Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth came back to its own at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in south-west London in late 2002 after a hiatus of four years. There was even a downpour to mark the occasion. In his opening address the Mayor of Wandsworth said that it must have revived memories of our days “on the water”. The guests included Lady Anne Murray and Councillor Joseph Jaggon, former Mayors of Gravesend, and international athlete Donna Fraser was on the judging panel. Renowned Jamaican comedian Ping Wing performed without fee. With so many familiar faces there, it was clear that the former family feeling had been restored.  

The venue was impressive and presented an imposing picture. There were promotional difficulties, however, in that the many doors leading off into the main building, the car park and the back of the kitchen provided scope for those members of the public who were so-minded that they could slip into the hall without paying. With the official changing-room sited so far away from the stage, a part of the ballroom was screened off for the purpose. It had the advantage of establishing a rapport between the contestants and the public which recalled the pioneer times at Spots Club at the Podium two decades previously. 

Contestants were selected primarily by recommendation. Although one promoter caused prospective participants who had entered her contest to withdraw the majority were happy to co-operate. In the event, however, the winner had entered independently, and the runners-up were recommended by Suresh Rambaran, who was noted for presenting Chutney and other East Caribbean music, and the Miss Black Midlands contest. After such a long gap between shows, for the first time since the inaugural contest, there was no entrant from previous years. Louise, an identical twin of mixed South African / Jamaican heritage, was such a firm favourite that other would-be contestants withdrew from the contest that they would not stand a chance. Those that remained agreed that it was merely a matter of who would be runner-up to Louise.  

The wide scope of the ballroom was ideal for the contestants to walk through the audience before ascending the stage. The practice had been established on the St Nicholas, at Spots Club at the Podium, and at the King Charles Hotel in the Gillingham, and was now our trade-mark. As always the shape and ambience of the venue had a bearing on the result. It told against Louise who was unable to project the power of her personality in more intimate surroundings across the wider space and failed to be elected to the first three positions. Other contestants, too, were discomforted by having to battle against the elements to get there.  One young Grenadian lady had get out of her broken-down car in the rain, and tinkle with the engine in order to get it going again ….. all in the evening-dress she intended to wear in the contest. 

Camille McLeggon, a student of Jamaican heritage from Deptford in south-east London, was the surprise winner to become the 15th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth as she was comparatively unknown to the competition. In addition to her beauty, Camille scored well by her concise speaking and her pointedly polite answers. Natasha Sirju, a Trinidadian of Indian heritage from North London, and Euphemia Ellison from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands were runners-up. Although the field – at nine entrants – had been reduced by weather and withdrawals, the standard of competition was very high. One young lady confused the dates in her diary and arrived at the correct venue on time – but a week late for the contest. 

Shortly before the day of the contest, we were saddened to learn of the death of Horace de Bourg, the Trinidadian painter whose exhibitions had provided a much-appreciated overture to the show in former years. His compatriots and colleague Joseph Cromwell presented a show of his own art so that the tradition could be maintained, but he, too, passed away a few weeks ahead. Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth has been well blessed in its artists, for in more recent years Shiri Achu, the celebrated Cameroonian, has taken the time from her international commitments to celebrate our show.   

Camille’s reign started well enough with her reception by the Jamaican High Commissioner but then was over hardly it began. After she had missed a number of engagements Camille was asked to resign the title, the only one of our winners who has been required to do so. Fortunately, it was not the last that we were to hear of Ms McLeggon as her later achievements indicated that the judges were correct in seeing in her the successful blend of good looks, pleasant personality and knowing how to behave. For the time being, however, Natasha stepped in as pro temp title-holder and took the prize trip to Tobago (and then on to Trinidad). Her circumstances then did not permit her to assume the full duties of the title. 

Four years later promoter Clayton Goodwin received a telephone call from Camille McLeggon. She apologised for her earlier behaviour and said that she had matured in the meantime since attending university. When they met Camille asked if she could tend her apology publicly at the next promotion. Although he was sceptical at first Clayton was persuaded when he learned that Camille was so devoted to the title she had abandoned that she had attended the subsequent promotion of the title – in some disguise – to witness the victories of successors. At a special Silver Jubilee show in the theatre of the Polish Centre, Camille carried out her word and her title was restored to her. 

The 1990s were behind us at last – thank goodness!  Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth, like the rest of the world, was at the start of a new Millenium. We hoped that it would be different from the choppy waters of the preceding decade. Even so, nobody of us could have foreseen as the title was about to enter an era every bit as golden as the 1980s. The beauty pageant scene had changed considerably since then. That world had passed away, but Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth had survived because we had remained true to our first principles and had honoured the achievement of those who in whatever capacity had contributed to much to our development.



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