This was our nadir of a very disappointing decade for the contest, if not for the title. It was exactly ten years since the title hit the zenith of its Golden Age. The hub of the problem was that we could not find a suitable venue with which our contestants and supporters could feel at home as they had at Spots Club at the Podium and on the St Nicholas, and the promoters could not build a rapport with any management. The King Charles Hotel at Gillingham had served good purpose but it was not popular with the public. It was not far enough out of London to provide a good excursion and too far to be convenient for a night-out. It was little consolation that other promoters were struggling similarly.
Goldsmith’s College at New Cross, south-east London was chosen eventually because it was close to where Charmaine Bell, the promoter’s assistant was living, and could be contacted easily. Unfortunately before the date of the promotion approached Charmaine had an acute sickle-cell anaemia crisis and had to leave her employment. Even so the place was well sited and enjoyed a good reputation. At this stage of the procedure with applicants showing greater interest than for some time it was too late to go anywhere else.
The edged atmosphere was due to one man and not to the college as such. We learned afterwards that he was temporary in the post and holding the fort while the permanent officer was away. Our deposit-cheque was lost and agreements in regard to facilities were honoured. The stewards and electrician, who had been booked by us until midnight, marched off at 9 p.m. as that was the time the man had informed them. Hopelyn Goodwin had to take over at the admission-door, and Carl Metz Bennett became the pro tem electrician. Promoter Clayton Goodwin, as usual, doubled as compere, and, in any case, had another problem on his hands.
The majority of contestants were recommended by the emerging new generation of promoters, but a block of entrants came from one model agency. They arrived early – that was a good point. The girls who arrived however were not those who had been approved for the contest. Their agent commandeered the changing-room for “her girls” and denied entrance to the other contestants. As the hall manager had gone home, also contrary to the agreement, we had to take over an adjoining office as the second changing-room. In spite of all, however, the contest was unusually exciting with at least half a dozen candidates “in the frame” for the decision.
Paulette Wilks of Jamaican heritage from Lewisham, who was recommended by Kashmeera Models, gave a clear, competent and unpretentious performance to win the contest which was held in late 1998. Jessica Rockson, recommended by Mavis Amankwah of Miss Ghana UK, and Sharlyn Ritchie of Sri Lankan / Jamaican heritage, recommended by Angela Cox, promoter of Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK, were the runners-up. This was the first time, too, that Justina Mutale of Miss Zambia UK recommended contestants to our contest. These promotions, and their promoters, would provide the building-blocks of support for the revival during the next decade.
Horace de Bourg, assisted by fellow-Trinidadian painter Joseph Cromwell, laid on his first art exhibition at the show since the days of the St Nicholas. Record producer Errol Jones was another reliable supporter from those early days to make a return. Charity promoters Gloria and David Leslie, who had brought a coach load of supporters previously to Gillingham, were again prominent ticket-sellers. There were new friends, too. Boxer Audley Harrison called in – two years before he won the Olympic Games super-heavyweight gold medal. In those days Audley was modest and supportive, in contrast to his later professional persona, and that is how we shall remember him.
Paulette’s reign included the by now traditional reception by the Jamaican High Commissioner, H.E. Derrick Heaven, who gave her an informative history of his community’s development in the United Kingdom, and an invitation to the House of Commons by Nick Raynsford MP. There they took tea on the terrace overlooking the River Thames. Paulette took part in a number of community fashion shows and helped consolidate the title’s links with the other developing titles. She took her main trip to Barbados. As her stay there co-incided with the visits of other beauty queens we were required to introduce a sash, for the first time since Theresa May had shared the stage with Kentish models.
Paulette’s value to the title went much further than any activity. She kept the spirit of the title alive. Promoter Clayton Goodwin was so troubled by the repeated incidents of bad luck that had hit the contest that he began to believe that there was a jinx on the title – and on him – that he decided that it should be disbanded. In countless meetings at Yates (Lewisham) hostelry, she encouraged him to maintain the prospect of a revival at least. Although the Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth title kept off the stage for four years, it was not abandoned and it did return. Her messages of hope did not end there.
Paulette linked Clayton’s sense of confidence to Clayton’s domestic life. She told him that he would enjoy a renewal of encouragement when he became a grandfather. That seemed to be an unlikely event. His married daughter was already in her 30s and his son was not married. During one meeting in early 2001, his telephone rang – it was his wife, Hopelyn, with a message that their daughter Elaine was expecting her first child. The grandchildren were on their way. Paulette had been right about the grandchildren …… would she be right also about the return of the title. Shortly afterwards Hopelyn ran into former title-holder Theresa Lang on a suburban train, and the latter added her voice to that of Paulette:
“Do not give up. The title must come back”.
Clayton could never argue against the combined wisdom of women, and he started to look for a new venue.