Combat Barbie On New Mission: From Ministry Of Defence To Ministry Of Dating
Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge of the British army was decorated for her bravery in Iraq and fought for her country in the Miss World contest - now 'Combat Barbie' is on a new mission to help her Army comrades find love.
Katrina Hodge, also known as Miss England, has been given the Ministry of Defence's blessing to act as a paid ambassador for the lonely hearts website Uniform Dating, which specifically aims to help military personnel find love, reports The Mail, London.
Katrina, 22, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said: 'Since becoming Miss England I've been inundated with requests from companies wanting me to represent them or promote their products.
'This internet site really got my attention because it's so close to my heart. I know from experience just how hard it is for servicemen and women to find partners, or even make true long-term friendships outside the job.
'It really helps the troops' morale to be able to communicate with friends and set up dates for when they are home on leave. It's not just the guys on tour that need support - it's us girls too!
'But the good thing is that it's for anyone in uniform, be it soldiers, nurses, paramedics or the police.
'The site has the full backing of the MoD, who have also given me their support. I've told them what I'm doing and they think it's a good idea. It's great fun and I am thrilled to be involved.'
Katrina, who is also a lingerie model for La Senza, was inspired by seeing some of the grateful letters sent in by those who have fallen in love, got married and had babies after meeting their perfect match through the site.
She added: 'It's very heartwarming to see how grateful they are. I want to help spread that kind of happiness for as many of my fellow military colleagues as possible. They put their lives on the line and see terrible things.
'The Army has made me what I am today and so I want to help raise awareness for the work the men and women of the Services do. If I can use my position as Miss England to do something positive for them, then so much the better.'
But Katrina has no need to join the dating agency herself, as she has been going out with a fellow soldier, who she met while serving in Iraq, for several years.
She is keeping her boyfriend's identity secret, but said: 'He's also been to Afghanistan and tends to travel a lot, so we don't see much of each other - it's mostly weekends and holidays.
'It can take a toll on some relationships, but for us it just makes the times we're together so much more special.' Her boyfriend is due to fly out to South Africa to help with security for the World Cup, which begins in June.
A self-confessed 'girlie girl' who loved the colour pink and dancing, Katrina dreamed of becoming a soap star when younger, but was dared by her older brother Bryan, 25, to join the Army when she left school at 17.
She said: 'I went to the The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon from the age of 15 until I was 17 and would probably have gone into showbusiness, but I became fascinated with Army life.
'My brother was then a soldier and I wanted to prove that I could do the hard graft it took to succeed. By week three, I absolutely loved it.'
When she had completed training, Katrina joined the Royal Anglian Regiment, turning up to her barracks in Winchester, Hampshire, wearing kitten heels and false eyelashes, and wheeling pink suitcases, looking like Goldie Hawn in the film Private Benjamin. It was then that she earned the Combat Barbie nickname.
When Katrina was 18 she was posted to Iraq as one of only ten women in the Royal Anglians.
One day, while she and comrades from her unit were taking a suspected rebel fighter back to base near Basra, their vehicle crashed. When the prisoner grabbed two rifles, Katrina wrestled them from him and restrained him with her bare hands. She received a commendation and was promoted to corporal.
Originally a runner-up in the Miss England pageant, Katrina stepped into the winner's role after Rachel Christie, a heptathlete and the niece of Olympic sprinter Linford Christie, was arrested following a nightclub brawl with another beauty queen in Manchester and forced to step down.
Because of the unusual way she was handed her title, Katrina has yet to receive her official crown and sash. She will be presented with them at a ceremony at Guildford Manor House in Surrey tomorrow.
The drama meant that Katrina had just 24 hours' notice to pack a suitcase and fly to South Africa for the Miss World pageant in December. The competition was won by Kaiane Aldorino from Gibraltar, but Katrina described the experience as the best of her life.
She has taken a six-month break from the Army to fulfil her duties as Miss England, but insists she will return afterwards.
'I'm a very grounded person and I love being a soldier,' she said. 'It's a great job and I intend to keep doing it for as long as I'm enjoying it.'