For 20-year-old Shanel Ifill, being crowned Miss Universe Barbados 2019 was simply a dream come true.
“I’m still trying to process it, because it is still sinking in. Obviously, it’s a dream come true. No one could have told me five years ago that this would be me today, but to think that I have joined a legacy of 16 other Miss Universe Barbados winners who have held this honour, and later be one of less than 7, 000 worldwide ever to have walked on a Miss Universe stage, is pretty surreal. Very few things in my life will ever match this feat. I absolutely cannot wait to do this organisation, the sponsors, and my country proud,” she said.
The second year law student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, tried to recap the night’s events and the moment. But she admits she is still very much in disbelief.
“I absolutely wish I could describe the moment, but it is still a slow moving blur. All I remember is Gaynelle saying “Beviny”, and then calling my name, and then the room just stopped. I could not process what was happening.
“The next thing, I was being sashed, crowned and being told “Go!”, and nudged forward to take my first walk as queen. It was then that I said “Oh my gosh! I’m Miss Universe Barbados!” And I just kept screaming and waving and crying and air kissing everyone in the room. It was crazy!”
The avid volunteer at the Nightingale Children’s Home and the occasional mathematics and grammar tutor said she is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support being shown to her.
“I literally get tons of congratulatory messages all day, with people calling me ‘Queen’, and I’m thinking ‘Who? Me?’ It gets even crazier when I’m just in the supermarket or the gas station and people come up to me and call me by name, and I think ‘How do you know my name?’ and then I remember, ‘Oh right I’m Miss Universe Barbados’. This is going to take a lot of getting used to, but people have been amazing and really awesome about it.”
Shanel said she entered the pageant motivated by the thought of possibly being able to represent the country globally. She admits she was being gently nudged by family and friends who encouraged her.
The former student of St. Helena’s in England, and Christ Church Foundation School and Queen’s College in Barbados said one of the most valuable lessons the pageant journey has taught her is time management.
“Time management was one of the key things I had to learn. I am a second year law student, a model, an intern at a law firm, and was attending pageant training 30 hours a week. That takes a ton of discipline! But having the support of lecturers, my boss and my Crown Events trainers made the process more manageable. It also taught me that I am capable of doing more than I ever thought possible.”
What the crowd at the Hilton Barbados saw on Saturday night was days and nights of hard work and serious preparation. The aim, for Shanel, was to give her best.
“Well, physically I tried to get to Surfside gym, and anyone who knows me knows I am not the athletic type, so working out for me could be a bit of a nightmare! I felt so badly for my trainer most days, but like the queens before me, I will get better.
“To keep my mind sharp, school actually helped me a lot, because I was mentally stimulated. But also talking to the former queens about the things I should be focusing on to get better prepared, and even the things to block out so they don’t rob me of my concentration helped. Their experiences continue to be invaluable to me, and I am so grateful to them.”
Shanel’s advice to those aspiring to compete in a pageant is very simple.
“Give yourself the chance to grow by taking this journey. I think that even if I didn’t come away with the crown, just knowing that I walked this road and came out more aware of who I am as a person, still very much quirky Shanel, but more rounded, with a polish to her edges, would have all been worth it.”
The queen also gave high praises to the organisers of the event and the entire Miss Universe Barbados production team.
“There is literally everything to gain through this process. It prepares you for life and opens up a confidence you never knew you had. This Crown Events team of Brian and Natasha will have your back like no other.
“Our trainers Gaynelle Marshall, Sharon Sargeant, Michellan Bascombe and all the guest trainers will change your entire outlook on life, and you will ever be the better for it. In two words: Do it!”
Apart from pageantry, Shanel also feels very passionate about justice being served and this all makes great sense since she is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Law.
“Seeing those people suffering from injustices getting the justice they deserve is what matters most to me. This has been the driving force behind my degree and career choice in Human Rights Law.”
And once her academic journey has ended she will move on to the next exciting chapter in her life. “I am really looking forward to completing my law degree so I can focus on Human Rights Law. I want to be a champion for the voiceless, so they know they have rights, and can access the things they need to make a better life for themselves. I have always been motivated by my mother’s kindness and care for others, and I want to be able to provide that for people on a much larger scale.”
But what else does the newly crowned queen enjoy doing? “I love reading Caribbean literature of all types, with my favourite writer being Olive Senior. I have read Gardening in the Tropics more times than I can count. I would love to just spend one day in her head to see how she brings her words and imagery to life. That would be the most amazing day for me.” (IMC)