TAKING HOLD: "Miss Jamaica World is a huge and important responsibility for me." Below, with Peter Hilary, general manager at the Pegasus.
Laura Butler has every reason to choose her words carefully. After all, she's recently taken over one of the most scrutinized jobs in the Jamaican social-beauty realm. That of franchise-holder of the closely watched Miss Jamaica World pageant. But Butler is utterly candid and unbridled as we sit down to talk about her mammoth (her choice of adjective) new role on a golden Tuesday morning in the lobby of New Kingston's Pegasus Hotel.
So did she really want to take on the arduous task of spearheading the annual pageant? "Well, the challenges are significant, especially with the introduction of some of the things we want to do," she tells me. "We're taking the pageant to the Montego Bay Convention Centre for the first time in its history, for the finals. It won't be the permanent home, but we have 14 parishes so why not spread it around. It's always been in Kingston, and I guess we've always had some obvious challenges and restrictions with the venues in Kingston. But the Montego Bay Convention Centre is absolutely beautiful, breathtaking."
The same could be said of Butler, too, who is quite the looker, cutting a head-swiveling figure in a form-fitting dress, with cascading dark hair and flawless makeup done by her quite gifted sister, Carolyn Kirlew. As she makes clear, in addition to fortifying the whole Beauty with a Purpose theme, the new-look Miss Jamaica World will also be placing strong emphasis on celebrating brand Jamaica. "We're trying to incorporate what we have here locally, and see how we can bring all those synergies together. One of the key areas is to partner with all the right people," explains Butler.
"So we've formed a committee of experienced, capable people. We want to do things very differently this year. We don't want to reinvent the wheel. What works, we're gonna stick with it. But areas we think we could improve on, that's what we want to look at more. Like the judging process; we want to bring back some credibility to it."
That said, the elimination show is already scheduled for June 15 at the Pegasus Hotel, with the grand finals and coronation show set for July 21 in MoBay. "We hope to get a fantastic, solid 20 finalists, and we plan on intensifying the training for the Miss World pageant by putting all 20 girls through training as if we're training the winner," she tells TALLAWAH. "We want to provide them with skills that can take them beyond the competition. Skills that will last them for a lifetime. It's a remarkable opportunity, as well, so that in their own right, they're making an impact. It has to be a confidence-booster."
The lucky young miss who takes the crown, however, will be the subject of unprecedented preparation activities. "We are going to move to a whole other level of training for the winner because when she goes internationally, she's up against multi-lingual, multiple-degreed young women, and it doesn't mean that we have to be on that level, but Jamaica is powerful and I think that sometimes abroad we are more appreciated than we can appreciate ourselves," says Butler. "And that's something we are also hoping to shed light on. Anything a Jamaican sets his mind to, she can do exceptionally well, and we want to play our part in reminding people of that."
Given Butler's fervour and her incredible passion at the helm of the revived ship, it isn't hard to grasp the appeal of both the new-look Miss Jamaica World and Butler herself, a woman of many talents and accomplishments. Not to mention, several irons in the fire. "I'm passionate about my work as a corporate trainer," says the 30-something mother (of four-year-old Isabelle), who also lectures at the Norman Manley Law School and at UTech and UWI. "I enjoy working with some of the leading companies in Jamaica, teaching time management, customer service, and leadership. So for example with time management, I've never been late for a meeting since 1997. And, for me, that's significant. I have a passion for that. I love to help people."
It's a selfless philosophy she takes to heart. "I've always said that if you can touch one person's life in a meaningful way, you would have done something amazing."
So how does she feel about her own life at this point, as she sits here, poised to enter a thrilling new chapter? "Before doing Miss Jamaica now, I used to sleep with one eye open, now I sleep with two," she quips, laughing, before leaning in closely to tell me this: "I'm driven by my passions for my country. I'm driven by my passion to make a significant, meaningful contribution to people's lives in a positive way," she says.
"And I also love the challenge of taking on something and being able to take it to another level. Miss Jamaica World is a powerful legacy; Mickey Haughton-James has done a wonderful job, contributing to so many young women's lives. And it's an honour to be the next person in line. It's a huge and important responsibility for me."
>> Read more: Here's Part 2 of our interview with Laura Butler