Latisha Fowler, a 17-year old Immigration Trainee, from Sandy Bay, who said she is “keeping our borders safe,” was crowned Miss St Helena 2020 to the sound of enthusiastic approval from an audience of over 500 people, on Saturday 24 October.
Twelve young ladies took to the Prince Andrew School stage to compete for the 2020 title. Marcella Mittens (18) from Deadwood emerged as first runner-up, and Tyanne Williams (18) from Alarm Hill was the night’s second runner-up. Tyanne also scooped the Saint FM Media Award.
YEAR OF THE ATTENTION SEEKER | by Darrin Henry
Covid-19 uncertainties had forced postponement of the biennial event by six months from its normal May date. However, with St Helena still one of the very few places left in the world that is officially Covid-free, the traditional pageant could still safely accommodate a sell-out audience.
The Four-Week Programme
Following our involvement in the previous pageant, Sharon and I once more led the organising team for this year’s event. After the success of revamping the format in 2018, we retained the four-week programme of activities & training workshops for contestants, prior to the show.
The programme was designed to help contestants prepare and build confidence. Included were walking and stage presentation workshops run by JJ Dancoisne-Martineau, interview training, a conservation themed hike on Diana’s Peak with Sasha Bargo, a photo shoot with WTSDN, target shooting at the Jamestown Rifle Club, a Food Art workshop with Cyril Joshua (former RMS cook), a Zumba fitness class with Sara Thomas, a make-up and hair-styling workshop at the Essence & Bliss Beauty Salon, a Leaders’ Tea discussion and a craftwork session with local artisan, Wanda Isaac of Abiwans.
There was also the business tour, which was extended to a two-day excursion this year.
New, introduced to the programme for 2020, was a pre-show of the Miss St Helena pageant, one week ahead of the main event, held for care home residents at the Community Care Centre (CCC) at Ladder Hill.
Miss St Helena 2020 video, the 4-week programme
The well-established routine of the show format underwent a historic change this year, with the swimsuit round being taken out of the programme and replaced with a brand new feature, called the ‘Attention Seeker’ round.
The ‘Attention Seeker’ was made up of twelve unique outfits (one per contestant), each with a different local sponsor, designed to promote a certain message. Sponsors were advised their outfit message could be cultural, environmental, social, heritage themed or linked to island development, and could either be tied to St Helena or a global issue.
Each sponsor was also responsible for making their outfit, either literally creating it themselves, or organising the ‘construction’ via a third party.
It was a big ask, but everyone rose to the challenge and the ‘Attention Seeker’ round was a fantastic success.
The 2020 Contestants
In order, as they appeared on stage, the 2020 contestants were:
1 – Sasha Benjamin
2 – Tanisha Benjamin
3 – Nicole Paulsen
4 – Latisha Fowler (Q)
5 – Camilla Thomas (Q)
6 – Nyreeka Lawrence
7 – Shelby Bargo (Q)
8 – Justine Francis
9 – Cassidy Beard
10 – Hannah Duncan
11 – Tyanne Williams (Q)
12 – Marcella Mittens (Q)
(Q) denotes the five qualifiers who went through to the final round
Presenters and Judges
Every show needs a presenter to bind it all together, and this year the Saint FM radio personality and host of ‘The Shine Show,’ Sharon Wade, (after some cajoling) agreed to take control of the microphone.
Sharon was fantastic and did a superb job.
Head Judge, Christabelle Wade from Bottom Woods led a panel of four who would decide the winner. Joining her at the judges table was a former Miss St Helena, Tiffany Plato from Longwood, a former two-time Miss Ascension, Rosie Bargo from Half Tree Hollow, and Martin Henry from Half Tree Hollow.
There was widespread general agreement afterwards that the judges also did a fantastic job.
Another Global Audience
Sure South Atlantic Ltd, the island’s communications service provider, were once again one of the event’s biggest sponsors. As well as contributing some amazing prizes, Sure also sponsored an ‘Attention Seeker’ outfit.
On top of this, as they did in 2018, Sure kindly sponsored the technical infrastructure to provide a live video feed for local television, a ‘Facebook Live’ feed to satisfy a global audience and a WiFi connection to facilitate a live radio broadcast by Saint FM. Phenomenal community support from a local business!
SAMS provided and operated the camera for the live local TV feed.
The Facebook Live stats showed that, just like two years earlier, an audience of more than 5,000 viewers were registered logging in during the show itself.
And of course, can’t forget the live audience in the hall, who numbered approximately 510.
Please Welcome To The Stage…
There is always a buzz of anticipation for every Miss St Helena pageant, and 2020 was no different, especially after the six-month delay due to Coronavirus uncertainties.
You could almost feel the excitement from those seated in the hall, the lucky ones who managed to snag one of the precious tickets. And then, that deep ‘thud, thud’ sound from the PA speakers as the compere tapped the microphone to check it was on, and suddenly the wait was over. It was time for the event that only comes around every two years!
The show opened with the traditional Casualwear round with each contestant emerging from stage left, controlling their nerves behind big smiles and catching their first glimpses of faces in the audience.
A pause at the start of the runway, a deep breath and then stepping off on the front foot for that walk down the seven-metre, LED-lined catwalk.
A quick chat followed with the host, Sharon Wade, and then the first question of the night.
Introducing The Attention Seeker
Round two was the brand new Attention Seeker, a visual feast of stunning outfits crafted from all manner of materials, including recycled plastic, polystyrene, fishing nets, hi-vis vests, recycled denim, flax, tree bark and coffee leaves, paper and more.
Very few in the audience knew what to expect, so it was truly a wonderful surprise to see each contestant stepping out in the amazing, flamboyant creations. It was impossible to compare one outfit against another; they were all so different and original.
And finally the glamorous eveningwear round to finish. All twelve ladies looked just fabulous, striding down the runway, leaning out to present to the audience and then turning away with a lingering glance, as coached by JJ Dancoisne-Martineau in the many workshop sessions.
Reading Minds – Latisha’s Route To The Crown
Latisha, the youngest contestant taking part, and probably one of the quietest during the whole four-week programme, surprised many people with her confidence and bubbly personality on the night.
You have to remember, on St Helena, we pretty much know everyone, if not by name as a friend then we’re well aware of personalities. So the surprise and delight at this confident stage-presence from one usually so shy, was very real.
Latisha’s family and friends in the audience were in full voice every time she took to the stage, and it became clear from the first round the Sandy Bay entrant was a contender.
Her first round question asked what would she choose for a super power.
“I would definitely choose the power to read people’s thoughts,” was the instant response, “because you never know what people are thinking, and knowing people’s thoughts you will never go wrong.”
The Coffee Fairy
Latisha had been allocated the Solomons’ Attention Seeker outfit, which was designed using real tree bark and coffee leaves, all encased from the waistline with white flower petals that could almost resemble fairy wings.
The concept of this round was for each contestant to speak on behalf of their sponsor, relaying the message the outfit represented. As a promotion for their plantation and coffee product, Solomons could not have wished for a better ambassador to share their story.
Support For The Farmers
In the Eveningwear round, each contestant answered two questions.
Latisha’s first question was on the topic of the local school system where she called for young people to “grab the opportunities with both hands and just own it.” She went on to say, “with hard work comes opportunity and if you have the commitment and dedication to what you want to do, you just go for it.”
Her second question asked her opinion on improving St Helena’s efforts toward protecting the environment and moving towards more self-sustaining ways of life. Making reference to the Miss St Helena programme’s business tour and the visit to ANRD, Latisha told those listening, “we should support the farmers and any other private sectors who are offering local products… healthy lifestyles can come out of buying local.”
In the round of six finalists, on her way to securing the crown, Latisha’s randomly selected question from one of the judges was on the topic of how to keep young people safe online with the imminent arrival of the new fibre optic cable. Her answer centred on social media and called on local authorities to approach and engage with the youth about the dangers when online and how to stay safe.
Prizes For Miss St Helena
The star prize this year was once again a return flight (or option of £850 cash) to Johanneburg, provided from fund-raising efforts and sponsorships.
There were many other fabulous prizes donated by generous businesses and individuals.
The Fun Of The Glitzy Escape
The Miss St Helena pageant is an incredibly popular event on the island, which I think has a lot to do with the small community, family effect.
It’s the closest thing we have to a regular fashion show, even being held just once every two years. So for a population where a significant portion cannot afford to travel abroad for holidays, this event offers a little glitzy escape from the hum-drum routine; something completely different to get excited about.
There’s a huge sense of anticipation as the event draws near, everyone eager to see the styles contestants have chosen to wear; to hear how everyone answers their questions.
Sponsors get involved primarily to ensure the event is funded; a sense of duty to ensure it can go ahead, rather than a decision based around commercial calculations.
Organising committees are volunteers, stepping up, doing their bit. This year’s committee included Sylvia Philips, Gemma Lawrence (reigning Miss St Helena), Sasha Bargo and Robyn Sim. And of course, Sharon and I.
Despite ultimately being a competition, participation is really what it’s all about. Saints are ordinarily reluctant to step into a public spotlight, even more so when it involves public speaking. (I lose count of the number of times during rehearsals we had to remind the ladies not to back away from the microphone.)
Elsewhere a pageant such as this might offer a stepping stone for those with professional modelling ambitions, a career in acting or other similar creative pursuits, but not on St Helena.
Our pageant is about community fun, taking part and trying something different, nothing else.
And on Monday morning everyone’s back at work. So, there’s a genuine sense of respect and appreciation for those who enter the competition, step out of their comfort zones and make it possible to keep a very popular circle on the island’s calendar.
Final Word For The Attention Seeker
But there is always scope to do things differently; do things better. The challenge with trying to freshen things up is being careful not to stray too far from what works, what people enjoy; the identity of the event.
Changing the format of Miss St Helena, from a one-night show to a four-week programme, has meant participation brings more of a long-term benefit for all contestants.
And this year, introducing the ‘Attention Seeker’ has meant more people from within the community have gotten involved. Important issues and causes have been promoted and a creative new element demonstrated that will hopefully inspire others to take risks with new ideas.
But for now, the final word has to be, “congratulations,” to Latisha Fowler from Sandy Bay, the island’s new Miss St Helena.
Attention Seeker Photos
Miss St Helena 2020