Recorded for the BBC Caribbean Service in August 2007 at Jenny’s Place, Grand Anse Beach, Grenada. Interview by Crispin Phillip.
Jennifer, you’ve had a very varied life. You’ve worked in broadcasting, written an academic study, been an air hostess and a Canadian High Commissioner; you recently wrote your forthcoming biography, Beyond Miss World and, of course, you were the very first black Miss World. Tell us about your broadcasting experience.
I started working at the Windward Islands Broadcasting Service in Grenada, was sent to the BBC in London for training, and ended up working at the BBC Caribbean Service. It was a great experience for me. I used to go out onto the streets of London and interview people and follow up Caribbean-related stories. I met a lot of interesting people and personalities, including Rolf Harris and Michael Aspel. Michael turned out to be one of the compères at the Miss World Competition in 1970.
Let’s go back to November 21st 1970. How did it feel to hear our name announced as ‘Miss World 1970’?
Well, it was an absolutely incredible feeling. I am a person who, whatever I decide to do, I want to be the best in it, and I believed that I did that on that night. It was a great surprise to be a finalist, never mind actually winning the competition. Michael Aspel knew I was in the broadcasting industry, so I knew he would ask a question along those lines: I had already planned how I was going to answer it. I also remember the day before the contest: the organisers saying to the contestants, “Would anybody like to go on the stage to practice? If you do not feel completely au fait yet…” I was the first one to put my hand up, and realised that I was the only one to do so.
A couple of others then also put their hands up, in sympathy with me. Everyone else was interested in having their nails and hair done, etc. So the coach took three of us to the Royal Albert Hall and we walked up and down the stage for no less than two hours – I counted every step I took – and think that all of that preparation helped in giving me confidence on the night of the show.
How did you become a candidate for Miss World in the first place?
I had been a flight attendant on BWIA and met Miss Guyana, who was on her way to London to represent Guyana. Someone on the plane had the bright idea for us to take a picture together as she was disembarking. She said to me, “Who is Grenada sending to the Miss World?” and I answered, “I’m not sure.” She suggested that I should consider entering, so I did, and fortunately I won it.
Like with all award ceremonies, there was a lot of controversy at the time – what happened?
This was 1970; it was the start of the Women’s Liberation Movement. They targeted beauty contests and gained tremendous notoriety doing so, and Miss World had a high profile around the world. They infiltrated the Royal Albert Hall, and threw stink bombs and flour whilst Bob Hope was performing. [In the UK, Miss World 1970 was one of the single most-watched TV shows of the entire year, with figures of 23.76 million viewer. (British Film Institute)]
Secondly, I was the first black Miss World. Thirdly, South Africa [still had apartheid and] sent in two representatives, one black and one white, who became runners-up; that was the last year that South Africa was allowed to send two representatives.
And finally, Grenada’s Prime Minster, Sir Eric Gairy, was also a judge on the panel, thus some critics tried to find other reasons for my win. So, this mix made for an interesting and overly controversial year.
Tell us about the Miss Grenada World franchise?
In 2004 I came back to live in Grenada, having taken early retirement from the Canadian government. After Hurricane Ivan I felt that Grenada needed something to help pull it up, and I thought about the most practical way in which I could do my bit. The Miss World Organisation had been in touch with me, and said that Grenada was one of the few countries that had sent only one representative (Aria Johnson in1996) since having a winner.
Who was the winner of the Miss Grenada World 2007?
Vivian Burkhardt, a medical student at St. George’s Medical School. Vivian speaks English, German and French and is a fabulous representative, a natural beauty, and we have great hopes for her.
What qualities do you look for in a potential Miss Grenada World candidate?
It depends where it will lead them. In Vivian’s case, she won Miss Grenada World 2007 knowing that she will be Grenada’s representative for the Miss World 2007, so we had to match our criteria with the Miss World Organisation’s. They stipulated that the candidate has to be a certain height, age, and character, with no children. We would not have wanted someone to win Miss Grenada World only to be disqualified by the Miss World Organisation. We were also looking for someone who has a nice personality and who is easy to work with, as well as their parents.
As a Caribbean pioneer, what would you like your lasting memory to be?
The thing that I would like best to be remembered for is that I took advantage of opportunities, but remained true to the spirit. If you can be a good person as well as achieving things, that combination is what we are in this world for.
Jennifer Hosten will be in the UK in November 2007 en route to Miss World 2007 in Sanya, China, with Vivian Burkhardt. She has just written her biography, which currently has the working title of Beyond Miss World.