The Polish Centre in Hammersmith becomes the “home” we have been seeking

NATALIE, QUIET AND MODEST, MATCHES THE TONE

Bridge between best of tradition and the vibrant years ahead

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Natalie waited for a year to win

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Natalie visits patients in the children's ward of King's College Hospital

This year we found our third “home”. Following Spots Club at the Podium and then St Nicholas the Polish Centre at Hammersmith became synonymous with the title. Clayton Goodwin had seen the venue when he reported at fashion show presented there by Angela Cox and realised at once that it was the home for which we had been seeking. For the rest of its days the title enjoyed a harmonious relationship with managers Dr Peter Nowak and then his son Bart. Everything fell into place. This was the happy contest without problems from either management, contestants, performers … or even the weather. Here we broke with seasonal tradition and staged the show in the Spring of 2004.

Other promoters were generous in recommending contestants and this went a long way to recreating the family atmosphere of former years. It was not the start of the long association of Angela Cox, promoter of Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK, with the title – that had begun with her recommending runner-up Sharlyn Ritchie in 1998 – but it marked an era when her influence matched that of Mrs Etty Kerr in the 1970s. This year Angela recommended both runners-up, Julia Bernard and Patrice Charles. Brenda Mulenga, a Zambian schoolgirl, made her contest debut, and went on to become our co-presenter a few years later, and introduced us to her mother Hildah, who was about to launch her own successful Miss Malaika UK promotion.

Another young Zambian, Shyraine Mubiana, was lined-up to be co-presenter this year. However, when she learned that four contestants had to withdraw, through illness, while Clayton was out of the country reporting the athletics championships in Budapest, Shyraine filled the breach by entering the contest herself and finding three other suitable colleagues. All had the physical and character attributes to challenge for the title. This was the first year in which the number of African entrants matched that of the Caribbean. Asian representation, so strong at the 1980s/1990s crux, and white English entry, had now diminished to a trickle – primarily because these communities had their own shows, differing criteria of beauty, and different outlets for selling tickets.

Natalie Galloway, a student of Jamaican heritage from Nunhead in south-east London (who had lived in Birmingham for much of her childhood), was probably the quietest and most modest young lady to win the title. She had waited a long time for the chance. Natalie had read about the title from reports in the Gleaner newspaper, and she applied just too late for the previous contest (won by Camille McLeggon). Her presentation was suited ideally to the intimate, family atmosphere of the Polish Centre. Hers was the fourth consecutive Jamaican victory, but the island would have to wait some time for another. The next few years would be dominated in ticket-sales and community by Trinidadians and Ghanaians.

A Zimbabwean who had made the long journey from the West Midlands became the only contestant in the history of the title to become stage-struck. For several moments she said only her name and seemed to be stunned and unsure whether she could continue. Presenter Clayton looked into her eyes as a boxing referee deciding whether it would be kinder to let her continue or direct her back to the dressing-room. Fortunately, the pulled herself together in time and was able to complete her performance. Earlier the promoter had taken a phone-call from a young Ugandan prospective contestant who had not turned up. She claimed that she, alone, was at the correct venue. “Where are you?” Clayton asked. “At the proper place”. “And where is that?”  “The Police Centre” she replied. No, it was not the police centre, but, as everybody else understood without difficulty, the Polish Centre.

Sabrina Hunter, a flamboyant Jamaican who split her time between the U.S.A. and United Kingdom, won much support from the audience. In other circumstances she would have won. However, her performance, in which she used props such as the Jamaican flag and a parasol, was considered to be a little too “over the top” for here. Afterwards Sabrina, who was an actress and very good-looking, told Clayton that she had entered the contest in furtherance of writing an article about beauty contests for a magazine. Oh dear – and she didn’t win. He feared the worst when they met a few days later for her to show him a copy of what she had written. Clayton needn’t have worried because Sabrina was as good (and unbiassed) a journalist as she was beautiful. The article was very favourable. Than you, Sabina. Shortly afterwards Ms Hunter returned to the U.S.A. for good.

Two pioneer actresses of West Indian heritage theatre in the United Kingdom were on the judging panel. Joan Hooley, a Jamaican, was famous for engaging in the country’s first inter-racial television kiss in the soap opera Emergency Ward 10 in 1964 and by the end of the decade Nina Baden-Semper, a Trinidadian, was a leading light of the comedy series Love Thy Neighbour. Beverley Heath, model and the first Miss Westindian (later Miss Afro-Westindian), who has won more beauty titles than any other black contestant, including hitherto exclusively white competitions such as the prestigious Miss Variety Club of Great Britain, was another panel member, and has attended every subsequent contest as a good friend of the title.

Natalie was received by the Jamaican High Commissioner, and she was guest at various shows in the community. For the theme of her reign Natalie helped to promote King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south-east London where she had been born. She visited the children’s wards, which helped to draw public attention to the good work carried out by the doctors and nurses, and she helped to raise funds with an auction of works of art at a nearby gallery. During Natalie’s terms-of-office the title was put back again at the centre of events. She acted as a bridge between the best of the traditions of the past and the vibrant years of renewal that lay just ahead.

Because of her studies Natalie was unable to accept her prize trips to Ghana and the Netherlands. These were held over and taken as double-header tours with her successor under whose reign they will be described in greater detail. Because the next contest was held later the same year, before Natalie’s reign had run its course, the two title-holders agreed to an overlapping period of shared office. Out of this there arose our practice of “sashing” whereby an incoming title-holder did not take over immediately after her victory but allowed her predecessor a month or so to complete matters outstanding. A smaller ceremony was held, usually at Windies Cove restaurant in south-east London, to which the media, contestants, former title-holders and guest promoters, were invited and the sash of office was placed officially around the new Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth to mark the start of her reign.

Pioneers

Natalie > Shaherah > Uchenna > Shirley > Cathy > Karola

Commentary

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