She wasn’t crowned in the most usual of circumstances, to say the least. At the risk of tempting fate, I doubt we’ll ever see a passing of the crown quite like this one again in our lifetime.
In 2019, aged just 22 and with a belly full of butterflies, Janice Sampere took to the stage at the then-newly-constructed Europa Sports Complex as a Miss Gibraltar contestant. After a sterling performance, she was crowned 1st Princess, alongside 2nd Princess Jyza Balban and runner up to Miss Gibraltar, Celine Bolaños. Little did Janice know the implications that being awarded such a title would later bring…
Speaking about her initial foray into the world of beauty pageants back in 2019, Janice divulges that it was always something she had wanted to do, but had previously lacked the confidence for. “My granny always used to tell me: ‘You should enter this year!’. The year I did eventually enter, my dance teacher was directing the show, which gave me the final push of encouragement that I needed.”
Directed by Yalta Pons, a well-known name in the local dance arena, the 2019 show shook up the traditional format we’re all used to, doing away with the swimwear round in lieu of some captivating dance routines, and with more of a focus on the individual interviews. Speaking to The Gibraltar Magazine at the time, Yalta said: “The interview round plays a significant part in the final score, so beauty becomes secondary. At the end of the day, the Miss Gibraltar show is an event to select an ambassador to represent Gibraltar at the Miss World pageant internationally.”
Little did Janice know the implications that title would later bring…
And so began what was to be a highly unusual, but very exciting journey for Janice. She admits that stepping out onto the stage for the first time was incredibly nerve-wracking, but not completely out of her comfort zone: “I’m used to being on stage, having danced for so many years, but I was still nervous! It was different to what I’m used to, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It changed me; it grew me as a person.”
Speaking of becoming 1st Princess, Janice reflects with a smile: “It was a great achievement. I wasn’t expecting anything at all; just to have the experience was enough for me. It’s something I’d wanted to do since I was a little girl, and to rise to that challenge and achieve that title made me really proud.” It was unknown to the audience then, and indeed to Janice herself, that this would be the last time Gibraltar’s most prestigious and widely-viewed show would be seen for at least another two years.
Fast forward to March 2020, and the world was plunged into fresh chaos and our daily lexicon consisted solely of ‘Covid’, ‘lockdown’, and ‘banana bread’. Later came the announcement that there would be no Miss Gibraltar 2020 pageant, nor events of any kind for that matter, for some unknown while.
As 2021 rolled around, the world had become au fait with the pandemic and all its protocols, so it was of slightly less surprise when – once again – the show that punctuated Gibraltar’s annual socio-calendar was to be cancelled.
However, this year also marks an important milestone in the sphere of pageantry: the 70th edition of Miss World. As the longest-running international beauty pageant, it was agreed that it was important for Gibraltar to continue to be represented – and so, the show must go on!
As 1st Princess of Miss Gibraltar 2019, it was decided that Janice should assume the role of Miss Gibraltar 2021, in a pageant-less crowning that was the first, and likely last, of its kind. Janice will represent Gibraltar at the Miss World Final, which will be held on the 16th December in San Juan, Puerto Rico – a dream for someone who had hoped for an opportunity like this all those years ago. For Janice, it was a second shot at being able to represent the hometown she loves.
“I received a phone call from Culture, and they asked me to come in for a meeting. I was wondering what it was all about, because it had been two whole years since the show. I was clueless! I attended the meeting and they told me their plans. I was shocked, excited, over the moon!” Janice reveals. “After the meeting I called my parents right away to tell them. They were so happy for me. It was a great day.”
Despite her untraditional route in getting there, Janice’s role as Miss Gibraltar consists of much the same duties as in previous years. “The only difference is that with the pandemic, events have been reduced. I’ve attended a few, but not as many as I would without Covid restrictions.” Janice admits. “But this has given me more time to prepare for Miss World.”
Janice has been involved with a number of local charity events, such as the Memory Walk in aid of dementia, helping to raise awareness for their respective causes. In addition, His Worship the Mayor, Christian Santos has invited Janice to a number of functions at City Hall, which she has gladly attended.
As part of the Miss World pageant, contestants are encouraged to choose a charity that means something to them for their ‘Beauty With a Purpose’ project. With the help of their national organisations, contestants have set up these charitable projects in over 140 different countries. The project gives these young women the opportunity to use their platform through Miss World to make a real and lasting contribution to their communities, and charities of their choosing. This year, Janice has chosen one that is close to her heart: the EV Foundation.
“The EV Foundation was registered this year, but the work they do has been ongoing for quite a few years. They help families in need, either locally or in Spain, or even further afield. Many people relocate to Gibraltar and have to leave their families behind due to finances or other complicated reasons; the founder, Nicole Jones, will try to help them in any way she can.”
Family is something that’s very important to Janice, who believes: “To have a loving and supportive family is to be really blessed. Seeing other families experience hardships and the work that Nicole has done for those families has resonated with me, which is why this charity stood out for me.”
As well as having a big heart, Janice has quashed the ridiculous myth that you must choose beauty or brains, as she is currently studying to become a Chartered Accountant alongside her current role in internal accounts at PwC. “It’s a career I’ve always been interested in, and one that’s in-demand in Gibraltar,” Janice shares.
On the 20th of November, Janice will embark on her journey to Puerto Rico in preparation for Miss World. This will be the very first time she has travelled solo, which is understandably stirring up a mix of emotions for her. “On different days I have different feelings… some days I’m really excited, others I’m a bit scared. In a way I can’t wait for the experience, and the challenge of it, but at the same time I’m like – ‘What’s going to happen?!’ The fear of the unknown! But I’m sure all of us will be in the same boat.
“I feel like all the opportunities I’ve had, from events to charity work, has helped me to grow in ways I would have never thought I could. It’s bringing me out of my shell. One of my coaches, Charlene Figueras [the other being Miss Gibraltar 2014, Shyanne Azzopardi] told me of the many years she’s known me, this has been the most significant growth in such a short amount of time – and I feel that. I’m also excited to grow further during my reign, and enjoy everything the experience has to offer, as it will go by fast.”
Janice is feeling as prepared as she ever will, although she’s awaiting one more important piece of the puzzle – her dress! “I’ve bought this beautiful material; I’m just trying to find the perfect designer to entrust with this huge task, and who will be able to bring my vision to life.”
As she prepares for this next portion of her rollercoaster journey, I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say; good luck, Janice! I’m sure you will do Gibraltar very proud.