Tavener’s Tales 9 Split ends in more scrapes

miss world86

Contestants in the Miss World 1986 contest. Halle Berry, Miss USA is in the centre
Picture: Tom Stoddart/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ROGER TAVENER finds himself on a perilous trip to the 1986 Miss World contest in Yugoslavia 

CHECK call to the office. Oh fuck, news editor Philippa Kennedy picks it up. You wouldn’t describe us as bosom buddies.

Just be nice. It’s only 11ish. The desk hasn’t lunched yet. Sober, so good.

PK’s reassuringly terse.

In that threatening Northern Irish brogue I’m only too familiar with having married an Ulster girl and done my time covering ‘The Troubles’, she tells me she’s fixed up a face-to-face interview with her mate Julia Morley. 

And she wants it bad.

It’s about the Miss World competition’s future and it’s on in an hour in Kensington. It’s exclusive and it’s schemed for a front page pic and spread…

Of course Philippa. No problem. I’m on my way.

Tricky, however.

I’m actually in a bar in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, heading to Split for a bit of a laugh.

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It’s the morning after the night before at the 1986 Miss World pageant and I’ve spent most of that time discussing politics and Tito and communism with Miss Yugoslavia, Maja Catalinic Kucic, pictured right.

I’ve been dumped by Miss USA Halle Berry, because I wrote about Miss Holland being cheesy, not knowing she was her room-mate. She’s been on live TV to the world from the catwalk saying she isn’t going to be a journalist anymore after seeing the way they behave…

She’s looking at me. Gulp. (Did her a favour though as she detoured into modelling and acting and multi-millionaire dollar Oscar-fame).

Maja wants me to come to Split with her. Hmmm. I tell her to get to Heathrow and if she really wants me to go, page me at the Kensington Gardens Hotel.

We’ve all been up all night and, well, you know.

It’s about 7 am in the open-all-hours bar and Greg Miskiw from the News of the World turns up.

Sleaze personified, I love Greg, despite him almost killing me in a car crash driving back to London from Suffolk and a predictably boozy day playing cricket in Lord Nelson’s home village.

Greg…what are you after?

You can help Rog. There’ll be a big tip in it. I need to nail Maja Kucic, we’ve been told she’s only 16 and shouldn’t have been in the competition. There’s other stuff too… porn? 

My blood runs cold.

So now we have a whip-round at check-in to pay for her luggage and get her out of the country. We’re in for 30 quid each. It’s getting messier by the minute. In for a penny… we’re off to sunny Yugoslavia.

At that moment a waiter comes into the bar… “Paging Roger Tavener.” I head to a house phone.

It’s little Miss Jailbait. 

After much consideration … OK. I’ll be there.

I’ve already put a deposit on the ticket. I fancy a bit of the Dalmatian coast. And I haven’t touched Maja. Thank God. And that isn’t going to happen.

Get to check-in and the shopaholic teenager has about four times the bags she’s permitted. And, as she’s only 16 (not the claimed 21) has no credit card to pay the excess baggage.

On the same plane is the Yugoslavian football team. They played England at Wembley a few nights before and lost 2-0. Maja was guest of honour.

So now we have a whip-round at check-in to pay for her luggage and get her out of the country. We’re in for 30 quid each.

It’s getting messier by the minute.

In for a penny… we’re off to sunny Yugoslavia.

On landing the local press are there taking photos from the tarmac of their heroic footballers and the glamour girl who got to the semi-finals of the Miss World comp.

And some bloke in sunglasses hiding at the back.

I do a disappearing act and make that call to the office.

Yes, Philippa I’ll do it.

A swift phone call, a flammed-up writing job and file all enhanced by a few Croatian red wines and job done.

Strategic check call later. UK lunchtime. PK’s out.

“Yeah it’s fine,” says John McCormack on the desk. “They love it. Have a beer.”

I did.   

And avoided the sack.

© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre