Everything was so different to just twelve months earlier

THERESA’S TRIUMPH IS COMPLETE

The contest was under pressure but the title continued to prosper

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Theresa Lang (centre) with runners-up Suzie Sangster (left) and Dahlia Rowe (right)

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Theresa Lang (left) with Kentish beauty queens Lorraine Robey (centre) and Maxine Julian (right)

Theresa Lang was the right title-holder to stem the set-back in confidence which had occurred when the contest’s link with the St Nicholas was broken. No winner had come to the title with such a pedigree of success. Theresa had won several other titles including Miss Black Britain and was runner-up in both Miss Elegance and Miss Grenada UK. She had applied to enter Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth twice previously but was precluded first by still being under exclusive contract to another promoter and then by contracting mumps on the eve of the contest. It was third time lucky.

Few suitable venues were available. With the idea of a weekend excursion still in his mind promoter Clayton Goodwin had contemplated hiring an empty holiday camp in the off-season, but the difficulties were insurmountable. Trevor Russell, who with Spencer Williams, had presented three earlier finals as TWJ came to the rescue. They had moved from hiring Spots Club at the Podium to running Nightmoves where the stage was too small to accommodate the number of contestants. However Trevor was in contact with other club-owners and arranged with Mr Douglas for the show to be put on at his club Dougie’s situated at Clapton Pond in east London in late 1989.

For once it was very difficult to obtain contestants. The collapse of the beauty contest business generally meant that there were hardly any other promoters to recommend entrants. Apart from Theresa Lang, who was advanced by Mrs Etty Kerr of Miss Elegance (Sandra Andrew had cut down her professional commitments), most candidates were recruited by way of newspaper advertisements. Unlike previous years, there were no relevant earler results against which to assess the form of contestants and, disappointed with the break from the St Nicholas, few former contenders re-entered. Theresa was the most firm advance favourite since Hadda Haye five years previously. The evening was very cold. Even so there was a good attendance. The show was choreographed and compered by Tony Wellington of Finesse models.

Theresa confirmed the high expectations by winning. Her experience and presentation was in a class of its own. Dahla Rowe from Nottingham and Suzie Sangster, who admitted to “moving around”, both of Jamaican heritage, were runners-up. Following Ruth Block, it was the second successive year that a deputy had come from the East Midlands city. Nevertheless without many of the usual personalities, and with the outgoing title-holder absent, the title seemed to have lost much of its usual character and its traditions were weakened. After the home-from-home rapport which had existed with Spots Club and the St Nicholas, Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth needed to find another permanent home before it could re-establish itself. That would be a long time coming. Theresa was determined that, whatever happened with the promotion of the contest, her reign should maintain the high reputation of the title. She succeeded totally, even though the media were more reluctant to publish news if beauty queens.

Theresa was received at the Grenada High Commission and by John Cartwright, her constituency MP, for lunch at the House of Commons. Co-incidentally he lived just a few streets away from her in Abbey Wood, south-east London. Mr Cartwright, a Social Democrat, Mr Watts, a Conservative, and Mr Spearing, from Labour, had shown that, whatever their party allegiance, politicians were more sympathetic and understanding than may have been suggested in the public’s perception. Theresa appeared at charity events with other title-holders including the Maid in Kent at predominantly English shows. For this she was required to have a sash, and the title broke with previous practice in which title-holders received only a cup/trophy.

The most striking feature of Theresa’s reign was the revival and re-shaping of the relationship with the Netherlands. The Rotterdam Summer Carnival committee invited her and deputy Dahlia Rowe to ride in a float in their street parade without going as far as their Utrecht counterparts had done in hosting the visit. Indeed, Theresa made several trips to Rotterdam on activities staged aboard Olau ferries. These trips were arranged usually in association with established promoters rather than organised by the contest directly. These excursions were enjoyable without recapturing completely the harmony which we had experienced with Sealink. Even so the Olau marketing department were open to considering and presenting new ideas. The hitch occurred in their different departments not always speaking with one voice. With the St Nicholas there had only ever been one point of reference and decision.

Theresa had a flair for compassion and public relations. The streets of Rotterdam were packed to overflowing for the parade, and the sunshine was blistering hot. Seeing a young child, who had apparently become separated from her parents, crying by the roadside, Theresa signalled that she should be passed to her on the float. There she cradled the girl in the procession while her parents could be found and notified. On another occasion Theresa, former title-holder Lucia Charlery and former deputy Jasmine Shaw presented an on-board fashion show. Previous winners were now acting together in activities which resembled a school “old girls / former pupils” association. It had started to gather a momentum of its own.

For the first time since the competition had started nine years earlier, there was no contest in 1990. Rather, there was no formal contest. As Theresa was taken into hospital it what should have been the run-up to the next promotion, she was unable to complete her schedule of activities. So the tenth running of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth was held over until the following year. Yet our supporters had got so used to having a show, and to enjoying an excursion at sea, that a contest for the interim title was presented on the same Olau route. Michelle Ward, the recent Miss Elegance, was the outstanding title-holder at the time and scored as resounding a success as Theresa had achieved at Dougie’s the previous winter. More would be heard of Michelle.

Due to domestic reasons Theresa was not able to take her projected trip to Grenada – at that time. Some 12 years she ran into Hopelyn Goodwin, the promoter’s wife, on a crowded London suburban train, contact was re-established, and we were able to sponsor Theresa’s fares to her home island for her wedding. She has since been a consistent supporter of the title and her successors. Theresa’s reign,  and those of the next two title-holders, are regarded as being the Silver Age in that they matched the achievements of the most active of their predecessors, but were not afforded commensurate coverage by a now reluctant media.

The lineage of UK West Indian beauty contests commencing with those in the associations affiliated to the Standing Conference of West Indians in the early 1960s, through the formative and influential Miss JOFFA (Jamaica Overseas Families and Friends Association) and the legendary Miss (Afro-)Westindian, to the abundance of titles in the early-1980s had run its course. There were now be a period of reflection, experimentation and re-construction before the industry could be revitalised – and not only for Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. With such adverse social and financial pressures, our policy for the immediate future was to survive, which may not have been possible if it had not been for the traditions and good-will which had been established already.  

 

 

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