I have always found it strange that beauty pageants evoke such fierce emotion in people.

During my time as a journalist I have covered several, and this time I was at the Miss Southampton competition.

When I mentioned the event, some thought it sounded exciting while others raised objections.

I think those who were opposed feared it may be a sleazy event with semi-naked women parading up and down a catwalk with just a bikini, a sash and a tiara to protect their dignity.

Sadly, this is not the case at all.

In the old days, it seemed these competitions would involve less clothes, empty-headed babbling about donkeys and world peace and, on occasion, having to date Peter Stringfellow.

However, the organisers were quick to point out they were looking for more than a pretty face and a smoking hot body – my words, not theirs.

Sure enough, when I looked at the list, hopefuls hailed from the worlds of academia, business and even the military.

When chatting with the girls, they seemed pleasant and modest to the point of being bashful.

When I arrived, the bosses said they had considered asking me to be a judge before they filled the five spots.

While this sounded interesting, I couldn’t help but feel my presence might have undone a lot of the good work they had done in making the pageant more respectable.

As these judges asked the women about charity work, ecological issues and healthy living, I couldn’t help but feel my request for star jumps would have seemed out of place.

I got lots of slightly warped feedback regarding the event. Some emails mentioned how attractive the girls were; others criticised imaginary flaws in the beauties with the misplaced arrogance of a married man thumbing through a lingerie catalogue, muttering “would, wouldn’t... maybe if she begged for a couple of hours”.

The finalists included top level graduates, hard-working career women and fundraisers who individually have raised up to £25,000.