STEPHANIE KARIKARI was just 18 when she won Miss Ghana 2010 pageant. Now 23, she bared it all about her experience during and after the pageant in this interview with Encomium Weekly and much more…
Can you share your experience before and after your reign as a beauty queen?
Since I won, till today, I still can’t find the right word to use, because I had just come out of high school, just turned 18 when I joined Miss Ghana contest. I really didn’t know what it entails or what I was getting into. I knew Miss Ghana was big. But when you are younger, sometimes you don’t really know the impact of what you are doing. So, it’s been great. I got two years of Miss Ghana. I had the opportunity to feature at Miss World in 2011, where I won an award. Also I invited Miss World to Ghana in 2012, for my charity project, which I took to the Miss World pageant. So, it’s been perfect and great with the ups and downs. I will say better things are still to come. But I’ve learnt a lot since then. It’s five years down the line, I’ve grown in the industry and seen it all.
What are the changes you experience?
I am more mature. As I told you, I was 18 when I won and now I am 23 this year. So, I have matured greatly, had great experiences, and I’m done with school. Yeah, I mean, that’s about it.
Based on challenges you encountered during your time in office, what are your plans for the industry to help eliminate some of these challenges?
What I noticed during my reign, is one, the organisers should have it at the back of their mind that beauty queens are humans. Therefore, they should have patience with beauty queens and treat them accordingly. Another thing is the organization which I think should be fixed. It’s not 100 percent because I don’t expect it to be, but I will give 45-60 percent because they seem to forget we are human beings. Besides, when I went for Miss World, I realized many countries hold their beauty queens in high esteem, they don’t play with them. They are highly respected, they don’t joke with them. And on this side, not that we are not highly respected, I just feel more can be put into the pageantry in making a beauty queen a total package. So far, I just feel its half packaged and the other half is missing, especially with the sponsorship. I don’t know what goes wrong in pageantry, but it is difficult getting 10 to 20 ladies together and grooming them. But I think everything still boils down to the organization.
What have you achieved so far through this platform, five years down the line?
What I’ve achieved in five years? It moulded me into a woman and it was a stepping stone for me. Whatever I wanted to do after Miss Ghana was easier than when I wasn’t a beauty queen. I’ve achieved a lot, and I’m about to start a lot of projects. Reasons I have been quiet for five years was because I was in school and it wasn’t easy juggling school and all. I studied Business Management. But I’ve achieved a lot. The biggest thing I’ve achieved is “humility”. You thought I was going to say cars, money, but no, it’s humility. So many people out there are very arrogant and rude, you might have all the connections in the world but as a person, if you haven’t worked on yourself, at the end of the day, all those connections are nothing, because whatever goes up comes down. If you ever fall, how many people are willing to help you up?
But what is your take on the fact some people might think you are proud?
Oh! Bukky, that happens all the time. People will say so many things about you. But the fact that I don’t talk to you anymore doesn’t mean I have changed. It’s probably means you don’t fit my criteria anymore, not because I’m bigger than you or higher than you. You might want to go out every weekend and I can’t do that anymore. You have to understand as a friend or family member that I am in a position that is sensitive. The truth is, being in the spotlight definitely changes you, your environment and friends not like you dropping your old friends for celebrities and stuff. But my lifestyle might not fit yours anymore. All my friends from day one I still keep in touch with them. It’s just that sometimes along the line, you will definitely drop a couple of them by the side because at the end of the day they don’t even add value to your life; unless you have a friend willing to grow with you.
What project were you involved with and you are still keeping tabs on it?
When I was the reigning queen, I went on refurbishing nursery schools. But it was about empowering children. We went to the biggest slum in Ghana, called Sodom and Gomorrah. A TV station took me there because they knew the place. There is no way you can get there without somebody escorting you. It’s crazy, I mean, the weather is really difficult. So, I got two nursery schools I worked on. Let me explain this quickly. It’s an illegal land. A long time ago, there was a fight in the North, so the government moved the Southerners in the North down there and that land is part of the industrial area. So, ever since, they’ve grown and about 70,000 mothers and children and what they do is, they come there, work and go back to the North. No school, no hospital, nothing. So, I got sponsorships from Indomie. Every three months, I would take furniture there, refurbish the place, we would change the mosquito nets, roofing, get chairs. So I kept maintaining the place. The Mayor also gave us a land to build schools when Miss World came to Ghana but the issue we had was that the nursery school to be built was quite far from the children, and since their mothers work around the other land, how many of them could afford bringing them to the new site. So, at the end we might lose the concept of the whole project and getting sponsorship to work on the area is really difficult, but we are on it.
What are the sacrifices that come with that lifestyle?
You rarely get time for yourself if you are really dedicated to what you are doing. Some ladies are in a relationship while working as a beauty queen, but the truth about beauty pageant is that it comes with a particular stigma. She did this to win, she cheated or she slept with somebody to get this or after the competition she sleeps around. So, it changes your life, you can’t do things you used to do, especially with all the work. Some people don’t really take the work serious, because sometimes sponsorship isn’t there, you have to use your own money, so they don’t take it personal. But if you really take it personal, you don’t have time for yourself. You have to push extra hard for the sponsorship to get the work done.
What is your take on the notion that some of the contestants flirt around with judges or organizations to get the crown? Does it really exist in the industry because you have been there, you can tell.
Oh yes! It exists. It doesn’t only exist here in Ghana, it exists in Nigeria, South-Africa, everywhere. When I went for Miss World, I was with Miss South Africa and Botswana. After speaking with them, they said a lot about this issue. This person sleeping with that organizer truly exists. There is no smoke without fire, sometimes a lot of queens lie about it, oh! That it’s not true, but it happens, Bukky, trust me. To be honest, where I’m from, the ones that end up sleeping with the organizers don’t win. The organizers are not the judges, that is what they seem to forget.
Did you encounter such?
Me! I was very naïve. Let me be honest with you, I was so naïve, I didn’t know what was going on. Now when I think back I’m like, hey! This was going on and I didn’t realize. I was busy reading the Bible, reading Esther, telling my friends and crying who will win, but people actually were doing things. Sometimes in beauty pageants, you won’t get to know the judges till the final day. In my time, we knew only two judges and I think we had up to five or seven judges. So, during my time, they said I slept with one of the judges and they said my dad was a strong politician in NPP and NPP wasn’t even in power at that time, it was NDC. So, it becomes political sometimes or they say you are a slut. But I am always proud to stand up and say I never removed my pant for anybody. I didn’t spend a dime to influence anybody. My dad is an environmental economist and not a politician. They said so many things, but it all passed away.
In Ghana, people who end up sleeping with the judges don’t win. I will say 60 to 70 percent of the time they don’t win. In my time people didn’t expect me to win. It’s usually somebody you don’t expect that ends up winning, that’s how it is. I didn’t expect I was going to win.
Out of all the beautiful ladies that contested, what do you think worked for you?
I wasn’t the nicest or the prettiest as well, but I was the second or third tallest and was slim. I think what worked for me was good brains. I’m not making myself up, but among the 20 I think I just answered the questions correctly. Organizers study each and every person because we had like two to three weeks before the pageant and we were cut down to top eight, so they actually help to cut down the number because they were with us throughout. And the funny thing was I wasn’t a model and I was never able to walk well. I was never part of the top 20, so I would just say it’s God and my (points to her head)
What are the plans aside all these?
I am still in the pageantry business which I will tell you later, it’s another surprise, but beside this, I am coming up with a cosmetics line. I keep trying to dodge this question, but I will tell you. It’s a cosmetics line and skin care line and it’s called … No, I won’t mention the name now, but it’s something you would want to use. It’s going to be something every woman would be comfortable using. It just doesn’t only make you feel beautiful, but brings out the confidence in you. I won’t say a lot, till it comes out. The fact that I’m working on two other projects which I won’t disclose now, but one is a talkshow that would debut hopefully by the end of the year. It’s based on women, our everyday lifestyle, what we come across, married or single based on strengthening, enlightening, empowering women on success story. A lot of women that have made it and men will also be on the show. It’s about women who are coming up, entrepreneurs, CEO’s and the men too, but it’s just about enlightening Africans and women to be specific.
Who are your role models in the world of pageantry?
I look up to two people, Mrs. Morley, CEO and head of Miss World and the CEO of Miss Universe. I look up to these two people because they are wonderful women. For beauty queens, I look up to Shirley Azotoba, she was Miss Ghana 2003, Sadia Buhari, Miss Ghana 2002 and Agbani Darego, Miss World and one of the Most Beautiful Girls in Nigeria, can’t remember her name right now. But that is the height. Agbani Darego remains the only black who has won Miss World.
Are you into any relationship?
Yes! I have a boyfriend.
Most times beauty queens hardly open up about their relationship, but do have any plan to settle down soon?
Ha! I’m not ready, but you never know.
Who’s your ideal’ man?
The man must be tall. That’s the first thing. I like tall men, I don’t know why, but I really like tall men. He has to be focused, funny, hardworking and not lazy just because he is tall.
You won Beauty With a Purpose at the Miss World? Why do you think you got that award?
Yeah, it’s actually the biggest after the Miss World title and that automatically gets you into the top 20 out of 120 beauty queens. But it was just hardwork you know, my project was just different. It had to do with kids, a lot of people had projects that had to do with kids too, but mine was just different, it touched the heart of the judges and organizers. Because the videos were shown, you will see me tying scarf round my head, and doing a lot. So, after they watched the video, they picked top 10 and they cut it down. But I was in a tie with Miss Tunisia and we both got the title.
What was childhood like for you?
I grew up in South Africa and Botswana. Most of the time was in Botswana and it was perfect. We didn’t have to think about tomorrow. Everything was perfect; it was just me and my family. Had good time growing up. I’m the last in the family, my parents always did everything for me. Up till now, if they tell me to sit down, I sit, because they’ve been there for me. If I cough, my dad was there. I had a great childhood I can’t complain about.
What was their opinion when you ventured into pageantry?
My dad is free spirited. If I tell my dad, I want to get into something people don’t really get into, he would be supportive. So, when I was going for the audition, my mother was not around. She was in South Africa, by the time she got back, I had already been picked, so my dad kept quiet until my mom came back and we all had to tell her. And she asked me if I really wanted to do it, and I never told her about the bikini section, but she wasn’t bothered. The day she was bothered was when they did a story on me and I was naked on the front page of a newspaper, and my mom called me and was like what is all these, what’s going on here. But after that, she got used to it. She was skeptical and specific about certain things. But they supported me as well despite the stigma that comes with it.
How have you been able to manage bad press?
The truth is, I have never been really bothered about it. The only time was when I went on the internet and saw how I was being bashed, that I was not really pretty to win the competition. I cried about it, wanted to give back the crown. But after some inspirational talks, I got over it and moved on. Sometimes, it’s all about speculations, but for me it’s not. But it can be that bad because it comes with the status. I think I’ve been lucky enough not to get a lot of bad press.
What are your hobbies?
I love sports. I love music. I like writing, yeah, it’s weird but I just sit down and I write, though I barely read. But I like to write. I like swimming and hanging out.
What is your philosophy of life?
Whenever I wake up in the morning, I always thank God for myself. Things could have been worse, but I would thank God and move forward. Whatever I went through the day before, I just move forward. I never regretted whenever I got myself in a particular situation. I just learn from it because regret eats you up. It brings hate and so many things. So, I just wake up in the morning, I tell myself, things could have been worse. What drives me is to be a better person to my parents and children.
Do you have any?
No, but I would never want to be in a situation where my children cannot have the best of everything. Whenever I see kids on the streets, though it’s not their fault, I don’t feel right. Just because you are a celebrity doesn’t mean everything will work out for you. So, I try to work hard for my parents and for my children. I don’t want to disappoint my parents, especially my dad, who had done so much to mould me into the kind of woman I am.
-ADEBUKOLA ADENEYE – EDAH