This was the year that Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth established its own identity, even though we still had to wait a while before we could decide on the title. Not only was there an excellent campaign of heats and a well-organised and enjoyable final contest, but the winner, Lucia Charles, was totally committed to raising the profile. With Miss Afro-Westindian, which had dominated beauty contests over the past decade, now in decline we were able to set the pace and branch out. Spencer Williams and Trevor Russell of TWJ were again steadfast in support, and Mrs Kerr, co-promoter of Miss Elegance, and Eddie Daley, who ran the Shady Grove club at Bruce Grove, were prominent among the celebrities of promotion who rallied to our cause. A definite Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth style of contest, promotion, title-holder and the title-holder’s reign had become established.
There was quite a kerfuffle over the name. It came about because the Weekly Gleaner editorial and management were undecided as to whether or not to support the contest. We arrived at some sort of compromise. The newspaper continued to publish a photograph of a contestant on page 5 each week but withdrew their brand from the title. For a few weeks, we/they toyed with the idea of re-naming the feature as the Zodiac Girl with the entrants linked under a sign of the zodiac. However, it didn’t deserve to work and it didn’t. The public took the decision out of our hands. The title-holder was still called the Page 5 Girl without the newspaper’s name attached. There was some potential embarrassment as the Sun national daily carried a Page 3 feature of a topless model but by this time we were so well-established that we weren’t troubled.
The format for selection to the final was managed smoothly. Regular promoters could recommend a representative, which, almost invariably, was one of the runners-up of their own contest. Independent applicants were invited to preliminary heats at the Shady Grove – on the third Sunday each month – at which a judging panel and the public respectively chose an agreed number of entrants. From these heats, each finalist developed a following of fans, by which the promoters were able to contain ticket-sales without the need to advertise to all and sundry. That led in turn to a “family feeling” developing among supporters who came along a year after year as they learned to know what type of show to expect.
Because the beauty contest scene had never been so active – and has not been since – many of the contestants had competed each other already, and a clear “form” line was discernible. The advance choice for the final which was again held at Spots Club at the Podium, boiled down to a clash between Pauline Fyffe, Miss Ebony Starlight, who was carrying all before her, and Lucia Charlery, recommended to the title as runner-up in Ms Lads (but already a former Miss Newham). In the event Pauline did not make the expected impact – it is suggested that she was unsettled by a mix-up over the dress she was to wear – and Lucia became the third winner of the future Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth crown. Marleen Haye, runner-up in Miss EbonyStarlight, and Donna Rodney were her deputies.
Lucia’s success brought about the final break with the Weekly Gleaner. The impediment was that she shared a name with the island of her birth – St Lucia. The Weekly Gleaner contended that as the newspaper was Jamaican the title-holder should be restricted to entrants from that community. Founder Clayton Goodwin countered that he understood that the winner should be representative of the readership of the Weekly Gleanerwhich might be of any nationality – and, in any case the matter should have been raised the previous year, when a St Lucian, West African and Guyanese were among the runners-up – furthermore the feature no longer carried the newspaper’s name. So the parties went their own ways. The Weekly Gleaner to promote / support one of the early manifestations of Miss Jamaica UK and ourselves to try to find a new name and identity.
Lucia was the ideal title-holder for the responsibility. She had experience of being a beauty queen and Clayton, in spite of his own growing confidence, was happy to be guided by her advice. They met regularly at either the bar of the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square or at the Griffin in Charing Cross to plan the identity of a title that would be different and independent of those around it. At first there was nothing to show for their efforts, and although both were disappointed they did not show it. Lucia thought that it wasn’t happening but “Clayton has worked so hard I can’t let him down”: Clayton was equally pessimistic but accepted “Lucia has worked so hard I can’t let her down”. Then suddenly the idea took off, and, almost overnight, the otherwise anonymous Page 5 Girl title leaped to the forefront of media attention.
The aim to identify the title with the nationality of the title-holder and the borough in which she lived by meeting the leading diplomatic and civic authorities was an immediate success. High Commissioner Dr Claudius Thomas welcomed Lucia to the St Lucian High Commissioner, and Cllr Philpott, Mayor of Newham, and his wife put on a party for her. Nigel Spearing, Member of Parliament for Newham, completed the pattern by introducing Ms Charlery to the Houses of Parliament. Lucia conducted herself with such dignity as definitely put the word “queen” into the term “beauty queen”. The West Indian heritage press and local newspapers provided enthusiastic support.
A string of community invitations culminated in Lucia riding on a float at the Notting Hill Carnival, courtesy of UK Trinidadian promoter Frank David, and an appearance as a guest at the Sam Tu Dang martial arts society awards dinner-dance at the Park Lane Hotel. Lucia’s trip “home” was more than a mere holiday, as the St Lucia Tourist Board arranged a tour of appointments and interviews as befitted a visiting dignitary. Ms Charlery took Carron Duncan, former runner-up and near-neighbour in Newham, on an official trip to the borough’s twin-town of St Quentin in France. Marleen Haye, her own runner-up, took our prestige to new heights by asking if she could trade-in her prize trip to a European destination for one to Jamaica by herself paying the difference in cost. While there she was received by the Governor-General.
So, a year after rivals, supposed supporters and the media had boycotted Clayton’s invitation to a press conference at Club Ramara, the future Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth title was ahead of the field as the then beauty contest scene edged unknowingly to its own demise. The trip which Lucia and Carron had taken to France was sponsored by Sealink travel service and, therein, lies a tale for the future. Sealink, Carron, Charlery, Haye, St Lucia – the pattern of an enduring tradition was laid.
When Lucia handed over a crown the title had not seen the last of the Charlery family. She, herself, came back a decade later at a time when the contest was in trouble due to Clayton’s illness by accompanying then title-holder Augustina Lyons on her trip to St Lucia – thus gaining her recognition as the First Lady of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. And who was Augustina’s deputy? Let me put it this way. On the night Lucia stepped down her schoolgirl sibling, Karen, who was too young to be allowed into a nightclub which sold alcohol, sneaked into the venue unseen and kept hidden while she watched her sister step down. That fired her own ambition. Is that a big enough clue?
Clayton welcomed Lucia back from St Lucia at Heathrow Airport. Unknown to either, deputy Marleen Haye was coming in at the same time on another aircraft from Jamaica which also carried Jamaica’s representative to the Miss World contest ……. and Marleen had brought her own younger sister with her.