Sunday, 15 January 2012

Fiji's First Ambassador to Miss World

If you knew Aishwarya Sukhdeo in high school, you would of seen a reserved, graceful, intelligent girl with a shy smile. Someone that everyone turned to for help with homework or an assignment, that's the Aishwarya I remember from International School Suva. A genuinely nice person who was always helpful to everyone. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw her up on stage at the Miss Suva City Carnival in 2001 and she went on to clinch that title and create history in Fiji.

Fast forward to 2012 and we're on the cusp of the inaugural Miss World Fiji pageant and I'm catching up with an old friend and reliving her experience and the path she took that got her to the Miss World pageant in 2004, where she was Fiji's first ever representative at the pageant.

Tell me about the first pageant you entered and how that started your path to the Miss World pageant ?

"I first stepped into the pageant scene when I participated in the L’Oreal Miss Suva City pageant in 2001. I had always admired the grace, charm and confidence of various “Misses” since my childhood years. The pageant scene in Fiji had been quiet for a few years in the aftermath of the 2000 coup and there had been no Hibiscus carnival since 1999. After finding out about the L’Oreal Miss Suva City pageant in 2001, I decided to try it out having been encouraged by my family and friends. I couldn’t think of a reason why not!

At that time I was a third year medical student at FSM (Fiji School of Medicine) and it was my university holidays. I wanted to make more friends, to discover other circles of life, to learn a little more about public speaking and stage presence, and to help others in whatever way I could. After all, the reason I did medicine was to find a way to help others, and the underlying theme of hope and charity in the L’Oreal Miss Suva City pageant perfectly fit in with my personal ideals of life.

The L’Oreal Miss Suva City pageant itself was amazing. It was well organized, I had the opportunity to visit so many places in Suva and I met all these great girls, with whom I still keep in touch.

Winning the pageant was amazing; not the win itself but to see the hard work, practice and focus bring fruition. In my view the most important thing was to do justice to the title. So in 2002 I participated in a couple of charity events around Suva, with a number of the other contestants."

How did you get from the Suva City Carnival to Miss World?

" With the help of the organisers of the Suva City Carnival and with my awarded air tickets (my prize for winning the title) I was given the opportunity to participate in Miss Asia Pacific 2002 in Manila, Philippines. Once again, this pageant was different and amazing in its own way. I traveled to so many lovely places all over the Philippines, I met so many amazing people and I got to share my room and an important part of my life with my roommate Miss New Caledonia. I enjoyed the pageant thoroughly and was delighted to be placed in the finals, finishing 4th runner up. There were five main segments of the pageant and these were: evening gown round, national costume round, talent round, swimsuit round and of course my favorite, the question and answer round. A lot of people at that time asked me about my country, Fiji, and what it was like there, which gave me an opportunity to promote Fiji."

" Following the Miss Asia Pacific pageant, I was lucky enough to gather enough support to enter the Miss World 2004 competition in Sanya, China. The organizers of the L’Oreal Miss Suva City pageant assisted me from the administrative aspect, my friends helped me with public speaking and the catwalk and my parents assisted me with make up and wardrobe."

The experience of participating in an established and branded pageant like Miss World must have been an eye opener, what were your first impressions?

Aishwarya Sukhdeo during the evening gown competition
Photo courtesy of
" The Miss World pageant was one of the most spectacular and large events that I have ever witnessed! It was an eye-opening experience, competitive, challenging and a whole lot of fun.  There were 107 contestants from 107 countries and they were all so beautiful and unique. The first few days of the competition I was in absolute awe of everyone else and then it dawned upon me that I was actually supposed to be one of the contestants! At that point I was in a moment of panic. I was not sure what to do next! Then thankfully I found a great friend in my roommate Miss Japan, Minako Goto, and felt much better. Together we kept abreast of all the mindboggling photo shoots, rehearsals and other outings. I also met a lot of other girls who were university students studying to become professionals just like me. There were students studying accounting, nursing, and pharmacy etc, amongst the sea of people who were full time or part time models; so I didn’t feel much out of place! As the contest progressed I felt more and more at home and decided to just be the best person I could be, and promote my country in the best way possible. I developed a routine, and learnt that this was not only a pageant but a TV show which had to be perfected by the cast which was us! "

How did the pageant work back then and what were the categories you participated in?

"There were 5 main segments of the competition and this lasted about one month! There was the beach beauty competition, for which we received designer swimsuits, with everyone in various colors! The rehearsals were onerous but the final results and photos were amazing. "

"There was also the top model competition which was literally stunning and very competitive, as a large number of girls did some sort of modelling in their home country. Hence their catwalk skills were really sleek!"

"With the talent competition, I felt most at home. I had practiced and devised a Hapkido (Korean martial arts) routine with my trainer in Fiji, and practiced it every morning in Sanya. During the practice sessions I was lucky enough to be able to get a guy who was helping out in the pageant to be my “opponent”. The final show was well liked by a lot of people as it demonstrated not only martial arts but perhaps the empowerment of women in general. I got into the finals with this event. "

"The sports round was actually pretty interesting and what I really liked was the fact that it was varied. There was running, swimming and everything in-between. Even push-ups! I suppose I was reasonably fit as I was also placed in the finals in this event. 
The contestant’s choice was a more relaxed but perhaps mysterious event, with secret balloting for the contestant we liked the most!
During the competition, we all had to do short TV advertisements where we spoke about our countries and threw a bit of light on ourselves! This material and clips of the various competitions were used on TV and the internet for voting, as 2004 was the first year in which Miss World would be decided by the public via internet and sms voting. "

It sounds like a lot of hard work, what were some of the charity events you participated in while at the pageant and how was the final night?

"There were also numerous other events which made Miss World so memorable. These included Tai Chi on the beach, dinners and dance at Sanya beach, and World AIDS day on 1st December for which I was selected to speak about the fight against AIDS in Fiji. There was also a visit to a Sanya orphanage which was touching and eye opening. This was definitely my most memorable event!

The run up to the final night was exciting, stressful and involved a lot of practice!!! We practiced the routine till we knew it by heart, had to get the timing right and make sure we looked our best in the highest of heels! The final event which was fully televised went without a hitch, the winners were announced and then we all had a party afterwards! As we were on the dance floor, gradually each girl left as their flights drew nearer and final farewells were said and contacts exchanged!"

That's a pretty amazing journey, so after all of that what have you been up to?

"After the pageant I moved back home, graduated with my medical degree, completed my internship at CWMH, did a year of work at Savusavu Hospital then got a job in Australia. I have since done my postgraduate exams in adult medicine and am currently completing my specialist training in rheumatology."

Words of Wisdom for those young Fijian women who are vying for that inaugural Miss World Fiji crown?

Aishwarya with Lionel Richie at the after pageant function
"Throughout all these years, the Miss World pageant and the people I met through it have remained in my heart and mind. The pageant broadened my outlook in life, gave me the opportunity to witness and appreciate people from other cultures and walks of life, and made me realize that deep down people the world over strived for the same things that I did; like love, friendship, peace and understanding. And this made me realise that innately we are really all the same. "

"I congratulate the organizers of Miss World Fiji 2012 for taking this step forward towards giving this wonderful opportunity to the women of Fiji to voice themselves and to once again put Fiji on the pageant map of the world. I think the support for mental health is amazing, as it is an area that needs to be promoted and further developed in Fiji."

"My advice for the young women aspiring for the Miss World Fiji crown is to embrace this wonderful opportunity to see, hear and breathe the world, to promote this country which has nurtured you, and to be the best person that you can be."

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