‘The best course of action was to have my leg amputated’

TV: Bernadette Hagans’s cancer surgery spurred her to enter Miss Northern Ireland

Feelgood television never goes out of fashion, and the latest episode of the BBC's Our Lives documentary series, dedicated to celebrating diversity, radiates a warm glow of optimism. The Girl With the Colourful Leg (BBC One, Wednesday, 7.30pm) is narrated by Bernadette Hagans, an upbeat Belfast student who developed a rare form of cancer that required her right leg to be amputated below the knee.

This low-key but rewarding film follows Hagans as she pursues her dream of becoming Miss Northern Ireland. There are few thrills or spills. Just a heartening assurance that life is what you make it.

“I knew I was in pain. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t want to bother anyone,” Hagans says of her cancer diagnosis, in 2018. “The best course of action [was] to have my leg amputated.”

Hagans believes that by entering Miss Northern Ireland she will provide an example to young people in similar situations. The pageant is a challenge in itself, with catwalk training and bootcamp tugs of war

She speaks with positivity rather than sadness or anger. Hagans believes that by excelling as a model, and by entering Miss Northern Ireland, she will provide an example to young people in similar situations. Yet, as it turns out, Miss Northern Ireland is quite a challenge in itself, with catwalk training and a bootcamp at which the competitors vie in tugs of war.


The thorny issue of beauty pageants and their place is society is beyond the scope of Our Lives. Hagans clearly sees Miss Northern Ireland as an opportunity. She adds that contestants are judged on who they are as individuals. “It’s not just about how you look,” she says. “There’s more to it than that.”

The title of the film refers to Hagans’s prosthetic leg. “I knew I wanted to mess around with it,” she explains, en route to the car workshop where the leg is “modded” with a new colour every month or so. Today she’s swapping out blue for mint green.

She also meets Sam, a young boy who has likewise lost a leg to cancer. He is impressed by her green leg but says his ideal prosthetic limb would have the 3D likeness of some of his favourite Marvel superheroes.

Hagans is delighted to finish third in Miss Northern Ireland. It was never about winning, according to her friend Eamonn, who designed the dress she wears to the contest. The goal was to demonstrate that a prosthetic leg doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. “I wanted to show how unique she is,” he says. “She sees [her leg] as her strength, her power, her difference.”