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25 years later
It’s been 25 years since Giselle Laronde West’s stunning and unprecedented Miss World win, but for her, laurels are not for resting upon. The lovely, soft-spoken young woman has matured into a beautiful, accomplished executive, wife and mother, yet for many Trinis she is now and will always be ‘our Giselle’. She doesn’t seem to mind living in a fishbowl. “People will always acknowledge that I was Miss World. Some have seen beyond the title, but I’m afraid despite all else that I have achieved in life, some never will.” In typical Trini style, it’s not uncommon for her to get hailed out with an “Ay, Giselle!” when she’s out in public. “But some just stare and comment quietly to whomever they’re with. And you know what... that’s fine! I’ve done the country proud and I’m a daughter of the soil like everyone else, and if a brother or sister chooses to hail me out, I am happy to respond.”
Curiously, the fishbowl also affords her a little protection. “I choose when and where people can see through that glass.” Her fondest memories of that giddy time after her win echo those of other local winners of international honours like Hasely Crawford and Janelle Commissiong; the incredible sight of thousands of your countrymen turning out en masse to honour and share their love. “Trinidadians lined up for hours for me to sign an autograph soon after I was crowned.” The love even spread to Trinis who’d long left our shores. “It was great to see a Trini in Top Shop expressing how proud they were, especially after months of being so far away from home.”
While Laronde used her winnings to pay her way through a degree in Sociology at the University of London, much of what she learned, and which has stayed with her, didn’t come from a textbook. Her travels during her reign brought her into contact with many people of diverse cultures, raising funds for children in need. It was these children who touched her and taught her the most about life. “Children will be children no matter what part of the world they come from, and that love and caring will ease the pain of any sickness felt, whether you are old or young.”
The pressures of fame and beauty are many, and our expectations of Laronde West still run high, especially among locals trapped in a 1986 time warp. “For the most part, people are judgmental generally...and you don’t even have to be a Miss World. However, some people feel I should strive to look, act and live the same way as when I reigned. There is a need by some for me to continuously authenticate or legitimise my winning in this way, and if I don’t, they feel let down, as if I’m not living up to the title. It would be a full time job if I were to do this, and the other wonderful elements of life would certainly pass me by if I were to get caught up in this one persona.”
She also doesn’t flinch under the prevailing feminist disdain for beauty pageants. “The pageant helped make me who I am today in many ways. I feel it’s an excellent catalyst for young women to develop in life. It’s an opportunity for development in many areas; exposure to the world and the ability to hone skills they may not necessarily have had the chance to learn. It builds self esteem, confidence, grace and charm, while nurturing the need to excel and gather knowledge. All great assets for future growth.” Over the years, “Our Giselle” has proven herself time and again. The 2nd Degree black belt karateka is Director and Sensei of the Shotokan Karate International Association of TnT (SKIFTT), with many trophies to be proud of. Most recent was her 4th place at the SKIF karate championships in Greece in 2009.
At present, she’s Senior Manager, Public Affairs and Communications at Angostura, and was a founding member of various professional associations, including the Communications Committee of AMCHAM, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Trinidad and Tobago Beverage Alcohol Alliance (TTBAA). As much as it’s been a fun ride, she’s not selfish in keeping the secrets of her pageant success to herself. Instead, she’s eager to pass on what she’s learned to the next Trini Miss World. Approach the pageant with an open mind. Find confidence within yourself and don’t rely on others to get it. Be yourself and never get too absorbed in a world that could become fickle depending on how you treat with it. Develop a strong will and mind so that no one can take advantage of your youth and naivety. Give 100% as you would do with any other project if you wish to succeed.” Good advice, for pageants and for life.
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