Published: 09:53, 17 May 2021
| Updated: 13:19, 18 May 2021
A pageant finalist has vowed to not take life for granted after losing her brother five years ago, and be the best role model she can for her daughter.
Shereen Sally, who grew up in Greenhithe, has been announced as a Ms Great Britain 2021 finalist.
The 34-year-old was born in West Hill, Dartford, and went to St Anselm's Primary School in Temple Hill. She was then deputy head girl at Dartford Girls' Grammar School.
Shereen said: "I lost my brother five years ago when he was just 34.
"He was my only sibling, and it was a huge loss and shock to my family. Losing him reminded me of not only how precious life is but also to make every day count.
"I am now 34 myself and don’t want to let any opportunity pass me by.
"As a British Asian woman, I never would have thought to apply for something with the title of Ms Great Britain."
The title was introduced last year as a new division within the Miss Great Britain pageant system.
The 'Miss' title is governed by an international competition and the rules of entry state that finalists must be between 18 and 27.
This new division is open to ladies aged 28-39, and Ms GB Classic is for those 40 and over.
The mother-of-one added: "Growing up, I struggled with my identity and not always knowing where I fit.
"I was born and bred in the UK but I looked different from my friends and our neighbours.
"However, when I visited my motherland, Sri Lanka, I wasn’t able to speak the native languages Sinhala or Tamil, my accent was different and my cousins found it hard to understand me.
"Whilst my family looked like me, we dressed and sounded different.
"Pageants can still carry a stigma and Miss Great Britain is working hard to change how that is perceived.
"Great Britain is far removed from the traditional 'beauty pageant' perception. How you look has very little to do with the competition.
"They do not discriminate with height or size restrictions and welcome applicants from all cultural and economic backgrounds."
The Ms Great Britain selection process is based on personality, achievements, aspirations and future goals.
The pageant is about charity, raising awareness and funds for chosen charities.
Shereen is a manager at a university where she heads student services and experience.
She said: "When I read about Ms Great Britain I was instantly drawn to it not being a typical beauty pageant. It stands for values I hold close to me; female empowerment and encouragement of diversity.
"From a young age I was competitive and driven and held various leadership roles.
"In my career I have often been the only woman at the table and the only person from an ethnic minority background.
"A big part of my role is supporting disadvantaged individuals, supporting students in hardship and creating and implementing policies and practices in equality, diversity and inclusivity.
"I also want to be a driver in smashing stereotypes.
"At 5ft 4ins, I love to play basketball, predominantly a sport for tall males. I also love to travel and have been to 78 different countries and travelled around the world on my maternity leave with my baby.
"I am married but I decided to keep my maiden name and I'm a full-time working mother. I want to be the best role model to my daughter."
Over the years, Shereen has raised more than £15,000 for various charities such as Cancer Awareness and for orphanages in developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Peru.
She added: "I even volunteered at a refugee camp in Calais when I was seven weeks pregnant.
"I am also a trustee and on the board for The Loss Foundation, a charity for those who have lost loved ones to cancer and Covid, the first of its kind in the UK.
"I want to use the Ms Great Britain platform to raise awareness about charitable causes, different cultures and what it is to be a British Asian Woman and working mother.
"I believe as a finalist I could be a great role model for other British Asians, working mothers, women in general and young girls.
"I strongly believe in raising awareness about mental health, a particular taboo amongst South Asians, and empowering women to be and do anything they want, whether it be in their career, motherhood, travel or contributing to the society around them."
During the run up to the final, Shereen, who now lives in Romford, is fundraising for the Ms GB chosen charities, Cancer Research UK and Alex's Wish. You can support here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ShereenSally1
You can follow Shereen's journey to the final here on Instagram: @shereen_sally
The final of Ms Great Britain will take place as part of the Miss Great Britain live final on September 16 and 17 in Leicester.