ON SUNDAY, contestants representing 90 countries around the world competed for the title of Miss Universe 2019 live from Tyler Perry’s studios in Atlanta. Numerous black women took to the stage to fly the flag for their nations and Miss South Africa Zisibini Tunzi took the crown.
Ahead of the event, we caught up with one of the hopefuls, Miss Universe Barbados 2019 Shanel Ifill. Ifill is more than just a pageant contestant and model, she’s also a second year law student with aspirations of becoming a human rights lawyer.
Describing herself and extroverted introvert, months after being crowned in Barbados, she’s still get used to the limelight.
“It’s a bit of adjusting because sometimes I forget subconsciously like when people see me and they’re like, ‘oh you’re miss universe Barbados,’” Ifill said.
“I’m generally a person that just kind of likes to blend in in a sense and Miss universe Barbados, having this title, really makes you stand out in a very big way. You’re an ambassador to your country, or an ambassador for these brands and your sponsors and it gives you a bigger reach,” she told The Voice during an appearance at World Travel Market last month.
A self-confessed foodie, one of the things that Ifill was most excited about prior to Miss Universe was meeting all other women competing and learning about what cultural foods they enjoy eating in their respective countries.
“My favourite dish of all time – Bajan or otherwise – would have to be cou cou and flying fish,” Ifill said of Barbados’ national dish.
“It is by far the best thing that has come from this country – besides myself – just kidding,” Ifill said laughing. “I’m kidding, Rihanna, besides Rihanna.”
The 20-year-old shared her tips for the perfect Bajan meal.
“I like mine, personally, with cucumbers, pickled cucumbers and breadfruit. You can have it with sweet potato as well. Another thing that I [love] – Bajan food is everything – macaroni pie. A Bajan macaroni pie is by far the best thing you’ll ever eat, that’s a fact.”
Ifill’s experience with Bajan food goes beyond simply consuming it and it was a stay in England that actually inspired her to maintain the connection with her culture through cooking.
“I used to live in Essex for a year, right. And I don’t know if you all know but Essex, the Caribbean diaspora is lacking. There is no Caribbean food there. You will learn to make everything on your own and that’s what I had to do. My grandmother bought me in a good cou cou stick and I turned cou cou for like a good two weeks in Essex every day.”
When it comes to her other passions, Ifill is very concerned about protecting the planet and its people. Having suffered from scoliosis at a young age, something that made her the target of extreme bullying, Ifill has become an advocate and role model for children diagnosed with the spinal condition.
Aware of the impact plastic pollution is having around the world, but especially in the Caribbean, Ifill told us that she’s supportive of the steps the Barbados government has taken to address the issue.
“We have 166 square miles of something to do every single day”
“My government [is] one of the only countries to ban single use plastic in the western hemisphere. We are trailblazers when it comes to sustainable energy, renewable energy. Our prime minister is very big on those things.”
She added: “I think Barbados is really looking towards a greener economy because we’re affected by climate change the biggest…We have issues because bigger countries have affected climate change and we are affected by [them] whether it be our fisheries or our sea marine environment.”
With its focus on sustainability, mouthwatering cuisine and beautiful beaches – Ifill counts the hidden Shark Hole among her favourites – Barbados is a no-brainer when it comes to travel destinations.
“Why wouldn’t you visit Barbados? That’s literally it. Why wouldn’t you?” Ifill said. “We have 166 square miles of something to do every single day that you’re there for. Our history – beyond fantastic. You will be fed well. I should say, you will eat and you will eat well.
“The people are amazing, they’re lovely, friendly, hilarious. Bajans are the most hilarious people you will ever meet, ever. And you’ll have fun. Why wouldn’t you want to come?”