RALEIGH — The 2021 Azalea Festival Queen is no stranger to a crown. On Monday, the N.C. Azalea Festival announced that St. Pauls native and Miss North Carolina 2017 Victoria Huggins will serve as this year’s Queen Azalea.
The annual event, which highlights the Wilmington area, has made adjustments to its schedule due to the ongoing limits for social gatherings after the 2020 festival was cancelled. “It is exciting to highlight our invited guests, who all have ties to the wonderful city of Wilmington,” said Festival President, Deirdre McGlone-Webb. “While it will be a different experience, I am honored to serve as President and to be celebrating the 74th North Carolina Azalea Festival in smaller, more intimate and socially distanced venues this April.”
In addition to Huggins, the festival announced other special invited guests on Monday. Brooke McIntyre, a senior from Coastal Christian High School, will extend her reign as the Azalea Princess for another year. McIntyre is the daughter of Daniel and Theresa McIntyre. Wilmington native and NFL player Alex Highsmith will be a special guest of the festival. Highsmith played football at UNC-Charlotte and is now linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Richard McIntyre was named the 2021 Festival Artist. A graduate of Cape Fear Community College and Wilmington resident, McIntyre’s official painting is called “Words in Bloom.”
The title of Queen Azalea dates back to 1948 when actress Jacqueline White first held the title. Former queens include actresses Esther Williams and Phylicia Rashad, talk show host Kelly Ripa, and former Miss Americas Heather French Henry, Mallory Hagan and Kira Kazantsev. Huggins will be the first former Miss North Carolina to wear the storied crown.
Due to the extended festival schedule, Huggins will likely enjoy one of the longest tenures ever for a festival queen. “This is just a dream come true,” said Huggins during an interview with North State Journal. “I am humbled that they chose this North Carolina girl to be their queen.”
Huggins, a UNC-Pembroke alumna who lives in Vass, N.C. and serves as the Manager of Community and Media Relations for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers minor league baseball team, will be the headliner for many of the events during the N.C. Azalea Festival. “I love the Azalea Festival. Every piece of it will be a highlight for me,” said Huggins.
Huggins is no stranger to Wilmington or the Azalea Festival. “My first job out of college was at WECT. I started my career in Wilmington,” she said. “When I was a little girl, Wilmington was like New York City for me. Coming from a small town, I went to Wilmington for auditions. My mom and I would go to the beach.”
As Miss North Carolina, Huggins was also a featured guest at the 2018 Azalea Festival when television personality Beth Troutman served as Queen Azalea. Huggins also attended the festival as Miss Wilmington. “I was the hometown girl as Miss Wilmington,” said Huggins. “I thought, the only way this could be better is if I was Miss North Carolina.” She ultimately got that chance. “Then, as Miss North Carolina, I thought, the only way this could be better is to be Queen Azalea.” She will now get to complete what she called “the trifecta of the best ways to experience the Azalea Festival.”
Huggins will have her official coronation on April 7. According to the festival, there will be a week of 74 separate coronation events to highlight the 74th year of the festival and provide socially distances opportunities throughout the community.
The annual Airlie Garden Party, typically the social highlight of the April festival, will be pushed out to July 30, 2021. But, the festival is hosting a “Secret Garden Party” on the traditional Friday time slot. “Friday, April 9th at 2 pm get dressed in your finest garden party gear and enjoy the beauty that surrounds your home or business by having a garden party of your own! We want to see how YOU throw a backyard garden party (responsibly, within state-mandated attendance limits, of course!),” said a release from the festival. There will be a live stream event featuring Huggins.
Huggins said she was happy to wear a new crown. “The Azalea crown is so special because it is passed down from queen to queen,” she said. “The 80th Miss North Carolina crown is mine. I got to keep it.” Huggins will now join a list that includes Emmy winners and Miss Americas. “It’s been worn by so many influential women,” said Huggins. “It’s special to be a part of that legacy.”