The next Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest – at the Polish Centre in April 2007 – was one of the most closely contested. So close, in fact, that for only the second time in the history of the title the decision ended in a tie. It was a classic contrast of styles and approach. Uchenna Obika, a Nigerian student from North London, recommended by Jacqueline Matovu, promoter of Miss ACS(African & Caribbean Students), felt so out of her depth among the more experienced entrants that she had felt like pulling out of the show both at the launch and on reaching the venue for the contest itself. Her rival, Hilda Agmebiese, a Ghanaian recommended by Hildah Mulenga, promoter of Miss MalaikaUK, lived up to her nationality’s reputation for preparation by arriving at the hall before the theatre was officially opened and practising her walk in the darkness.As the judges could not separate them on points, they were invited to parade again individually in a “tie-break”. Uchenna’s freshness and spontaneity carried the day. She attributed her success to the advice of another, more experienced, contestant, Janet Ayuba, who had competed in international promotions in this country and overseas. Janet recommended that the student should “be yourself” and “whatever you do, make sure that you do not take your eyes off the judges”. The advice worked well. Independent entrant Patricia Reynolds, winner of titles in her homeland Botswana, was the other runner-up. It was the first time that Africans had swept the board in winning the top three positions.The promotion was again declared open by Archbishop Dr Bancroft McCarthy supported by the United Christian Harmony Group. Vocalzones led by Audrey Beeharie, former Miss Afro-Westindian UK, provided the vocal entertainment. Jacqueline Matovu, a former Miss Uganda UK, was among the contestants beaten by her own protégé Uchenna. Yet she was to have an extraordinary relationship with the title in participating in so many of its activities – contestant, judge, talent-spotter, co-ordinator, and, for several years, arranger of the entertainment in the first half of the show (though not all at the same time!) Several years later it seemed for a while that Jacqueline might even take over the franchise of the title. That was indicative of the close relationships which MissCaribbean & Commonwealth had formed with the other promoters. No wonder, it was said that this was the title to which established entrepreneurs looked up. The contest was covered by BEN TV, who also interviewed the winner and runners-up in their studio afterwards. Uchenna was sashed at Windies Cove restaurant in Greenwich, south-east London whose proprietor, Pauline Clarke is a key supporter of West Indies cricket. The ceremony was performed by former title-holder Hadda Haye who was visiting this country from her home in Jamaica.Uchenna was received formally by the Nigerian High Commissioner. The reception committee comprised senior officials of the high commission and visiting dignitaries. His Excellency, who was seated on a cushion, quipped: “You expected to see the high commissioner: well, I am the low commissioner”. The start of the new title-holder’s reign was so active that it is possible to mention only a sample few of her engagements. Uchenna was invited to the Best of Africa art exhibition at the Oxo Gallery on Southbank, to heats of Mahogany Top Model at St Matthew’s church in Brixton, and to a talent show promoted in Brockley, south-east London by her own mentrix, Jacqueline Matovu. It seemed that all communities, especially those that were African, wanted her presence.The crux of this spate of activity was an invitation to the launch of the UK Zambians magazine at that country’s High Commission in Kensington, West London followed the next day by Miss Ghana UK at the Troxy ballroom in Limehouse, East London. At the former Uchenna was introduced to well-known television newsreader Lukwesa Burak. Ms Obika’s popularity and schedule of appearances was becoming such that after the summer holiday it had to be curtailed lest in should interfere with her studies at Southampton Solent University. Unfortunately, the demands of academia on her time were so great that Uchenna had to forego the appointed prize trip to Ghana, which had been awaited eagerly after the successful visit by Shaherah and Natalie the previous year.Fortunately, her deputies were able to step up to the oche without lowering the standard of professionalism or popularity. Hilda Agmebiese, who was received by the High Commissioner for Ghana, also represented the title at – among other events – the Miss Trinidad &Tobago UK fashion show at Wessex House in Clapham, south-west London, and was guest for the Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspurs, on whose books as a player was Uchenna’s brother Jonathan Obika, and Wigan at White Hart Lane. Patricia Reynolds was a guest at Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK at the Porchester Hall, where she complimented promoter Angela Cox on the regal manner in which she was treated, Miss Malaika UK at Southend-on-Sea, and the Indulgence fashion show. When the title-holder or her deputies were not available former winners, respectively, Natalie Galloway attended Miss SierraLeone UK at East Dulwich, and Shaherah Jordan, who had married during the course of the year, presided over the launch for the next year’s contest at the Polish Centre.Since its move to the Polish Centre the title had more than recaptured the “family feeling” of the 1980s. When Shyraine Mulenga, an accomplished presenter for several of our contests, left to raise a family, Brenda Mulenga, who had competed earlier while still a schoolgirl, joined us at the start of what was to be her own successful career in the profession. She was helped by Natalie Galloway and earlier contestant Brenda Gabriel. Former title-holders were beginning to take up most of the places on the judging panel. Although the complexion of the title had changed from the early shows some 25 years previously, it maintained its essential traditions – including, and particularly, the judging criterion of ….. good looks, pleasant personality and knowing how to behave.



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