The life and times of Wendy Fitzwilliam
By Sherie Holder-Olutayo | Sun, May 05, 2013 - 12:00 AM
Wendy Fitzwilliam knows a thing or two about beauty and hard work. After all, she was named 1998 Miss Universe, but she is an accomplished entrepreneur, lawyer, mother, author, and television producer. These days she is on a mission to bring the Caribbean together and show the world the beauty that the islands of the region have to offer as the host and executive producer of Caribbean’s Next Top Model. She sat down with EASY magazine recently and talked about the joys and challenges of her new role.
Q: Why did you decide to take on Caribbean’s Next Top Model?
A: There were a few reasons why I decided to do Caribbean’s Next Top Model and it was not my idea initially to bring it to the Caribbean. We hosted Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week over four or five years and one of the principals involved in that wanted to invite the winner of America’s Next Top Model. He did, that worked out very well and she loved it. CBS then wrote him and asked him if he would like to take the franchise. It had been tried two times before in the Caribbean unsuccessfully. Now that we have done it, I understand why. I worked with him in another capacity and I liked the team he had assembled initially and I saw it as an opportunity to do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do in the Caribbean.
Q: What types of things did you want to do with the show in the Caribbean?
A: It was a quick fix in one way, meaning we work well together on a few things as a region – CARICOM, as much as we criticize it, and cricket. Everything else we compete against each other but we’re way too small to do so, and the wider Caribbean is excluded from that. Like anything else, it’s always easier to bring people together when they’re having fun doing it. This way brings fun and healthy competition.
This product was born out of Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week. We have very talented designers here, but also companies in the beauty space. Then there are so many young and up-and-coming designers of jewellery and artisans, designers of beachwear that we don’t celebrate on our own as a region in the same way that Brazil does. Yes, we know of the Jamaican models who have done well or the Lucians and Trinis. We have to use that opportunity to tap into the wider Caribbean through a franchise that is wildly popular globally to present us as we are and celebrate us.
In getting involved with this project, my sister and I saw an opportunity for an entire ecosystem in the fashion and beauty space. It is a huge vision, and that kind of thing doesn’t happen in one year or one season, but we’re well on our way. We saw an opportunity to unite the region through entertainment. We are down to two finalists, neither of whom is Trinidadian, I’m happy and sad to say. As a Trinidad woman, yes, I would want us to be at the top, but as a Caribbean person I am thrilled the finalists do not come from Trinidad, Jamaica or Barbados. They come from the Cayman and Curacao. I think that will generate an interest in two islands that are not at the top of the food chain generally.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the show?
A: This show is always about brazenly selling product. A show like Top Model is all about plugging. The show lends itself to supporting the development of the beauty and fashion industry regionally. We feature Caribbean persons who’ve done well internationally.
The final piece for me is featuring the host country. TV, unlike any other form of media, lives forever. For us, the Caribbean as a destination is still the number one place to visit on the planet. There is much more to us than what we sell. I don’t think that we should do away with what works well for us, which is sand, sea and good times. I think we should use that to lure people into other things that we do well.
There are 42 Top Model shows in the franchise and all of them are country specific. This is the only one that covers several countries, 29 in all, that creates a rivalry that doesn’t exist for the others and an interest. It’s also an opportunity to move the show. We have a destination series so we move the show around. The intention is to move the show to a new destination.
Q: So, is this your opportunity to bring the Caribbean to the world?
A: We’re bringing ourselves together celebrating who we are but also sharing it with the world and giving them a little more through bacchanal and a good time. When you put 12 young women to live in a tight space with minimal contact to the outside world for a five-week period of time, you’re going to get some action, particularly when there’s a competition.
Q: Do you think you were ready at this phase in your life, because you have gone through your own journey in the world of beauty, that you were ready to do this?
A: Yes. Like everything else, if you know how difficult something is before you get into it, you’d never do it, thank God. Because I have had the experience working in fashion and the beauty industry, I have been on both sides, but primarily in front of the camera. I know what it takes to make it in the fashion and beauty industry and how much rejection you have to go through before making it. The physical preparation is very demanding, and I think this show shares that with the general public. In the midst of the bacchanal and the shoots you get an appreciation that this is hard work. It’s not only hard work in terms of producing something like this, but I’m happy that our audience is picking up that this is hard work.
Q: Do you think it’s sometimes hard to get that work ethic across to the girls, because sometimes we in the Caribbean tend not to be aware of the hard work and personal sacrifice that go into certain professions?
A: Most of the girls have been very focused and those were the ones who were not were eliminated. If you make it to the finals it is because you do stand a chance of being at the top of your game. Once you’re in the finals it’s a mind game; it’s proving that you have the mettle to make it. At that point it becomes a job interview.
Q: Having witnessed the world change over the years, do you feel empowered as a mother in the way you raise your son?
A: Most of my friends raising young kids now feel that way. We’re taking the best that our parents gave us – in terms of discipline, hard work, drive and we’re combining that with our own fearlessness. We grew up in a time when we really believed we could accomplish anything. Now we’re seeing it. We’re seeing countries like India, Brazil excelling. We’re seeing that with Rihanna, who is a real Bajan, born and bred and look at how phenomenally well she is doing. It’s not just her music; she’s empire building and she’s taking Barbados with her.
Q: Do you want your son to have that sense of adventure?
A: He already has it. With Ailan, I have to say I am having the best time of my life. Parenting is not easy, but like anything else in life, if you really enjoy it, it is. He’s a boy’s boy – I mean a real little man, and the things he wants to do I would never of my own pick up and do. We were in the States for Christmas this year and he wanted to go snowboarding. I told him let’s start with skiing, but he wanted to snowboard. We went to a ski area in upstate New York. I got us an instructor, learned to snowboard and I ate snow for a day, but I had the best time of my life. I’m having a ball with him.
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