On the run up to the finals, my focus had been on winning the Miss Charity award. Charity work has always been a focal point of my day to day life and it had grown considerably in 2014 when I decided to take a turn in my career path and become a fundraiser. I spent all of my spare time organising events from Masquerade Ball’s to sponsored walks and eventually I was lucky enough to be offered a job as a community fundraising officer at The Haven Wolverhampton.
Having not done pageants before, I was initially surprised at all of the elements involved in becoming a ‘Miss.’ Gone are the days where pageants are only for 6ft blonde beauties in their bikinis – the Miss England Pageant is one of the most diverse competitions I have seen. They aren’t just looking for the stereotypical pretty face; they want an all-rounder with the qualities needed to represent their region. There is more to beauty than what meets the eye and this competition certainly proves that.
Along with the charity award, there were many other rounds involved on the run up to the finals. We had to create an eco-dress out of something recyclable to showcase on the night. My dress idea was inspired by The Haven, where I work. As a charity supporting women and children who have been victims of domestic abuse, it is important that we offer holistic support in order for them to be able to rebuild their lives away from the fear of abuse. One way in which they receive support is through life skills workshops at our resource centre. For Valentine’s Day, the women created a window display for our charity shop made up of a male and female mannequin dressed in rolled up book pages and shattered CD’s in the shape of a heart. The display was very symbolic with the pages embodying a new chapter in their lives and the broken CD’s symbolised the pain that they had been through in the past with the reflective side of each CD facing upwards, depicting their ability to reflect on their experience and move on with their lives. I felt that by recreating this dress it would be a great way to represent the charity where I work and the women and children from the community that we support and that it would give my eco dress meaning and worth.
Before the show began, we had a pre-judging session in small groups whereby we went into a separate room to introduce ourselves to the judges. As the well-known saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression so it was all about being confident and showcasing in those few seconds who you were as a person.
The cat walk show itself was a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined. I thought that I would be crippled by nerves throughout the show and not enjoy that element of the competition at all. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to get over the initial fear and enjoy my time on stage making sure my personality was emitted into everything I did. We had four cat walk rounds, Eco, Sports, Fashion and Evening Wear. In rehearsals we had been taught how it was important to make sure your walk and your presence on stage reflected each round.
The awards were called first. I was so nervous for the Miss Charity to be called as I knew that the girls had all worked really hard to raise as much for charity as possible. There was no way of monitoring who had raised the most before the finals so I stood, with my fingers crossed, hoping that the £1000 I had raised was going to be enough.
Moments later my name was called and the Miss Charity sash was placed over my shoulder before I graced the cat walk one more time. For me, at that moment, I had achieved what I had set out to do and I was proud of myself for that. I told myself, it doesn’t matter if it’s the end of the road here because this is what you came here to win and you have. Still lost in thought, overwhelmed with the award, my name was called for another. Now I really was in shock. ‘Miss Congeniality goes to Jade Secker.’ I couldn’t believe it. At the start of the day I hadn’t really known much about this award, I immediately thought of the Sandra Bullock film and couldn’t recall being told to prepare anything for it. An hour or so before the show began, last year’s Miss Black Country, Shelley-Marie Sumner came into the dressing room and asked us to all write down the name of someone who had been the kindest person on the day; someone they thought was a genuinely nice person. To have been called for this award was an amazing feeling and something I truly did not expect. I was so grateful to the girls who voted for me.
Third place and second place were called and I was still stood backstage with the remaining girls. The buildup seemed to go on forever and when it was finally called, I was shocked to hear my name. Walking out on to the stage, greeted by applause and the flashing of cameras, knowing I had won was a completely overwhelming feeling. I literally didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Shelley handed over the Miss Black Country crown and put on my sash and that moment was the start of something extraordinary in my life.