 2 categories of Mrs and Classic in the Mrs Asia International which leads to 6 winners and 3 categories of Mrs, Elite and Classic in the Mrs United Nations which leads to 12 winners with 4 winners in each category. So in total, there were 19 winners who could represent UK in the international journey. This is the reason why all contestants won titles and crowns.”
The suggestion being that as they were all “winners” they would readily pay up the £1500 – £2500 for their “international journeys”, leading to a very handy commission indeed.
Extraordinarily, it is perfectly possible to enter any of the “united nations” pageants without going through any company or individual. You can just get on to their website and register.
No need to pay any commission to anyone.
A Piece of the Action
And yet for all their efforts, the participants haven’t even been able to get their faces on the Ms Asia UK website! The homepage features a gigantic image of Ms Jain but none of the winners.
Continuing with the all-you-can-eat buffet theme, the husband of one of the contestants who operates by the name of ‘Tilted Tripod Photography’ was given the job of being the official photographer. He, in turn, is now demanding £350 from the contestants for photographs.
Everybody is trying to get in on the action.
The whiff of powdered eggs and pate sausages failed to evaporate even after the event.
Days after the pageant the participants were offered another “amazing opportunity” – the chance to appear in a “music video”.
They were not told who the artist would be or which genre the music would be – but who could blame some of them for believing that it may well be the comeback single for 50 Cent.
After all, Ms Jain’s picture with him is proudly displayed on her website. (And she insists that she is “in touch” with the rapper).
So six of the contestants paid £350.00 each for the “lead role” in the video.
They were all asked to go out and buy the skimpiest outfit they could find – at their own cost.
On the day of the filming, the girls arrived at a studio in Hounslow to be met by a glammed-up Ms Jain and a camera-person who looked fresh off an Air India Boeing 777.
Alas, instead of the lead role they were promised – and the beefy rapper they had hoped for – the girls ended up doing back up dancing as Ms Jain proceeded to lip-synch some “unknown Hindi song” in the words of one girl.
While she was doing her best impression of Milli Vannilli, the girls were asked to strut around in the periphery, the skimpily-clad supporting dancers to the headline act.
When one girl asked the cameraperson if they would be filmed individually he assured them that they would be. And then he promptly disappeared.
It was only after they had returned home that the surreal nature of the day struck them. Soon after, the group decided to inform Ms Jain that she did not have permission to use their visuals for the video.
Ms Jain has now sent them all legal notices threatening each with £4500 in damages – for the costs incurred in “producing the music video” – unless they provide their consent for its release.
Some of the emails that the participants furnished us are truly bizarre, with threats of legal action and various accusations and commands given in a distinctly matronly tone.
When contacted Ms Jain sent us a copy of her original terms and conditions and threatened us with legal action through “social media lawyers” if we published anything.
She later asked for us to hold off publication until Monday 26th March, a request we politely refused.
On Friday, she send through an atrociously phrased email to Poonam Joshi, co-author of this piece and founder of the community advocacy group Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK).
In it, she made various accusations of impropriety and demanded answers about ILUK’s accounting practises.
It was not unexpected.
Immoral and Unethical
A joint statement from the participants who spoke to us reads: “Our only motivation in coming forward is so that this won’t happen to anyone else. We were naïve and we were taken for a ride. The harassment we have faced following the pageant in January, after we refused to go on the “international journeys”, has been incredibly distressing. The bizarre legal notices and threatening emails that we have received has put enormous strain on our relationships with husbands, children and family.
“No other woman should be fooled like us. We were amateur beauty pageant contestants and we were promised so much – that we would be given some minimal training and that we would be groomed appropriately. But nothing has happened.”
A legal expert that we consulted stated that the original contracts given to the contestants is so opaque and amateurish that there is no legal basis for Ms Jain or her company to threaten legal action let alone mount a valid case.
During one meeting with our whistle-blowers, they regularly disagreed with each other as to the contents of the contracts – suggesting that each contestant signed different versions for whatever reason.
The nasty odour aside, it all appears to be a case of massively gullible and naïve individuals being taken for an almighty ride with the promise of everything from fun and “empowerment” to modelling contracts and “international exposure”.
From the award ceremonies to “cultural” festivals, this community is awash with examples of these. And individuals and organizations feed off the fallacies of one another, everyone engaged in a wild orgy of back-scratching.
Sapanaa first saw the advertisement on a Social Media group called ‘Inspiring Indian Women’ (IIW), which had initially proclaimed itself a “partner” of the Mrs Asia UK event.
In early March, when Sapanaa and Kareena and their fellow participants approached the UKAsian, IIW publicly declared it had nothing to do with the pageant, not before we were able to grab and save screenshots of the previous affiliation.
Weeks later, IIW would give Rachanaa Jain a “popularity” award.
Another example of strange back-scratching came when, a few weeks before the “grand finale” a mysterious addition was made to the participant’s Whatsapp group.
Then, four days before the pageant, Sapanaa and Kareena and the others were introduced to the mystery lady – one Nisha Bhalla who, Ms Jain told everyone, would participate in the Mrs Asia UK pageant despite the fact she was from Mumbai.
She insisted that Nisha was merely aiming to gain some “experience” ahead of her “international journey” but on the day of the event she was given the title of Mrs Asia United Nations Elite and was also given the title of Mrs Humble!
All of this despite the apparently watertight terms and conditions which clearly stated that contestants must reside in the UK.
Was all of this immoral? Was it unethical? Was it exploitative? It was all of those things. Unequivocally.
While those who could afford the extra expenditure to participate in the international pageants opted to do so and line the pockets of someone else, those who couldn’t or didn’t want to are facing threats and bogus legal notices.
After all of that, perhaps the most galling thing is the manner in which Ms Jain sought to sign off one of the emails threatening legal action after the event.
Just above her signature “love and light” she says in capital letters: GRATITUDE IS THE RIGHT ATTITUDE.
Sapanaa, Kareena and their friends are still trying to figure out what to be thankful for.
Reporting by Viji Alles & Poonam Joshi. Edited by Viji Alles
With special thanks to our courageous whistleblowers