This article was first published in The New Paper on March 20, 2016
SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Like a veteran model, she works the camera.
Lauren Natasha Campbell has done auditions, photoshoots and pageants.
Now Europe beckons and she is heeding the call, missing a few days of kindergarten.
Lauren is six but is already a regular of the dozens of local pageants for children here.
Her proud mother, Mrs Hani Crystal Campbell, says: “I can see her potential and she has the interest. If she has this interest and enjoys being on stage, I’ll support it.”
The 44-year-old housewife and her husband, Mr Claude Norman Campbell, 61, have lost count of the amount of money they have spent on Lauren and their two older daughters. But it has been worth every cent, says Mrs Campbell.
Lauren has taken classes in ballet, Tahitian dance and Chinese art theatre. In 2014, she attended modelling classes in Malaysia, where she was trained for a week by Malaysian model-actress Amber Chia.
A check on the Amber Chia Academy website reveals that a 12-week course costs RM1,500 (S$503).
Mrs Campbell knows pageants are not without controversies - critics claim girls are objectified and some wear make-up to look older.
She is also all too familiar with the cattiness.
Mrs Campbell says she raises her daughters to be conservative and not to bother with looks.
“I tell the girls that this is just for fun. I don’t want them to dress provocatively in case people get the wrong idea,” she adds.
Her 10- and 12-year-old girls prefer to be in jeans while Lauren loves to dress up as a princess. She is a little girl after all.
In an upcoming pageant in which Lauren will compete, children below 11 are not allowed to put on any make-up.
Next month, Lauren will be leaving for London and Paris for Mini Face Of The Globe, her first international pageant.
She says: “I’m very excited because I will go there to do modelling. I’m looking forward to meet Minnie Mouse (at Disneyland)!”
Mrs Campbell was unwilling to say how much she has to pay but provided The New Paper on Sunday a breakdown of costs.
They included air tickets for three, eight nights’ stay in London and Paris, travel from London to Paris, registration fees for the beauty pageant, sightseeing and tickets to a ball and awards ceremony.
There’s also the public relations company hired for Lauren, which Mrs Campbell says costs between $2,000 and $5,000.
“I do not know much about public relations, so I hired a company to help me with it,” she says.
The public relations company helped Lauren with her charity work at an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia.
While Mrs Campbell is looking forward to the Mini Face Of The Globe pageant, her husband isn’t as sure.
She says: “Her father prefers her not to take part in pageants because there’s too much attention. But, for me, it is to build her confidence and to get exposure, meet other children.”
Mr Campbell, chief technology officer of a UK-based international company, needed some convincing but relented.
“The one good thing about it is that it builds up her self-confidence - she’s not afraid to speak in front of people, which is very useful in life later on,” he says.
“It exposes her to, especially in going over to Europe, people from different parts of the world, to get a more worldly view.”
How does one guard oneself from becoming pushy? Children’s pageants can bring out the worst in mothers.
Mr Campbell says: “Depending on which group it is, some pageants can get way too competitive. We don’t want to see Lauren in situations where the pageant is more about the parents than the children.
“At the moment, she enjoys it, she’s not stressed about it. She’s now in Kindergarten 2.
“It will be a bit different when she starts primary school. I don’t want her to get overstressed.”
The Campbells’ older daughters have wound down their modelling activities due to school commitments.
For Lauren, her mother sees to it that her auditions and photoshoots are held after school hours.
Mrs Campbell says: “I divide her time so she doesn’t get too tired. After the photoshoots, she has her own time to play and go swimming.”
And what of Lauren?
Like other children her age, she can be cheeky and chatty but she is well-behaved.
She’s proud of her wardrobe filled with dresses - about 10 of them frilly. Her most expensive pageant dress, with hand-sewn beads and crystals, costs US$280 (S$380).
Another cupboard in the living room is filled with nine tiaras and seven trophies she won from the 10 pageants she has competed in since she was three.
The Campbells have a nine-year-old son but he prefers his computer to pageants.
Mrs Campbell says: “He tried pageants and didn’t like it. When he approached me to say that he didn’t like it, I was okay.
“I let all my four children taste the entertainment industry. If it is not what they want, it is fine with me.”
As for Lauren, Mr Campbell says that as long as the pageants complement her schooling and not overstretch her, he is happy to let her do it.
“The best thing in life is if you are happy in what you do - that makes it a lot easier,” he says.
Pageant mum: 'Crazy element is definitely there'
As with all beauty and talent pageants, there’s a dark side.
From narcissistic mothers to those who get their six-year-old to put on breast pads for the competition, some parents would do anything to help their girls snare the tiara.
Singer and boutique owner Maia Lee, 33, says that the “crazy element is definitely there”.
The pageant mum of seven years says: “If a mother forces the child to do it and then lies to people that the kid wants to do it, and if she pays out of her pocket to better the chances for the kid to win or gain fame instead of putting the money to good use, I think it is crazy.”
Other mums wonder if money helps.
Alice (not her real name) says: “Some pageant mums gain extra points through buying pages in the organiser’s internal magazine.
“Even before the competition, people can predict the winners by looking at the pages of the magazine.”
She adds that pageant mums are a small group and they know one another.
Alice agreed to be interviewed but not to be identified, because she wants to protect her daughter who has won more than 40 titles.
Ms Lee claims that international pageants accept anyone who is willing to fly to the host country and pay the high entry fees.
She says: “There are parents willing to fork out thousands of dollars to send their children overseas to compete, in the hopes of bragging rights that ‘their child is the representative of Singapore’, when in reality, it is because they are the only ones willing to pay to sign up.”
But is this envy talking?
Ms Hani Crystal Campbell, 44, says she has heard her fair share of nasty remarks and criticism about her daughter.
She recalls the time when Lauren Natasha Campbell won four titles in the Little Cinderella And Manhunt pageant last year.
Ms Campbell says: “I heard comments like, ‘She is not talented or pretty, how can she win?’
“‘Her mother knows the judges, that why she won.’
“I didn’t do anything wrong. It was my daughter on stage putting in effort. As a mum, I have to protect her by not letting her hear any of these negative remarks.
“She is still young and she doesn’t even know what it is to compete against other children.
“I just want her to enjoy her time on stage and not hate other children.”
Ms Lee, who has three children, says her seven-year-old daughter, Julka Phoenix Lee-Zidov, has won more than 140 titles.
So Ms Lee is familiar with the nastiness, too. But she says parents should also watch their own children and guard against them thinking fame is the ultimate reward.
“Use the pageants to teach children to be kind and not be charitable only when the media is around,” she says.