Female empowerment and fundraising - that was the message organisers and finalists were keen to stress during this year’s Miss Newcastle competition.

A glitzy ceremony for the 11th annual beauty pageant and charity fundraiser was held at the County Hotel in Newcastle on Friday night.

Brunette beauty Rebecca Gormley was crowned Miss Newcastle 2018 after impressing the judges by raising more than £2,000 for the Sunshine Fund.

The event raised a massive £20,000 in total, and organisers Gainford Group were keen to emphasise the importance of fundraising following last year’s controversy.

Miss Newcastle 2018 winner Rebecca Gormley (Image: Rebecca Gormley)

The 2017 contest at Newcastle’s Civic Centre drew criticism with the Hollywood theme seeing finalists - many of them teenagers - dressed as Playboy Bunnies.

Critics branded the contest “sexist” and “antiquated”, and Newcastle City Council told beauty pageant organisers Tyne Tees Models they were no longer welcome at the authority’s home.

A Gainford Group spokesperson outlined the steps taken by organisers with the latest to change perceptions and ensure the fundraising aspect was at the centre of the evening.

The spokesperson said: “Following the reaction last year, we were really focused on getting the charity involvement to be the focus from the beginning.

“The event has always been charity-focused and the girls have always done amazing work, but I think it has been perceived more as a beauty competition in the past.

“Overall, it was a celebration of everything that’s good about Newcastle from the generosity of the people to local businesses coming together and really putting on a great showcase for the region.”

First-time finalists Becca Potts and Audrey Heads were among those keen to stress how the competition goes beyond simply celebrating surface-level beauty.

Audrey, 19, from Newcastle, said: “I think this gives us the chance to make an impression of what Newcastle girls are really like and take confidence from it.

“All of the finalists are really clever - some are studying engineering and law - and it’s about challenging these expectations and showing the girls are more than just pretty.”

Becca, 18, also from Newcastle, added: “It’s about showing you can be a role model and an ambassador for Newcastle.

“By taking part, you can actually come out of your shell.”

Arabian Nights was the theme for this year’s event, with the controversial swimwear round being scrapped in favour of a “fashion round”.

Sarah Johnson, director of the Sunshine Fund, was invited on to the judging panel for the first time in the competition’s history.

Despite only having 10 finalists - half the number from the previous year - the total amount raised on the night was almost double the funds raised in 2017.

The spokesperson added: “The total we have raised shows this message has definitely come across. Our target was £15,000 so we totally smashed that.

“The finalists themselves really embraced the challenge and managed to raise just under £8,000 in four weeks. All of the girls brought their own personalities and interests to the table.”

Coming up with their own ideas, the finalists raised thousands through a variety of events including a charity dog walk, fashion shows and Miss Newcastle 2018 winner Rebecca’s skydive.

Miss Newcastle 2018 winner Rebecca will now go on to represent the city in the Miss England contest, organisers Gainford Group are confident all of the finalists will benefit from the experience.

The spokesperson finished: “Taking part can really help to build the confidence of the girls through doing the charity work and getting up on the stage.

“They gain life skills which has translated in to success for a lot of former finalists who have gone on to do really good things.”