Danielle Evans isn’t afraid to do things a little bit differently.
The social media executive is smashing stereotypes in the world of both pageantry and sport after being crowned Miss Brighton 2021 earlier this year, all while maintaining her other great love – playing rugby.
A relative newcomer to the world of beauty contests, Danielle only started competing in 2019, but has been contesting scrums since during her studies at Southampton Solent University a few years ago, currently lining up for local side Horsham Ladies.
And now the 24-year-old is combining her two wildly differing passions by using her newfound platform to promote inclusivity in sport – and especially rugby.
Danielle has launched the ‘Try Me’ campaign, a globally-recognised drive aimed at promoting diversity and open, honest conversations throughout the game.
It’s a cause that is close to her heart for personal reasons.
“It all started from my first year of rugby when I used to get quite a lot of sexist comments, which I wasn’t expecting,” she explains.
"People would go, ‘Oh, you’re a woman and you play rugby. Do you play the same as the men? Do you do real tackling? It’s not real rugby’, and I thought, ‘Well, why can’t it be?’.
"Then it kind of sparked into my head. The name is ‘Try Me’ – try me with your stereotypes, and it obviously fits in with the rugby too. It blew up. I honestly didn’t expect it to go as big as it did – within its first two months of launching, it reached over 60,000 people, and it got worldwide recognition.”
Scratch a little deeper beneath the surface, however, and Danielle’s story becomes even more incredible still.
Born 14 weeks prematurely, she was given just a 5% chance of survival by doctors, and her parents were told to prepare themselves for the worst on numerous occasions.
Instead, Danielle would miraculously defy all the odds, but the three months she spent in an incubator as a newborn would leave her with a number of long-term lung conditions that have persisted into her adulthood, and that can often leave her debilitated.
But the pageant queen sees her illnesses as an opportunity to inspire rather than a burden, and hopes that she can prove to be a positive role model for others who may find themselves in similar situations.
“The message I want to change is that it’s not a case of ‘I want to be her’. I want to change it to ‘I can be her’ because it’s so important to have diversity”, she points out.
"We should take up space in this world. Why can’t girls play sport? And it’s not just a gender thing, but for men, for example, why can’t you be a wrestler and enjoy knitting? Why do we have to be this one thing?
“I think diversity and inclusion are so important, especially in this day and age when there’s so much going on.
"You’ve got people who identify as non-binary, and they just want to find somewhere they belong. If sport can provide that for somebody then fantastic.
"Everyone should feel like they belong, as cheesy as that sounds.
"If I saw somebody when I was younger with asthma issues, and all these things, doing something like this, I think that would have got me into it a lot sooner.”
"As a society it’s a case of having an open mind and not being closed off to stereotypes”, Danielle adds.
"I believe personally that stereotypes and barriers only exist if we create them. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve.
"Particularly with sports clubs, and to be honest, any clubs, they need to be a bit more open-minded about people with disabilities and how they can participate, and how they can welcome people into their world.
"For people who have disabilities and want to take part, I can understand it can be nerve-wracking. For me, starting back up in rugby again after some time out was incredibly nerve-wracking, but it is taking that initial step and having open and honest conversations with the coaches saying, ‘This is me, this is who I am, I want to take part, what can you do for me?’.
"They’ve always been supportive. You’ll never be alone. It can be nervous, but once you take that first step, you’ll be great.”
Next up for Danielle is a bid to become Miss Great Britain later this year, and perhaps the opportunity to spread her message of inclusivity to an even greater audience.
“The good thing about Miss Great Britain is that they do bring people from all walks of life”, she explains.
"You can be married, you can have kids, which I think is really important because Miss Great Britain is very accepting. It’s not just a case of joining for a crown or a sash, it’s because they follow everything that I value.
“It would be an honour to win because I feel like I could do so much with the title, particularly in terms of promoting that ethos of acceptance, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.
"People ask me what I would do if I win, and it would be exactly what I’m doing now. There would be no change, it would just be a bigger platform with more doors to open.”