The fourth contest to be held on the St Nicholas, in November 1988, was the highpoint of the Golden Age –, especially for promoter Clayton Goodwin. It was presented on the weekend to his equally successful staging of the Maid in Kent on the Olau ferries route from Sheerness to Vlissingen. There were no hitches in obtaining candidates, or in the sale tickets. Apart from a postal strike which had been inconvenient, there was no serious impediment to the smooth running of the show. The contest, itself, went well – no awkward incidents or unco-operative contestants. Every promised well for a brilliant future. The happy, optimistic ambience hid the sight of what lies ahead.
The geographical distribution of contestants had never been so widespread. There were participants from as far apart as the U.S.A. and the Indian sub-continent. The Asian contingent, which had started in earnest two years earlier, now stretched to half-a-dozen candidates. Promoters vied to recommend representatives and even to hold their own preliminary heats. Former favourites making their second or third appearance in the final were matched by models and other title-holders who had already established a following. With such a range of cultural pulchritude, nobody envied the judges their responsibility.
The outcome was an outright success of Sandra Andrew, dress-maker, singer and promoter of Miss Class. She recommended to the contest the winner and two of the three runners-up – the third being recommendation by Mrs Kerr of Miss Elegance. Both Sandra and Mrs Kerr had contributed designs to the accompanying fashion show. There was one slight hiccough. As she left her cabin to go to the show Sandra realised that she left something behind. She re-opened the cabin-door and left the key in the outside lock as she went in – and the door slammed shut. As her name was called repeatedly for her to come to the stage, stewards scurried through the ship looking for her until they were able to release her.
According to the sweep-stake, and, no doubt, unofficial betting, of the ship’s crew and employees, and passengers, the choice of winner seemed to lie between three contestants. Samantha Leopold, a tall, dark Barbadian, had impressed in her previous appearance in the contest; Jasmine Shaw, a shorter Jamaican with a superb technique had won Miss Elegance already; and Jehanna Rashid, a sparkling Bangladeshi, was the most favoured of the outsiders. Yet such was the high standard that none of the contestants could be ruled out of contention. In the event, the three highest-regarded contenders knocked each other. Neither, alone, could win enough votes to win outright.
Sharmaine Hughes, an Anguillan from Slough, who was unknown to established beauty contests, garnered most of the second-placed votes to emerge as a clear winner. Whether they preferred Samantha, Jasmine, Jehanna or any-one else almost every judge put Sharmaine second. Her own expressed surprise at having beaten some of the best-known names in the industry resembled that of Maureen Johnson, who was also at outsider to the metropoles, in the first running for the title. Samantha and Jasmine shared the runners’-up position with Ruth Block, who was of mixed Swedish/Sierra-Leonese heritage and wore a very tall hair-style.
There has not previously or since been such a wide diversity of contestants. For several years afterwards Andrea Williams, who represented Pakistan, appeared on television as the – until then – only entrant from that country to have appeared in a contest of such stature in the United Kingdom. Yet it was the end of an era. As the curtains closed on the show neither the promoter nor anybody else knew that they would not be coming back. The sun was setting on the Caribbean UK. That summer the West Indies cricket team, which had dominated the world game for twenty years, won their last Test Match series in England …… until the present time at least.
It was the age of privatisation. The nationalised company Sealink was closed down, and the route of the St Nicholas passed into other hands – and then others. The new owners appointed a London-agency with the sole right to arrange entertainment on their ships, and they did not want Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. Clayton Goodwin would have to seek a land-based venue, a night-club, which did not afford space for the art exhibition provided by Horace de Bourg or the more leisured fashion shows of Mrs Kerr and Sandra Andrew. The team – a very successful team – had to be broken up. Only the camaderie shared by the contestants, title-holders and promoters, and the title’s traditions, ensured that it would continue.
Sharmaine was guest of a semi-formal lunch at Slough Town Hall hosted by the town’s Deputy Mayor whom she accompanied afterwards on an official visit to the new maternity wing of the local hospital. Her constituency Member of Parliament, John Watts, invited her to lunch at the House of Commons. Slightly off the beaten track made a guest appearance at an arm-wrestling competition in Coventry promoted by the well-known wrestling personality Clive Iron-fist Myers. Otherwise, however, she was not quite as busy as her predecessor, probably due to domestic commitments because at Slough she was outside the regular beauty contest ambit.
Sharmaine visited Anguilla but did not take up the now regular trip to the Netherlands. With the break in this tradition and the loss of the Sealink route it seemed that the link with the Netherlands would be broken. The next title-holder would take it to new heights. All the same, an important page had been turned, and in twelve months time Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth would bear a completely different complexion. The title had travelled a long way from the snow-stormed evening that it had started only seven years earlier. The eight winners had been of Jamaican, St Lucian, Ghanaian and Anguillan heritage.
Jasmine Shaw was an enthusiastic and efficient deputy when Sharmaine was unable to attend. Booked to headline a fashion show at Folkestone, she took the wrong train to Ramsgate. There Jasmine hailed a taxi, and changed into her first dress in the back, so that she reached the club just as Clayton was announcing “I introduce the star of the evening Miss Jasmine Shaw” and came on stage exactly on cue so that the audience were not aware that she had not been there all the time. Jasmine and Susan Shaw were one of several sets of sisters – Haye, Charlery, Straker were others – which distinguished the title in its early years.