Walk of fame: At just 13 Sophie Watson is a beauty pageant veteran, and is hoping to take out the title of Miss Teen Galaxy Pageant later this year
Her dark and artfully curled locks tumble to her tanned shoulders and down her back, which is naked but for three lilac satin, crystal-encrusted straps.
As the music starts, she turns elegantly on her sparkling heels. A choker made from £300 worth of faux diamonds dazzles under the lights on the expanse of flesh that leads from her neck to her navel.
Then she bats her lashes and gives a knowing smile that makes you feel like you're the only person in the room. . . and, as it happens, I am.
Hundreds of little girls across the country would, I'm assured, fight bleached tooth and acrylic nail to be sitting where I am now: on Sophie Watson's sofa beside the glass cabinet filled with sparkling prize tiaras, getting a sneak peek of the song-and-dance routine she hopes will win over the judges at the Miss Teen Galaxy Pageant later this year.
Aged only 13, but looking several years older, Sophie has a growing reputation as 'the one to beat' on Britain's burgeoning teen pageant circuit.
If there was a crown for representing the growing numbers of teenage girls obsessed with their looks and a life in the spotlight, it would be hers.
In short, Sophie is a walking icon for the X Factor generation, for whom the height of aspiration is to get rich quick by exploiting any talent you might possess. Some might feel she and her mother condemn themselves with their own words.
Of course her mother doesn't see it that way.
'I wouldn't say we were competitive - that's not a nice word,' says Joy, who beams with pride at the sight of her only child in a dress that could have been stolen from Jordan's walk-in wardrobe.
'But we want to win, and the stakes are higher every time we compete. People expect more of her now. We spend more and we expect more.'
Sophie, by her mother's account, has always been a high achiever. 'A gifted musician', 'a talented dancer', 'effortlessly top of the class'.
At 11, she won a music scholarship to a top private girls' school near their home in County Durham, and Joy, a hardworking single mum who has had no contact with Sophie's father for ten years, was relieved that Sophie, her only child, would receive an education that would make anything possible.
But none of her daughter's long list of achievements has made her more proud than watching Sophie amass her collection of glittering crowns and sashes on the controversial child beauty pageant circuit.
And as Sophie has amassed hundreds of 'fans' on a Facebook page promoting herself as a singer, a model and a dancer, her once high academic ambitions have faded into the background.
Joy Watson, pictured with Sophie, described her daughter as a'high achiever' and believes she can take out the Miss Teen Galaxy Pageant
With stars in their eyes, the pair, who now devote all of their spare time and money to pageant preparation, have their sights set on one thing: Sophie's superstardom. For the outgoing Mini Miss UK, hard work on the pageant circuit is simply the first step on the road to world domination.
Sophie has already been a finalist in Miss Teen World 2009. Her other titles are a mind-boggling insight into just what an industry junior beauty pageants have become. But then when so many little girls just want to be Jordan or Cheryl Cole, perhaps we should not be so surprised.
'But we want to win, and the stakes are higher every time we compete. People expect more of her now. We spend more and we expect more.'
The roll call includes competitions like Miss Teen Cinderella, Miss Teen Great Britain International Tourism, Miss Teen County Durham Galaxy, Miss Royal Star Photogenic Queen, Universal Royalty Ambassador, Miss Model Beauty of England International, Miss Teen Cover Model, Miss July Starshine Princess. And on and on it goes.
'Pageants are Sophie's hobby - albeit a hobby she's very good at - but what she really wants is to be a singer. Whether that will be sell-out stadium tours or something on a smaller scale, I don't know,' says Joy matter-of-factly.
'But she's focused, driven and determined. She knows exactly what she wants and she's going to do whatever it takes.
'Getting publicity and getting a name for herself can only help, and that's where the pageants come in. They might kick that door open for her.'
Sophie chips in excitedly: 'Justin Timberlake did pageants, you know. I could be the girl version of him. Or another Miley Cyrus. She's only 17 and she already has £26million in the bank.'
Joy tells me that, in preparation for the next big event on the pageant calendar, they have enlisted the help of a dress designer whose other clients include former Miss England and Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd, Anthea Turner and Jodie Marsh. In the rhinestone-studded world of pageants, credentials don't get much better than this.
They also recruited a coach prior to their recent trip to Texas, where Sophie (followed by a BBC documentary crew) became the first British entrant in the Universal Royalty pageant. That's a big one.
'We're working on a few walks at the moment,' says Sophie, who jumps up to demonstrate the difference between the perfect 'formal' walk - slow, stately, elegant - and the perfect 'swimsuit' walk, which involves a lot more wiggling and 'a really crazy grin'.
Model ambition: Sophie has amassed a number of prizes during her career, and was a finalist in Miss Teen World 2009
Her coach is a former beauty queen, who lives almost 300 miles away from the Watsons' home and is willing to impart her tricks of the trade for a mere £70 an hour, in person, online or over the phone.
It's money well spent, according to Joy, who believes these tutorials focusing on Sophie's confidence, presentation, walking and interview skills could not only make the difference of a crucial point in a closely fought beauty battle, but they will give Sophie 'the edge' in real life, too.
The way Joy sees it, these costs add up to no more than another parent might choose to spend on riding lessons and all the kit. 'No one would bat an eyelid if I'd spent as much on a riding helmet as I did on her hairpiece,' she says defensively.
Although pageants for women have a long and established history in Britain, the version for children is a recent import from America.
Over there, more than 100,000 girls (sporting fake tans, fake nails, fake eyelashes, fake hairpieces, and masses of make-up) compete every year within an industry worth an estimated $5billion.
Whereas most parents dread the day that their little girl wants to cover her rosy cheeks with Pan Stick, and treasure the years of innocence before they feel they are judged on their looks and their figures, pageant mums are a different breed.
Without naming names, Joy delights in telling me that the mother of one of Sophie's closest rivals was so jealous of their success that she had recently posted abusive online messages to Sophie under her own daughter's name.
She also points out that when Sophie picked up her first crown a year ago at the inaugural Mini Miss UK Pageant, in a row of baby Barbies, it was her 'natural' look that made her stand out from the competition.
Sadly, though, Sophie's look is not naturally her own. Her hair is dyed almost black and there's a heavy layer of foundation on her cheeks because she feels her own 'ugly' red curls and freckles would hamper her chances of taking the crown.
'I would never do a pageant as a redhead. I had red hair at my first one and I didn't win anything. I wouldn't want to risk it again,' she says.
Her brows and lashes are tinted to match, and this would be another considerable expense were it not for the fact that Joy, who trains beauty therapists for a living, is able to preen Sophie to a professional standard at home.
Sophie's first costume cost £125, but now Joy would be delighted to spend that little on a pair of giant Swarovski crystal earrings
'It saves us a fortune because I can do her spray tan, her nails, her brow waxing and tinting, her hair colour, and her hair extensions,' says Joy.
'In America we had to up the ante on the make-up because they go for more of a high-glitz look over there. We had bigger hair and bigger eyelashes. On a girl of her age, I think it's fine. There are girls Sophie's age walking down the street wearing twice as much make-up as she wears in a pageant. I can see why it might be a different matter if she was seven or eight.'
In the past year, Sophie has gained quite a following - to an extent that would worry many parents of a young girl. But not Joy. As well as her Facebook fanpage, she has her own website - set up, Joy says, to ensure that 'fans can get to know the real Sophie' by looking through her portfolio of pictures, reading about her latest victories and sending her messages.
Among those fans, I notice a number of middle-aged men whose only other listed interests are other, very young, very pretty girls. But Sophie and Joy scoff at the common belief that beauty pageants sexualise underage girls, or that posting pictures of Sophie online in skimpy costumes might attract 'the wrong sort of attention'.
'There aren't any perverts at pageants!' laughs Sophie. 'My fans are just people, mostly other girls, who've seen me on telly or in magazines, and they like me. It's cool.'
'Where could she be more safe than up on stage where everyone can see her?' argues Joy. 'It's the kids who hang around drinking in the park until all hours that'd I'd be worried about.'
Just before Christmas, when a BBC documentary focusing on last year's Mini Miss UK pageant was syndicated around the world, Sophie received a barrage of requests from fans for signed photographs via her website.
Role model: Sophie names Katie Price as one of her idols
'It was crazy. I was sending photos to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, France, Belgium, you name it,' says Joy, who gave little thought to who was asking for them. 'Sophie knows how to be safe online and wouldn't accept someone random chatting to her, so I don't worry she's in any danger.
'To be honest, I'm fully aware that maybe some people who email asking for a signed photo may not be a 12-year-old girl who is a fan of hers; they might be a middle-aged bloke. But you know what? It's just a photo at the end of the day. What's the harm?'
True, sending photographs of your 13-year-old daughter in full makeup and eveningwear to anyone who asks is not the same as delivering her to their doorstep. But it's still not something that most parents would feel quite so relaxed about.
'Yes, there's a part of me that wishes this was happening when she was a little bit older, but this is her moment. Do I say "Sorry, Sophie, don't do anything until you're 16"? I'd be an idiot.
And she'd never forgive me if she missed her chance.'
Of course, in an entertainment world warped by the 'Cowell-isation' of television, all this is just a precursor to Sophie's next big step.
She will be recording a demo tape and dispatching it to record company bosses in the next few weeks, to capitalise on the interest that the forthcoming documentary on her tour of American pageants is likely to bring.
'I'm trying to act as any manager would,' says Joy. 'They'd say: "Now is the time to really go for it." Look at Billie Piper, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera - they all started young.'
It's perhaps no surprise that Sophie counts Katie Price among her idols.
'I don't like her when she's Jordan, doing photoshoots almost naked and getting drunk all the time,' she says. 'But I like Katie Price. She works hard, she's got a family that she looks after, she's earned her own money, and if she wants something, she can just buy it.'
As well as the wardrobe full of designer clothes and bags that Sophie feels are essential to living the life of a star-in-waiting, a manager or agent is next on her wish list.
She says: 'How cool would it be, to say "Talk to my agent", instead of: "Here's my mum's number."' She drifts off for a moment into her favourite daydream.
Almost two years ago, Sophie was a very different child - 'a shy, music nerd' by her own reckoning, and not a very happy one.
'How cool would it be, to say "Talk to my agent", instead of: "Here's my mum's number."'
When Joy made the horrifying discovery that Sophie, then 12, was struggling to cope with the pressures of her new school and had started to self-harm, she made the somewhat questionable decision to enter her into her first beauty pageant in the hope that it would cheer her up.
'I just thought it would be something nice for us to do together: a girls' day out,' she says. 'But looking back, Sophie had got it into her head that she would win and everything would be wonderful.'
'She did enjoy it. She made a lot of new friends - many that she's still in touch with now. But when it came to the prize-giving, she was one of the only girls to walk away with nothing.'
Aside from the winner's crown, girls compete for minor titles such as Little Miss Photogenic or Little Miss Confidence. That day, little Sophie was none of these. 'We drove her home in tears. She cried herself to sleep. She was very upset for days,' says Joy who, a little belatedly, was starting to doubt the wisdom of putting her depressed and unstable 12-year-old daughter in a situation where she would be judged against others and found wanting.
'I felt horrendous. I know people will criticise me for putting her in that position, but I was naive. I thought it would be fun,' says Joy.
Now, they know that pageanting is, in fact, a very serious business. Sophie's first costume cost £125, but now Joy would be delighted to spend that little on a pair of giant Swarovski crystal earrings. And, from their current position at the top of the pageant pile, Sophie's first attempt is a distant memory.
A year later, after switching schools and much analysis of her previous year's performance, she insisted on making a return to the circuit - brunette and brimming with determination - and snatched the title of Mini Miss UK right from under the powdered noses of the competition.
As she and Joy drove home that night, there were no tears in the car - just flowers, a crown and much excited talk of how worldwide fame, adulation and multi-millions were only a few well-planned footsteps away.
As I leave Sophie to practise her pageant walks, I'm certain that beneath the make-up and dyed hair there is a very sweet and talented girl with a better chance than most of making it big.
But isn't it a tragedy for her (and a generation of teenage girls just like her) that her greatest aspiration is to be famous - and the sooner the better.
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