30th anniversary of the crowning of Lisa Hanna as Miss World 1993
In this edited 2015 interview with Jamaica Observer founding editor Desmond Allen, Lisa Hanna retraces her journey to the glamorous Miss World 1993 title in Sun City, South Africa.
WHILE members of Lisa Hanna’s class of 1993 were feverishly registering for college after The Queen’s School, fate was writing a completely different script for her, a feature presentation in which she would rise from humble Retreat, St Mary, to the dazzling heights of the beauty world.
It was an unlikely journey for someone who had never considered herself “a girly girl” and moreover had been a teen activist for serious issues such as child rights and literacy…
“I had no interest in beauty pageants and I didn’t even know how to tweeze my eyebrows,” recalls Hanna.
Manor Park, St Andrew, was the chosen locale for the unfolding of the next phase of the Lisa Hanna journey. Laurel Williams, a former beauty contestant and who worked closely with the famed Mickey Haughton-James in staging the annual Miss Jamaica World contest, saw Hanna in a chance encounter in the upscale business district. She had seen Hanna on TV as a student co-host of Rapping, recognised her natural confidence, and noted her ability to articulate well.
But on this otherwise uneventful day she saw Hanna in the flesh and it all came together. This indeed was the real McKoy, a genuine beauty queen… She found her gaze following the young girl who was completely unaware of her presence and the life-changing decision she was about to have her make.
Williams went over to Hanna and once she had gotten her attention, talked to her about beauty contests and the coming September 1993 Miss Jamaica World pageant. She implored her to enter.
“I didn’t think I was a girly girl. In fact, I was a tomboy. But I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about the things that interested me and a nice summer project in which I would be travelling across the island, interacting with people. So, I decided I’d do it,” Hanna recounts…
What Hanna innocently thought was going to be a “nice summer project” would become a life project, only she didn’t know it then. How could she?
First up was the elimination round that would reduce 60 lovely Jamaican girls just on the cusp of womanhood to a top 10. The elimination shows could be frightening. The Miss Jamaica connoisseurs were never afraid to tell a girl whether she should have entered the contest or not. And some did not bridle their tongues or mince words.
“… It was then that I understood that Jamaican people like you or they don’t like you — and they will tell you whether you are fit to be in a situation or not,” Hanna reflects. “… Those elimination shows were not for the faint-hearted.”
Beauty contests in Jamaica had suffered a setback in the political environment of the 1970s when progressive people accused them of being an occasion for “parading women like cattle” and bad for their dignity and self-esteem. By the 1990s the pageants had staged a spectacular comeback.
It was a big thing in those pre-cable, pre-Internet, pre-smartphone days of data technology. What people looked forward to were events like this… She would make the finals and would be the last of the pre-Internet Miss Jamaica World queens.
Days before the final, Hanna turned 18. On the night, National Arena was packed to capacity. The butterflies were flitting all over her stomach. The judges then looked like stern schoolmasters. They included well known names such as Cliff Hughes, Francois St Juste, and Chris Dehring.
She had been worrying needlessly. When she took five of the sectional prizes — best figure, best smile, most aware, best stage presence, and best stage personality — it was all over, bar the shouting. When her name was announced the crowd went wild. Hanna was in a daze but she quickly gathered herself and accepted the crown as if she had been born for it. She finally went to bed following the after-party, the inevitable celebrations, and the congratulatory calls.
Hanna did not have much time to indulge her excitement over winning the Miss Jamaica World title as she needed to turn immediately now to the Miss World pageant that was coming up in a couple of months in South Africa… This one was not going to be as easy as she was vying with the most beautiful girls on the planet. And she only had a month to prepare.
The first stop en route to South Africa was London, travelling first class. She arrived in the British capital with Miss Colombia and Miss Puerto Rico.
“I remember how flawless they looked, as if they were coming out of Vogue magazine. I saw that they had several suitcases. I had only two. Their nails were done. Mine were not.”
She remembers too that the photographers paid the Caribbean contestants scant attention, preferring to train their cameras on those with fairer skins and the taller Europeans. But by then she was dying to get to South Africa — not, interestingly, for the pageant but she was to meet Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon who would be the country’s first black president and one of her political heroes…
She recalls getting on very well with the girls. In some cases she found her self counselling some of the girls who had left home for the first time and were having a hard time coping in the highly competitive environment of Miss World. She would also mediate between girls who were not getting on… It came as no surprise that Hanna would be declared Miss Congeniality.
On the night of the crowning of Miss World, November 27, 1993 in Sun City, South Africa, the presenter was superstar Pierce Brosnan and the judges included actor Jackie Chan; Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America; actor Lou Gossett Jr; and, importantly, Jamaica’s Grace Jones, actor and singer. It was Jones who asked Hanna her quiz section question…
“When they announced Miss Jamaica Lisa Hanna as the winner I just could not believe it. I remember just holding my head and saying ‘This can’t be possible!’ “
Hanna was told by her group that the news had hit Jamaica and the country was going crazy… An 18-year-old Jamaican from lowly Retreat, St Mary, had soared to the dizzying heights and was crowned beauty queen of the world. She would be only the third Jamaican after Carol Crawford in 1963 and Cindy Breakspeare in 1976.
Beckoning to her was an unimaginable future of whirlwind travel across the globe, rubbing shoulders with stars and celebrities, front-page appearances in newspapers and magazines — notoriety that few women in life will ever know.