Contestants parade through the streets in Carnival

AUGUSTINA RULES IN ROTTERDAM

She becomes remembered as the Dark & Lovely model

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Augustina Lyons (top) won the only contest to date presented on mailand Europe. Deputy Karen Charlery (bottom) rides under balloons in the street parade of the Rotterdam Summer Carnival.

Augustina Lyons, a Ghanaian from Harrow, won the only contest to be presented on land other than in the United Kingdom and the only one to be staged in the summer. It took place at the Tropicana leisure centre by the bank of the River Rijn at Rotterdam on a hot day in August 1993. There were only six contestants, fewer than at any other time, due to the high cost of meeting their travel and accommodation. What the entry lacked in quantity it more than made up in quality. The promoters had inherited the contestants primarily from the preliminary heats set up by Mystique, the enterprise which held the franchise for a few months but did not promote a final.

The promoters – Clayton Goodwin, Robert Duthie and Carl Metz Bennett – decided to stay with the schedule handed down to them, but to combine the trip with that arranged to attend the Rotterdam Summer Carnival. Because of the location and the circumstances this contest did not include the personalities and former title-holders who had graced the earlier occasions. The attendance, small and compact but an improvement on the previous year, comprised solely the voyagers who had come out from England on the coaches as there had not been scope to publicity the event in Rotterdam itself.

At that time Augustina Lyons, Anita St Rose and Melanie Abdoun were prominent among the beautiful ladies who favoured Moonlighting, the fashionable West End night-club. While Augustina made her challenge here, the other two held back for another time. Melanie, who was of part Sudanese heritage, would never compete for Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth because she qualified to enter the Miss World pageant as Miss United Kingdom, the country’s first non-white representative, which, thereby, prevented her from entering other contests. Between them these three young ladies dominated the titles that were available to them at the domestic level. Was our title in danger of losing its roots in the community and developing its own “circuit girls” as did the major British pageants? It certainly looked that way, but founder Clayton had always set his face against pageants and Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth would not be comprised.

Around this time a fair-skinned Brazilian model attended a photo session with Augustina, Melanie and Anita and walked out in disgust. She complained to her agent that it had been an insult for her to be seen with such “ugly girls”. Over a period of two years these young ladies held the titles of Miss United Kingdom, Miss Great Britain, Miss Black Hair & Beauty and Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth (twice), inter alia, as well as appearing in the finals of Miss World and Miss Universe. Ugly? The conceited Brazilian probably meant that they were too black for her. We cannot remember her getting far in beauty contests or modelling.   

Contestants, promoters and supporters travelled out for the weekend excursion by way of Olau ferries. The trip was smooth and the ambience more than just amiable. The party stayed at the Hilton Hotel in the heart of Rotterdam, close to the Coolsingel, the main thoroughfare for the Carnival parade. The extended weekend outing included sight-seeing in the city and an excursion to Amsterdam. Augustina, who was so determined to make her preparation as near to perfect as possible, was the only contestant who did not take advantage of the latter. Since the downpour which had greeted our first Dutch visit to Utrecht seven years earlier, the visits to the Netherlands continued to enjoy favourable weather.

Thanks to the generosity of the Carnival committee the contestants rode on a float in the parade through the streets. Indeed, they stole the media attention and the promoters were surprised to see that their photographs dominated the press coverage the next morning. Maybe the organisers regretted their hospitality because, as they explained afterwards, our young ladies were beauty – not carnival – queens and this was Carnival. It was true that they were not adorned in costume, but they were queens whichever way you look at it. However difficult the promotion had become our title-holders and their challengers continued to punch their weight, and more, in headline attention. Such was the international prestige that Clayton considered seriously moving the contest to an overseas base permanently.

Augustina became the 11th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth with Karen Charlery from St Lucia and Dawn Bishop, a Barbadian, the runners-up. It was the second consecutive time that a contestant from Barbados had filled that position (the third in four straight contests), and the second contest in succession that no Jamaican was placed in any of the first three positions. Because Mystique had chosen to select finalists solely based on the preliminary heats there was no recommendation by promoters and associations which had marked earlier contests. Yet those initial traditions, and family connections, remained strong. Karen was the sister of Lucia Charlery, the 3rd Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth.

Nine years earlier the then schoolgirl Karen had sneaked in to see her sister hand over the title to Hadda Haye at Spots Club in the Podium. She had to remain hidden because she was too young to have legal admittance to a premises at which alcohol was sold. Now the Charlery sisters had equalled the Hayes in giving the contest one title-holder and a deputy.  Nor had we seen the last of older sister. Carl and Robert held left direct connection with the competition and his wife Hopelyn’s hospital sojourn for an operation prevented Clayton from giving the latter part of Augustina’s reign his full attention. Lucia stepped up to the responsibility of becoming the title-holder’s chaperone and keeping the show on the road. For this service, a decade after her own term of office, Lucia Charlery is acknowledged as the First Lady of the Miss Caribbean & Competition.

Lucia accompanied Augustina on her trip to Barbados during which they stayed at the same hotel as the team from the popular television programme Wish You Were Here? The publicity accorded the title-holder matched that given to her predecessor. Augustina returned to Rotterdam a year after her triumph for the regular Dutch trip undertaken during her reign. She was also received by Hugh Dykes MP at the House of Commons and by the Ghanaian High Commissioner. Perhaps Augustina’s most lasting and widespread achievement was to become the model for Dark & Lovely beauty products, for which the placards bearing her photograph were seen for many years afterwards in both Ghana and the United Kingdom. When Augustina arrived as a guest at the contest sixteen years later she had retained so much of her good looks that the participants considered her then to be a rival and likely to beat them.

There was an unfortunate sting in the tail to this year. We had a conflict of opinion with Olau ferries regarding the fulfilment of contract obligations. The matter came before the county court at Sittingbourne, where the judge ruled in our favour. To their credit Olau settled what they owed promptly …. just days before they went out of business.  Thus with the former Sealink now privatised and Olau no longer operative our much treasured connection with Holland ceased to exist. There were further trips in the future but the relationship which had built up since the time of Brian Ashton and Philip Parker in the early 1990s – and strengthened during the reign of Theresa Lang, Michelle Ward and Augustina Lyons - was no longer there.   

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