For several years, a Zambian lady, Rosemary Chileshe, has been Britain's leading African beauty contestant and model, and her compatriots are succeeding now in all aspects of the industry--from promotion to participation.
Yet beauty is not restricted to pageantry. Lukwesa Burak, a beauty in her own right, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a reception for UK Zambians at the High Commission in London, can be described in the nicest possible way as being a "lady of the night". She presents Sky Late News from midnight to 4a.m. and then fronts Sky World News, which caters for audiences in Africa, Asia and Europe, until 6a.m.
Lukwesa, whose working "day" starts when she leaves her home in Leicestershire for London at 7pm, has an affinity with the hours of darkness.
"I've always worked the early shift," she says. "At Nottingham (earlier in her career as a 'weather girl'), it was non-stop; we had 21 radio broadcasts in the morning. I had to be up at 4.30am to start at 6am. First I had to ring the Weather Centre, where the forecasters would give you the science and you had to work out the best way to put the story across to the public."
Lukwesa can still remember being "a little girl, freshly bathed, pony-tailed, and in her new dress sitting in a puddle making mud cakes" back in Zambia, where she was born and which she left aged eight years when her mother remarried.
She arrived in Britain during one of the worst winters on record. She graduated from Sussex University with a degree in Geography and European Studies, and was awarded a European Union Scholarship to complete a Master of Science degree at Leicester University. Her studies included a year at Neuchatel in Switzerland through which she became fluent in French.
She joined Sky News last year from being a news anchor for BBC East Midlands Today after working on various local radio stations. Her broadcasting career started at the BBC Weather Centre before moving into news presentation. She has been able to "break the news" on several leading international stories, including the execution of Saddam Hussein, Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, North Korea's first nuclear test, the Indian train bomb attacks, and last year's Indonesian earthquake. Lukwesa, who combines her career with housework and being a mother, would like to encourage more African women to become news presenters. "It is very important for African women, both white and black, to get involved in the media," she says. "Those stories can be given a voice and reflect who is in the world and what the world is about".
Elsewhere, Rosemary Chileshe's career has provided a blueprint for what a beauty title and its holder should be. She was a student from Sheffield, a comparatively provincial "backwater"--though she has since moved to Manchester. Rosemary was voted Miss Zambia UK in 2003, then one of the several competing national community titles. Sheffield, however, is noted for its production of steel, and there has been steel in Rosemary's character. She has transformed her title and expectations of her compatriots.
In 2004, she returned home to compete for Zambia and qualified to represent her country in the Miss World pageant in China that same year. Rosemary has since gone on to use her celebrity status to strengthen and develop the embryonic pageant industry.
She has become a familiar guest at other promotions--always punctual (even though she has to travel from the other end of the UK to London), always well-groomed and beautiful, and always polite and modest.
She has become the epitome of what African beauty--and all beauty--should be. …