Miss Harrogate: My battle to win

Garry Plant of Harrogate Town with Teresa Caven, Anthony Caven, Olivia Caven and Richard Caven. Picture: Adrian Murray (1304111AM1)
Garry Plant of Harrogate Town with Teresa Caven, Anthony Caven, Olivia Caven and Richard Caven. Picture: Adrian Murray (1304111AM1)

Olivia Caven has achieved the dream of many 17-year-old girls, being crowned winner of a beauty pageant.

But the St Aidan’s pupil has had to overcome deafness and illness on the road to becoming Miss Harrogate.

Olivia spoke to the Harrogate Advertiser series about her remarkable life and hopes of bringing the title of Miss England to the town.

“I was late on stage when they announced I had won Miss Harrogate. It was very loud at the final, and I could barely hear it. Everyone was looking at me and people were cheering, I looked round and finally made it to the stage.”

At the age of 13, Olivia was given a cochlear implant at Bradford Royal Infirmary, an operation which greatly improved her hearing, having been diagnosed with Pendred Syndrome, a genetic disorder which leads to hearing loss, at just 13 months.

Sister Josie, also diagnosed with the syndrome at an early age, received the implant three years earlier.

Olivia said: “I had always known I was deaf. I had plenty of friends when I was younger, I just fitted in because we were all young and I managed to communicate with others no problem.

“But my hearing deteriorated over time, and I found it much harder at secondary school. When I got to year seven my hearing was really going.

“It was the end of year eight when I got the implant. I was quite ill, but I was excited for the one day operation because I had seen the improvement in Josie.

“My friends understood that I couldn’t hear, but it was still really hard. It was great to have Josie, though. I could look up to her and she could let me know what was right and what was wrong as she had done it all before me.”

Olivia has lasting memories of suddenly enjoying the sensation of hearing.

She said: “It was the first time I had heard my own voice. It toke me a couple of days after the operation to hear sounds, to begin with it was just squeaking noises. It was strange to hear my own voice, it was something I hadn’t heard before, and I had no idea my mum had an accent!”

Having beaten off 19 finalists at the Revolution event earlier this month in events such as fundraising and a popularity contest, Olivia’s prize is the chance to contest Miss England. Since scooping the Harrogate prize, she has attended town events such as leading out Harrogate Town AFC in front of nearly 700 people at a recent match.

It is a taste of the life Olivia would like to lead. She explained: “I want to be a successful model. The Miss Harrogate competition was a great opportunity to get experience. I am on a modelling website, and Vivienne Edge, who runs it, said I would be great for the competition, so I entered in the hope that I could win it, and eventually the Miss England competition.

“The whole process was two months long, we were asked at auditions about our personalities, what we want for the future and what we would do if we won. I said I would give Harrogate the best chance of winning Miss England.”

On the pagaent culture, Olivia commented: “the girls were nice behind the scenes, but since i’ve won a couple of them have gone off.

“But I understand it, and that is the world I want to be involved in. There was a lot of waiting around and dress changes, but overall I really enjoyed it, it was an amazing experience.”

Olivia was forced to miss a year of school as she struggled with crohn’s disease. Diagnosing the stressful condition was a lengthy process, and took its toll.

Olivia explained: “It took a whole year to realise what it was, and I was off school for a year suffering with it. It was more difficult for my friends to understand than my deafness had been.”

It is an incurable condition which may affect Olivia for the rest of her life, but having overcome deafness early on, it was unlikely to affect her performance in the competition.

She said: “My family and friends have been so supportive. It’s not that I think I have anything to prove, but I want to be a real model so anybody who has a disability can look at me and see I can show everyone just because you have a disability you can still achieve your dreams. Don’t let it hold you back.”