Crowning glory: Georgina Rizk remains the Arab world's only Miss Universe, 49 years after her win

In 1971, the then-18-year-old defeated 59 other competitors to take home the coveted crown

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On July 24, 1971, Georgina Rizk’s life changed for ever. That night, the 18-year-old model from Lebanon was crowned Miss Universe in a spectacular ceremony in Miami, Florida. She beat 59 other contestants and became the first woman from the Arab world to win the pageant title.

During the ceremony, when asked what advice she would give to a friend who was planning to enter the Miss Universe contest, Rizk said she did not know how to answer the question in English, so she continued in French instead. 

Her win, at a time when the internet and social media were non-existent, made newspaper headlines around the world, with The New York Times stating: "Lebanese is chosen Miss Universe."

Watch Georgina Rizk's crowning moment here:

In a TV interview with Lebanese journalist Ricardo Karam, Rizk recalled that within hours of her win, she returned to a hotel room full of congratulatory telegrams from people across the world.

Rizk instantly became a celebrity in her home country, and was even featured on Lebanese postage stamps in 1974. 

In the years that followed, Rizk met Ali Hassan Salameh, a leading figure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The two fell in love and married in 1978. 

However, their marriage sparked much controversy in Lebanon for several reasons. Rizk was Salameh’s second wife and their marriage came at a time when the country was torn apart by civil war and tensions were high among religious sects. Rizk was a Christian, while Salameh was a Muslim.

Their love story became the subject of Lebanese artist Alfred Tarazi's project Two Lovers, which was on display at Beirut Design Week in 2019. 

Salameh was killed in an Israeli-planted car bomb in Beirut in January 1979. At the time, Rizk was pregnant with their child, whom she named Ali, after him. 

Rizk told Karam she was far from the politics that Salameh was involved in and fell in love with him, not his viewpoints. “I followed my heart,” she said. 

Last year, 40 years after his assassination, their story was featured in a television drama series starring Syrian actor Taim Hassan, called The Red Prince, after Salameh's nickname.

In 1990, Rizk remarried, this time to Lebanese singer Walid Toufic. They have two children together. 

Today, 49 years after being crowned Miss Universe, Rizk is still the only woman from the Middle East to have won the title in the beauty pageant’s 68-year history.

She has since served as a judge for Miss Lebanon beauty competitions.