NICKI LODGE – FIRST AMONG EQUALS

Nicki Lodge was in discussion with Clayton Goodwin

Nicki Lodge made history. She set a marker which has been hardly ever approached, rarely equalled, and never excelled. Not that she was the first West Indian beauty queen in the United Kingdom – there were several before then (several of whom I had reported) and such contests probably went back to the arrival of the first immigrants – but when she was crowned the first Miss JOFFA (Jamaican Overseas Families and Friends Association) – in 1966, Nicki became the first such title-holder to become accepted generally as being pre-eminent. For almost the next decade Miss JOFFA set the benchmark for excellence in Caribbean pulchritude. Yet her first thoughts on winning were “What am I going to tell my mother?”

Nicki’s mother was scandalised when she learned that her daughter wanted to be a model. Even so, after Ms Lodge, who, leaving school in 1963, had distinctions in GCEs and Pitman short-handed, kept her promise by working for one year in the typing-pool of the Central Electricity Generating Board, her mother then enrolled in her in the London School of Fashion 1965. One day as Nicki was passing a hair-dresser’s next to her home and lady rushed out and asked her to represent them in a beauty contest. She was captivated by getting her hair done and make-up, and, in spite of her legs buckling through nerves, she came second out of more than twenty contestants. That led to her entering Miss JOFFA promoted by L.E. Campbell, who owned a travel agency and photographic studio.

When the contestants were back stage, while the judges deliberated, Nicki, thinking she had no chance of winning, went to the dressing-room to change. Soon friends rushed to tell her that she was wanted “up front” she stumbled on stage to learn that she had tied for first place with Pauline Saltou – and Nicki won by the Mayor’s casting vote. How would she tell her mother, who feared that she would be sent off on her prize-trip to Jamaica there and then and would be concerned to find out that it was planned to send her there without a chaperone. Nevertheless, diplomacy, the gift of the successful beauty-queen, won through. The visit to Barbados and Jamaica, donated generously by sponsors Grimaldi Siosa Cruiseship line, was extended from one to six months because of the number of commitments.

Nicki met so many significant people that space permits mention of only four. And what a four! They included Sir Clifford Campbell, the first Jamaican to be Governor-General, and three distinguished leaders of government in Sir Alexander Bustamante, Mr Hugh Shearer and Mr Norman Manley. Their citations and honours, alone, would tell the country’s recent history and chivalry. As ambassador for the UK Jamaican Diaspora, Miss Lodge attended various charity and fashion events, both home and overseas, notably the Kiwanis Club and Rotarians chapters in Kingston. Holding the Miss JOFFA title was a considerable honour which enabled this young girl with a strict and sheltered upbringing to mature with a greater understanding of the wider picture. Nicola Lodge was part of the Golden Generation of Jamaicans/West Indians in the UK. There was Millie Small in music. Frank Worrell leading the successful and well-respected West Indies cricket team in sport, and Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden breaking into commerce which would make them “the first UK West Indian businessmen – to make a million”.

Mindful of her own opportunity Nicki’s involvement did not end with passing on the crown. She was happy and proud to guide further contestants in deportment and what she had learned from her experiences. Not that she was finished with contests even then. Nicki represented Jamaica in the Miss Caribbean title sponsored by the Dominica (Republic) Tourist Board in Santa Domingo in 1970 – which she won! Miss Lodge went back to live in Jamaica for a few years during which time she was chaperone for the country’s representatives in the Miss World tournament in London. On one trip to Minnesota for the Jamaican Tourism Board she was interviewed by a young Oprah Whinfrey.

Nicki Lodge, the first Miss JOFFA, is still friendly with Maureen German, the last holder of the title, with whom she communicates frequently, especially about their passion for Jamaican pageantry. As to the role of which she is most proud: Nicki married Jimmy McLachlan, who, alas, has passed on, and had two children, Tammy and Tano. Tammy has shown that the genes continue to flow strongly by winning the Miss Congeniality prize and third-place in Miss Jamaica UK. I don’t think she had any hesitation in deciding what she would tell her mother!

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