Blackpool model agency boss says ditching walk-on girls is 'political correctness gone mad'

Former Blackpool model Karen Jean Cookson knows what it's like to be part of the glamour of a big sporting occasion.

Thursday, 1st February 2018, 9:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st February 2018, 9:36 pm
Karen Cookson was one of the firstwalk-on girls in the 1990s and runs an agency with business partner Sue

She was one of the first ever ‘walk on’ girls who accompanied players onto the stage at televised darts tournaments at the Winter Gardens.

Karen and her business partner Sue Knight were the first walk-on girls in 1994 and they had the role until about 2000.

Now Karen runs her own model agency, Angels Elite, and until now booked other girls for the same role.

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Danielle Allfree, one of Karen's walk-on girls

But the decision of first the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and now Formula 1, to stop using glamour girls to promote their sports, means the girls are no longer wanted.

It’s a move which has incensed Karen who says glamour is all part of the entertainment business.

She said: “I was one of the first walk-on girls when it was trialed in the 1990s at the Winter Gardens for the darts.

“It was to create a more glamorous occasion and the atmosphere inside the building was amazing.

Karen and business partner Sue in the 90s

“I chose to do it, and today’s girls also choose to do it but now their livelihoods are being taken away from them.

“Many of them have children and it’s their job and career and they need the work to support their families.

“Where’s it going to stop? This is political correctness going too far.”

Karen, who also organises the annual Miss Blackpool beauty pageant and runs Angels Elite Kidz, said girls had never felt intimidated or taken advantage of.

Danielle Allfree, one of Karen's walk-on girls

She added: “Every girl who has done it has absolutely loved it.

“At the Winter Gardens for the darts, there is no hassle with the girls. They are not intimidated, they are respected and it is like one big family.

“The darts walk-on girls are well known in their own right and they buy their own dresses and choose what they want to wear.

“This is taking a woman’s choice away from her. We don’t interfere with anyone else’s job, so why are they interfering in ours?”

Karen and business partner Sue in the 90s

Karen has two walk-on girls currently on her books, Daniella Allfree and Charlotte Wood.

Both have previously expressed how much they enjoyed the role.

Speaking to The Gazette in 2015, Daniella said: “When I first started, it was the excitement of the atmosphere of it all which grabbed me, the glamour and the fame, but now I’ve got to know everyone, it’s like a darts family.”

Charlotte Wood, who has also worked as a motorsport ‘grid girl’, said: “I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the event was just brilliant.

“I love the variety of modelling - I’ve done catalogue work, motorsports work - on the grid, family shoots and now the darts, which is something different.”

But Formula 1 says ‘grid girls’ are now ‘out of tune’ with modern society.

Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations, said the change would be made “so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport”.

After the PDC announced earlier this week the long-established practice of women escorting male players to the stage would be abandoned, Jade Slusarczyk, who has been a walk-on girl with Sky Sports for seven years and worked at major darts and snooker events across the country, said she was disappointed.

The 32-year-old former Miss Poulton, from Blackpool, said: “Some people say having walk-on girls is demeaning or degrading, but I do not feel degraded at all.

“I’ve done so many events, I’ve done exhibitions and appearances all over England, in Europe and in America. I love it.

“I don’t wear skimpy outfits, I wear classy, knee-length dresses. I have never been made to feel uncomfortable or to do anything I didn’t want to do, there’s never been anything untoward.

“It’s like a big sporting family – I’ve made so many friends through it.”

A spokesman for the PDC said: “We regularly review all aspects of our events and this move has been made following feedback from our host broadcasters.”

A petition has been started by fans, calling for the girls to be reinstated.

Move to ban girls divides opinion

everal grid girls have criticised Formula One’s decision to abolish their role in the sport.

Rebecca Cooper, who describes herself as a ‘five-time F1 grid girl’, wrote on Twitter: “So the inevitable has happened, F1 grid girls have been banned.

“Ridiculous that women who say they are ‘fighting for women’s rights’ are saying what others should and shouldn’t do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do. PC gone mad.”

Another grid girl, Lauren-Jade Pope, wrote: “Because of these feminists, they’ve have cost us our jobs! I have been a grid girl for eight years and I have never felt uncomfortable! I love my job, if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it! No one forces us to do this! This is our choice!”

Hannah Louise, also a grid girl, said she would be ‘devastated’ if other sports like superbikes now opted to follow suit.

Others, however, have hailed F1’s ban as a step in the right direction.

Melinda Messenger, who said she worked as a grid girl for the Jordan team for around four years, told The Wright Stuff on Channel 5: “I actually think this is a good thing. I think it’s a sign that we’re heading in a really positive direction.

“I personally had a great time, I made some good money out of it, I had fun but really, looking back, essentially all I was there for was decoration and I think that’s the issue.

“I think we are changing and we’re moving forward.”

What F1 said: ‘It does not resonate with our values’

Formula One has abolished its long-standing association with grid girls after the sport’s American owners declared the practice as ‘at odds with modern day societal norms’.

The tradition, which has gone hand-in-hand with the sport for a number of decades will be scrubbed from the F1 calendar with immediate effect.

Liberty Media’s decision follows in the footsteps of the Professional Darts Corporation, which earlier this month announced that women would no longer escort male players to the stage.

The overhaul by Liberty, the American media conglomerate which took over the sport in January 2017, will also apply to other motor racing events that take place at a grand prix weekend.

“Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport,” Sean Bratches, F1’s American commercial chief, said. “While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.

“We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time world champion who remains heavily involved in the sport, understands the reason for change. Sometimes it is better to take preventative medicine and that is what Formula One is doing,” Stewart, 78, said.

“Every day I read about a different scandal and F1 and it’s blue-chip partners do not need to be involved with that.

“I don’t think it is a shame or a controversial decision and I understand what Liberty are saying. These are different times that we are living in.”

At the Monaco Grand Prix in 2015, local organisers opted to have ‘grid boys’ instead of ‘grid girls’.