Miss Englands first redhead winner opens up on cruel gingerphobia

The first-ever redhead Miss England winner has opened up about how she was viciously tormented by bullies for her hair colour at school.

Jessica Gagen, 27, was called names, spat at and even burned by fellow pupils – but with her new platform she now wants to support and provide inspiration for anybody who is currently suffering similar abuse.

The Lancashire lass claimed her historic title during the two-day pageant in Birmingham and will represent her country at the 71st Miss World competition in spring next year.

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Recalling how she turned her life around after experiencing such cruel childhood trauma, Jessica told The Sun: "When I started secondary school I was picked on for my hair colour and I used to feel really bad about myself.

"But towards the end of high school, I flourished. I got good grades, I had a group of friends, I was assistant head girl. My whole journey around Miss England was because I wanted to bring this to light.

"There are kids going through the same things and I want them to know that it doesn’t last for ever. There’s light at the end of the tunnel."

Outlining some of her lowest moments, the Skelmersdale stunner said: "I was punched, spat at and had things thrown at my head. At the start of year seven, a girl was curling my hair and she kept resting the tongs on my head, burning me.

"There was name-calling, like ‘Carrot Top’. The way I dealt with it was by bottling everything up. I tried my best not to react because I was mature enough to know that a lot of the kids weren’t being malicious.

"It’s a passing comment to them but when you get it day in and day out, it builds up. There were a few occasions when I didn’t want to be around people and I’d eat my packed lunch in the toilet.

"All I wanted was a group of friends around me. I used to cry when I came home. It was very lonely because you’re going through a lot of changes at the age of 12 and 13 and I would think, 'Why do I look like this?'"

Jessica admits that she struggled to find role models when growing up, with the likes of Prince Harry and Girls Aloud's Nicola Roberts the only ginger-haired personalities in the public eye.

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She even considered dying her hair to fit in.

But, having bagged nine A*s and an A in her GCSEs, Jessica went on to be the envy of her bullies after landing a string of modelling contracts that saw her travel the world.

She is now a masters degree student in aerospace engineering at Liverpool University and advises: "When I was feeling down, I used to follow accounts of girls who had red hair and suddenly my page was filled with people who looked like me. Then I didn’t feel as bad about my hair colour any more."

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