Glamour and Elegance at the Miss BVI Pageant
One of the premier events of the annual August Festival activities is the Miss BVI Pageant. It’s a night of sheer elegance, as young British Virgin Islands women compete for the coveted title that offers a myriad of opportunities for the winner.
The winner of the Miss BVI Pageant will go onto the Miss Universe and Miss World Contests. Two organizers take us behind the scenes.
While everyone will see the final product and critique its outcome, I’ve been forever curious as to how the Miss BVI Pageant is put together. Two people instrumental in the organization of this prestigious event are Alesia Hamm, the current chairman, and Janette Brinn, who organized the 2016 event. I spoke to them both.
Alesia Hamm: Passionate about Pageantry
When it comes to pageantry in the territory, there’s one familiar face you’re always likely to see, that of Alesia Hamm, rendering assistance in some capacity.
“It’s been a long, long time, in every single capacity,” said Hamm who returned to head the Miss BVI Pageant after a year away from the spotlight. “It’s over 20 years. If it wasn’t for the love of country, you wouldn’t get back into it.”
Hamm’s involvement in the Miss BVI Pageant dates back to the days of former Chairman Ishmael Scatliffe and began as co-chair of the Miss BVI Pageant Committee, along with Lynette Harrigan in 1998. Most recently, she chaired the committee from 2012-2015.
While Hamm is passionate about pageantry, there’s a lot of work in making it a reality. “Behind the scenes, definitely, it’s a lot of work,” Hamm said. “But, we want to ensure that the pageant comes off successfully and to ensure that whoever becomes Miss BVI, that they really enjoy their reign and we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that’s possible.”
With a short time to prepare for this year’s pageant, Hamm said that while she’s not running the pageant alone, and Damien Grange is the co-chairman, she can draw on her experience.
“The best thing about it, even though it’s such a short time, with the experience, you’re able to just jump in and get it rolling, because you know what needs to be done and exactly how it needs to be done. It’s going to come together and I’m confident it will be a success.”
Hamm said that over the years, one of the biggest challenges has been getting contestants. In mid May, the Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Committee, through its sub-committee The Miss BVI Pageant Committee, announced the merger of the territory’s three franchises, Miss World BVI and Miss Universe BVI, creating Miss BVI Pageant as the one major pageant.
The two pageants were merged under the former chair, Janette Brin, who believed it made more economical sense and more importantly, gave young ladies greater opportunities working under one umbrella. She said with so many pageants in a small community, they were competing for contestants. The merge eliminated the competition.
“This is a small place and we don’t have the amount of people that bigger countries might have, but we have to work with what we have and that’s one of the biggest challenges for me with pageantry in the BVI,” Hamm stated. “You have to ensure that when you get a contestant, that contestant is into it, this is something they want to do, so there won’t be a back and forth, but merging the pageants is an asset for us.”
Behind the Scenes at the 2016 Miss BVI Contest with Janette Brin
Janette Brin who organized the event in 2016, sees the pageant as something very dear to the community.
“It’s a part of who we are,” she said. “We’ve had this show going on for years and I think it’s an honor for any young woman to be an ambassador for our country. She added that as organizers, “we help put the British Virgin Islands on the map; we play a role in helping a young lady fulfill her dream and aid in the process of self-development. I believe in women empowerment and helping young people figure out who we want to be in life and how can we contribute to our country.”
Brin was entrusted with the role just two months before the 2016 event and set about identifying a good strong committee that would be as passionate as she is about the process. Her team included past Miss BVI title holders, experienced pageant chaperones and stylists.
After that, it was time to find the young ladies who would take on the challenge. The winner of the Miss BVI Pageant also becomes the BVI’s representative at the Miss Universe and Miss World Contests. Because of this, Brin made some changes to the Miss BVI pageant in order to bring it in line with the international events. The idea, she said, was to think about future growth and marketing.
When the BVI sends a representative to the Miss Universe Pageant, they are advertising the British Virgin Islands, she pointed out. “We want to give the contestants all the tools and resources early enough so that they can stand strong among some of the most amazing women from all around the world.”
Vision is important, said Brin. How are we going to move our young ladies forward? The ladies at Miss Universe are very established. The current Miss Universe is the breadwinner of her family and is a successful model in her country. There are contestants who are lawyers and doctors. We decided to focus heavily on the intellectual part so they can speak to their career interests well and passionately.”
Brin added that if they are going to represent the BVI, they must speak about the BVI holistically; what the BVI is about beyond tourism. To that end, experts were brought in to help educate contestants about what defines the BVI.
Entertainment is also a key element of the Miss BVI Show, and it is important for the audience to have a good time. They’re coming to see the young ladies perform on the stage but, what else?
Brin added that the Miss Universe Pageant is a show and it’s a big production. “We have to have that same formula on a smaller scale.”
Brin noted, that for the 2016 show, they had to see what artists they could get at a reasonable price and within budget. “Maxi Priest is a good friend of mine so I reached out to him, asked if he was available and would be willing to do it for me, and he said ‘yes.’ He’s been here many times and loves the BVI,” she noted. “He was so excited to be here and when I explained what the show was about and what I wanted to do.”
Among those judging the 2016 show was Chelsey Smith, Miss Universe 1995. “Who could be better than Chelsey Smith? said Brin. “she’s what the young ladies are vying to be. To some it might seem farfetched that someone from our small island could become Miss Universe, but she pointed out that we have to make this our ultimate goal.
Another celebrity judge at the 2016 event was Kingsley Cooper of Jamaica. Cooper has experience in pageantry and is a former producer of the Jamaica Miss Universe. He’s also chairman of the most influential model agency in the Caribbean and has models signed with Victoria’s Secret, Oscar De LaRenta among others.
“That was an opportunity to create exposure for the girls,” Brin noted. “Before he came, he said if he likes what he sees, he’d like to have the opportunity to represent them. It’s a pageant, but, your life could be changed forever.”