For several reasons the contest held at the Polish Centre in April 2008 can be claimed as the outstanding promotion – certainly since the early shows at Spots Club in the Podium and on the St Nicholas in the 1980s. As Ghanaians and Trinidadians had the best overall performance, and sold the greater number of tickets, since the end of the Jamaican hegemony at the beginning of the current century, it was appropriate that the issue should revolve into a confrontation between Shirley Dee, a Ghanaian student from East London, recommended by photographer Ben Black, and Jacqueline Baker, deputy Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK promoted by Angela Cox. By demonstrating the preparation, presentation and determined approach by now expected of contestants from her country Shirley became the 19th Miss Caribbean &Commonwealth.

The supporting entertainment was of unusually high quality and deserved to have a show of its own. Angel J established herself as the show’s regular singer, and Archbishop Dr Bancroft McCarthy declared the promotion open with the United Christian Harmony Group following him on stage. Former contestant Jacqueline Matovu put together a particularly strong talent show in the first part of the evening with dance groups Ecology and Tabot Mix winning prolonged applause. Rougz Hair and Beauty Salon presented a selection of their styles. Moneygram contributed to the costs of the promotion. This summer was the highpoint of the wave of African (and Caribbean) beauty contests, and our title stood at the apex. In spite of requests from supporters to take advantage of the show’s popularity by hiring a bigger venue promoter Clayton Goodwin stayed with the Polish Centre which he considered had the best arrangement of promotional facilities.Shirley commenced her reign with the traditional Sashing at Windies Cove restaurant in Greenwich. Within days of her election, she was a guest of Justina Mutali and Tri-force promotions at the launch of the Positive Runaway initiative at a club on Rupert Street, Soho and its presentation later at the Troxy ballroom in Limehouse.

Ms Dee was received formally by both the High Commissioner for Ghana and by Sir Robin Wales, the ebullient Mayor of Newham. At both occasions she was able to re-affirm the policy of our title-holders of working with the official organisations of their country of origin and their borough of residence.Shirley had a close rapport with the established promoters by attending an occasion presented by Hildah Mulenga, promoter of Miss MalaikaUK, at the traditional Kursaal centre in Southend-on-Sea, where the wind and rain belied the resort’s reputation for sunny holidays, Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK at the Bedford Theatre in Bloomsbury, MissCameroon UK staged by Richard at the Polish Centre, and Miss Southern Africa UK at Stratford Town Hall in East London. She also visited the world-renowned World Travel Market at the Excel Centre in Customhouse in the same area. Shirley was so proud of her title that she usually changed into formal attire at home and travelled to the venue by public transport in evening-dress – which brought the contest “home” to the public in a way that had not been possible otherwise.As a highlight of her time in office Ms Dee, who had been a student at the University of Kent, was invited to join the directors and officials of Gillingham football club for lunch and the ensuing match. Perhaps it is no co-incidence that the team, which had been going through a bad spell, won that afternoon and prospered more often than not in the ensuing matches. Appropriately it was only a few yards away from the Priestfield Stadium, the Gillingham ground, that Anita St Rose and Fiona Rickards had won their Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth crowns a decade or so earlier. The only regret of Shirley’s reign was that, as with her predecessor Uchenna, she was unable because of studies to take up the anticipated prize holiday in her Ghana homeland.As the very successful year 2008 came to a close nobody realised that the high-point of African/Caribbean contests of this generation had passed its highpoint, its bubble burst. That was soon evident early in the next year when we had greater difficulty than before in recruiting candidates by recommendation from the established promotions. By reason of ennui prospective contestants did not wish to represent those titles in which they had made their grounding. Yet again, however, we were able to withstand the troubles which carried down several of our competitors – though, for reasons which could not be foreseen, it was very much a close-run thing. After having had a sequence of outstanding title-holders, the title would find itself on the back-foot.The majority of title-holders had always maintained a close relationship with the contest after their term of office had ended, providing several instances of deepening personal friendships and a sense of sister-hood. Nevertheless, no title-holder would have so close a relationship as Shirley. Although the theme started slowly at first, the continuing story of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth is really the story of Shirley Atengdem de Lawrence. She was representative of the new generation in which beauty queens, nearly all of whom were graduate or under-graduate students, were more astute than the promoters and cleverer than their critics.



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