Last-minute change of venue from Belgium to Gillingham

ANITA DANCES HER WAY TO VICTORY

Goes off to win Miss Great Britain and Miss Black Hair & Beauty

Joanne_reduced.jpg Joanne Asker - able and committed deputy

Melanie_reduced.jpg Melanie Abdoun - Miss England came to support her friend

Charmaine_reduced.jpg Charmaine Bell - her action saved the show

It is a good maxim for life that when things cannot get any worse they do. The title seemed to have made a good recovery from the troubled waters. Phil Parker, with whom we had worked in such harmony previously, arranged an appointment with Sally Line ferries and another show on-the-water was organised with a promotion in the Thermae Palace Hotel in Oostende, Belgium after a Channel-crossing from Ramsgate in Kent. We were back to our halcyon days, especially now that several members of the then team were prepared for one “last hurrah”. The date was set ominously for 5th November 1994 – bonfire night and a bonfire of our plans.

Hopelyn Goodwin was called in for operation at Gravesend Hospital for that very time, after having been assured by the staff that she would not be needed until early the next year. As next of kin promoter Clayton was expected to be there with her. The show had to be cancelled with considerable promotional and financial loss in the non-returnable down-payment on the hotel, the ferry, the coaches, the entertainment and the advertising/publicity. This was the unkindest cut of all as the promotion could not be re-scheduled with Sally for the near future, or, as it proved to be, for ever. Some of those contestants and supporters who had taken time from work to go on the excursion did not hesitate to express their disappointment.

There was a general desire for the show to go on, and to go on – now, or as soon as possible. Alas, all relevant venues seemed to be booked. Charmaine Bell, Clayton’s assistant, came up with a solution. She set up a meeting with the manager of the nightclub in the King Charles Hotel at Gillingham in Kent. It may not have been the sea, but the conditions were very wet when on a stormy night they agreed to re-set the contest for March 1995. It seemed as if the promotions were being set for every alternate year by purpose. Unfortunately a good number of those who had been available for the earlier date were not free to attend now.

The contestants represented a rare cross-section of society. There were glamorous models and actresses recruited by Kay Khan’s agency, a couple of previous entrants, and a number from those inner-city areas of London which pageants tend to overlook. Yes – London – because the days had gone when Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth, or any title, could draw on participants from throughout the country. Clayton was furious when he discovered that a low-grade self-appointed tout was charging girls from the poorest areas of south-east London an introduction fee to the contest. What was wrong with people? 

The chivalry of the previous decade was no longer there. The promoter of another title sent a message that she did not have enough contestants for her up-coming contest. Could Clayton lend her two of his recruits?  Certainly. He asked only that if one of them won the other title, and was thereby precluded from entering our own, the promoter would reciprocate. When the young ladies reached their appointment they were asked to sign a contract before discussing the terms.  Then they learned that they were committed to agreeing that they would not enter any contest. “You cannot mean Clayton’s” they said. “He recommended us to you”. The rival is reported to have replied: “Yes – especially Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth”.

The crowd was slow in building up. In fact, the club was empty when Clayton went up to his room to change. Robert Duthie encouraged him by saying “you’ve faced worse – almost”. They approached the stage from the back, gulped at the prospect of what they might find, and asked for the curtain to be opened. To their considerable surprise, the venue was full to the doors with excited fans. Charmaine Bell, who lived in the area, had been drumming up support. And Melanie Abdoun, the reigning Miss United Kingdom, brought a party from Reading to support her friend Anita St Rose. From there the show went really well.

Designer Veronica Coutain put on an exceptional fashion show. There were only three models – her Polish friend and two former title-holders Augustina Lyons and Lucia Charlery. It was an extensive ballroom. Yet the models kept the action flowing, with several changes of costume each, without a hitch. The audience were enthralled and kept their eyes glued on the action. The only person to be disgruntled was Ray, the club-manager, who complained that they were too distracted to keep buying at the bar. Even so he gladly arranged with his superior, Steve di Giorgio, for the promotion to return to the King Charles Hotel the next year.

Anita St Rose, a nightclub dancer of Trinidadian heritage, was the winner. She came from Telford but was currently living at Barnet, north-west London. Even so it was one of the tightest of all contests, and the result could well have depended on Anita feeling more at home in the club atmosphere. Her runners-up were Joanne Asker, a Trinidadian actress from Nottingham, a city which was specialising in producing our deputy title-holders, and Karen Charlery from Newham, who thus became the only contestant to be runner-up twice. Yet if the show had been held anywhere else either of them could have won. For the third consecutive time there was no podium-place for a Jamaican, the community in which the title had originated.

Anita started her reign well. She was pleased to have caught up with her friends Augustina and Melanie in winning titles. The Mayor of Barnet put on a splendid reception for her at the civic hall. Afterwards he opened the door to the adjoining room. It led out into the council chamber where an official meeting was in full flow. To her surprise, Anita was invited to address this assembly of the people’s representatives. She also later met John Marshall MP at the House of Commons. Then, however, her attention wandered, and it seemed as if she regarded winning Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth as a step towards attaining other titles rather than as an end in itself.

Although it is customary that any title-holder does not enter other contests during their term of office, especially without telling their promoter, Anita competed in and won the Black Hair and Beauty title. Her prize trip for this success was a holiday in Jamaica which co-incided with the trip to Trinidad, with excursion to Suriname, which had been arranged for her as Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. The first we knew about it was the report in the Gleaner newspaper. Anita followed by winning Miss Great Britain which qualified her to enter Miss Universe in Las Vegas. Consequently she was not available for other occasions relating to our own title.

Deputy Joanne Asker stepped in as an excellent representative when Anita was not available. Modestly she declined elevation to the title itself, as she had not won it “in the field”. The following year Jo accompanied the next title-holder on their visit to the Summer Carnival in Rotterdam, where they stood as guests with the city’s Lord Mayor on the reviewing balcony at the civic hall on the Coolsingel, and to Amsterdam. She moved subsequently to the U.S.A. but is still showing occasionally on British television in the replays of the programmes in which she acted while she was here. When Anita could not attend the next final, Joanne travelled all the way from Nottingham to Gillingham to deputise – quite a journey – because she had given her promise to be there.

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