The back verandah of the restaurant is wet, signs of the rain that fell earlier in the day. In the foreground, an avocado tree, laden to the hilt, sags over the balcony, its bounty enticingly within reach. In the background, the Northern Range looks like a lush carpet, harbouring birds of all species that draws curious tourists with long lens.
On a Sunday evening, this is the perfect place to relax. For Wendy Fitzwilliam it is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea, a sanctuary to spend some quiet time with her son Ailan Andrew Panton.
The little man, who enjoys chamomile tea with honey, is the love of Fitzwilliam's life. It is out of that love that the former Miss Universe has penned her first book, a memoir entitled Letters to Ailan. The 300-page book is, as the title implies, directed toward Fitzwilliam's son and chronicles all the events in his mother's life from the day he was conceived, up until December last year.
It covers the now infamous announcement of her pregnancy and the country's reaction to her decision to have a child out of wedlock, the deterioration of her relationship with Jamaican businessman David Panton, Ailan's father, his birth and everything else in between. The book reveals aspects of Fitzwilliam that she has only shown to her inner circle of friends, until now. Lexicon Trinidad is the publisher for Letters to Ailan, which will be launched on October 4, Fitzwilliam's birthday, and she is very nervous and excited about the public's response to her life laid bare. "I don't think it will be the kind of book to be indifferent about. I used myself to talk about things positive and negative. It's a love story, my undying love for my son. I think people will get it; I live it, it's not just a story, it's not fiction," she said.
While she can't deny the entertainment value of the book's content, Fitzwilliam hopes readers will go beyond that to understand the other themes, namely that of the relationship between men and women and female empowerment.
Since the furor she created when she announced her pregnancy at a Guardian In Education tour before the students of the all-girl Corpus Christi RC school, Fitzwilliam has kept a relatively low-keyed but busy life, maintaining her day job at eTecK where she is the Vice President, Investment Promotion, and attending social functions. The book will no doubt raise some of the old arguments that dogged her back in 2006, but she believes society is far more sophisticated now. The idea for the book was planted when she found out she was pregnant, and for Fitzwilliam who loves to journal everything in her life, writing came easy. "I did a lot of my writing in the early hours of the morning while I was breastfeeding," she recalled.
In fact, she has been doing a lot of writing since completing the book, especially on her Facebook fan page and her Web site, which will be unveiled at the book launch. For a woman who still writes letters and sends handwritten notes to people, venturing into cyberspace is a big deal. "I've always been slow on the draw in that regard. I like to write, I still write handwritten notes to everyone. The Internet is very matter of fact, it's all about the instant and now, I like handwritten letters because you see the emotion. I pay attention to those kinds of details.
"Facebook is highly addictive. I haven't had the opportunity before to interface with my fans, the feedback is instantaneous and it's a good gauge to get information and people's reactions. I have 18,000 fans; I didn't know I had so many fans. I am enjoying it, I get on at least once a week and answer questions," said Fitzwilliam, who is using the popular social networking site to promote her book.
She is currently running a Letters to Wendy competition where fans can win a chance to attend the book launch by submitting a video stating why they want to meet her at the book launch. The video adjudged winner will be the one that receives the most votes.
Local entries have been trickling in, she said, but already she has been receiving requests from Jamaica and Barbados for a similar competition. Letters to Ailan will launch in those territories as well as the United States.
Fitzwilliam's Web site will capitalise on the buzz created by her memoir and allow fans to see other aspects of her life. It will feature stories from her many travels as well as her philanthropic work around the world such as in Angola where she travelled in June to assist the Red Cross in raising the awareness of social issues and highlight positive work being done. "I always maintain high visibility on the African continent. I have had an endorsement with skincare line Clear Essence for about nine years. The ads air primarily on CNN International, which many Africans watch to see what's going on around the world. That's something I would like to highlight, the work, the fun Wendy, what I do, the travel, just present various sides of Wendy."
It has been 11 years since Fitzwilliam sang the Miss Universe crown onto her head, but her popularity has never seemed to wane. She is still invited to events all over the world, sometimes over more recent Miss Universe winners or those who live in close proximity to said events, and as a Facebook fan page attests, many people still adore her. "It's a little bit unusual," she said of her undying popularity. "I think that I was the first Miss Universe to win at the cusp of the Internet and communications explosion. The world lived my year with me in real time and also, it was a perfect storm, I was the first black woman in 20 years to win and I got a lot of press. It also has to do with who I am, we are fun-loving, happy people, it's a combination of things."