By Ogbonna Amadi Entertainment Editor and Florence Amagiya
Rosemary Okeke is more than a former beauty queen. Twenty-eight years after she was crowned Miss Nigeria 1984, Rosemary has lost nothing to age. Still graceful and beautiful, she could still hold her own against younger ladies.
She launched into into fashion business few months after her reign and since then, so much happened. Currently working on a reality show that will empower the youth who are gifted in photography, Rosemary in this interview talks about life after her reign as a queen, her marriage, the forth- coming photography competition and more.
When you walked in, l couldn’t believe you are the same young woman who was crowed Miss Nigeria more than two decades ago. How are you able to keep your looks?
Hmm… It’s God (laughs). He is the custodian of the matter, we humans only do maintenance. I haven’t done any plastic surgery. That’s why I will always say it’s God’s grace.
There are certain things I’m sure you might have done. Like…
It’s just the normal thing everybody does. I know weight is not very good for anybody so I try to watch that. I keep healthy in what I eat because what you take in eventually refelects on your body. So just try to watch what goes into you.
What are the things that will make you add weight…?
I don’t think there is anything that I don’t eat. I eat what I feel like eating. The only thing is, I try to eat at reasonable hours. I like pounded yam and garri.
I love that much better than rice and the rest of them. So it is about when you eat, the soup you use in eating what you are eating and the quantity of the food you eat. I watch the quantity too. I eat what I want to eat. I make sure that my soup has a lot of vegetable. I eat a lot of vegetables which is very good for the system.
Over the years, what has beenyour daily body routine?
You know shea butter? A lot of us would be surprised at what it does. I got introduced to it and I have been enjoying it. The sun batters the skin when you expose yourself too much to it all the time, the weather batters you too. Even when you use very good creams, it depends on the time you use it. Everything has time! It is the same thing when it comes to feeding. You should know the right time to eat and what to eat.
It will work for you instead of starving yourself to keep slim. Start with breakfast, make sure your system takes off quite early. So you have a system that’s working not a system that’s lazy. Whatever you do, the bottom line is, do not abuse it and know when to stop.
These days, so many people try to keep slim and all that, I mean they just want to remain pretty all year round. Why haven’t you done anything like that to your body?
I don’t think I have reached the stage where I need to cut anything out.
So far, God has been merciful. For some people, it is not just about beauty, it could be one accident or the other. It’s not just about wanting to remain pretty for the rest of your life. But in case of wanting to remain pretty all the time, I think there’s nothing absolutely wrong with wanting to look good for the rest of your life.
It’s about how you want to be. It’s about yourself. It’s about the individual. If you want it, there is nothing wrong with it. I don’t have anything against anybody who wants to have cosmetic surgery. If you can handle it, why not?
How do people react to you when you are introduced?
Everybody must feel good if you have positive reaction from people when they meet you. It is always a pleasure for me. It just means that people appreciate something, because you don’t get that all the time. When you meet some people, they know who you are and they intentionally snub you. I have tried to ask a few times because their reactions actually puzzle me.
They probably just assume that you may want to give it to them, so they give it to you first. So that happens. Of course it hurts, because I am not like that. I am friendly with anybody who wants to be friendly with me. I am quite a friendly person.
It hurts when people think about you in ways that you know you are not. But when I get noticed by people on the streets and I am greeted, I am definitely flattered. I just appreciate it and thank God for it.
Tell me what has been going on since 1984 and today?. In between tell me how the crown benefited you. Did it help in making who you are today?
Definitely, the crown contributed quite a lot to who I am today. How far it got me? The Miss Nigeria crown opened a lot of doors. It made it easy for me to meet people and be accepted. Right after I became Miss Nigeria, I went into business; fashion business.
And of course that involved having to build a lot of huge clientele base. It helped me to achieve that and the level of people I wanted to deal with. Over the years, I have always worked in between. I got married and got divorced and I had my baby, a baby girl.For sometime now, I have been worried about what’s been happening in the country, and that is the unemployment rate.
I have been thinking about ways one could actually contribute in that area and I thought I have a lot of adventure, I have travelled, been to a lot of places., I have found a lot of traffic in other countries tourists destination. You obviously know that these countries are benefiting a lot from tourism and I say why not Nigeria? We have better sites here.
That’s how I came up with this project, The National Tourism Competition that I am working on right now and you know that beauty pageants have that kind of link. When you are having beauty pageants within the country, you find that people from different states come together with a lot of culture, a lot of wears and everything.
Tourism is about the people and about the environment. Tourism is something you are doing and people are coming together at that moment. When I was Miss Nigeria, I went for Miss World where I met people from different part of the world. That is tourism right there for you. I just thought this is something we should actually look at in this country.
Why are we ignoring it? Why are we crying about unemployment and poverty alleviation? How do you do that? I think
I should work on this project, get the Government and get everybody to participate in it. This is youth empowerment right there before you.
What is in it for the youth?
In tourism, there are a lot of small and major scale businesses that can be generated from it. It’s for starters. Because of the kind of businesses we have, we are looking at what is being projected in the country right now, a mono economy. How many people can dive into the oil business?
But tourism is such that there are so many things that can be done, even just developing some tourist sites within a state or even a local government. You must have tour guide. If traffic is driven there that helps the woman, who is selling drinks, the one who is selling food and the one who is selling little souvenirs.
There are so many things we can do if we increase traffic. The taxi driver will gain from it in the area of transportation, the hotel owner is benefitting from that. When there is increase in passage, they expand and they employ more people.
What kind of monetary reward do you have in place for the participants?
Most of our prizes are geared towards promoting photography, just to be able to change our value system. We want to sensitize Nigerians, so we are driving you basically to get interested in the things that would expose you to what we are doing. We have prizes, most of them are not in cash. We have photo studios and we want to open photo studios for people that would win. We have laptops and I-pads, we have cameras. We have everything that has to do with camera. These are some of the things we’d be giving out. We understand that if you give out a fully equipped photo studio, the persons cannot work by themselves they must bring other people as well as need certain cash to pick up. That is why we are attaching some cash to the prizes so that they can get started.
What are the challenges?
To be honest, sponsorship is the major challenge. This is not a project one person alone can drive. Nigeria is huge and if we want to get this message across to every Nigerian, we should make sure that these messages get to the states, to the L.G.As, to the people in the villages. We want to be able to drive it through the media. As it is, we have done a lot of campaign. I know how many thousands of hand bills we have circulated all over. We are setting up coordinators in the universities in different states and making sure these people receive something for their effort. So it is not something that one person alone can achieve.
Let’s go back to your reign; I want us to cover the low points, the harassment, and the intimidation and the high points as well
Low points, what would it be? I can’t recollect any!
There’s this stigma about becoming a queen. Some people say you have to sleep your way up! Did it bother you when you wanted to go for Miss Nigeria?
Yeah! I heard and I still went in for the contest. I know l didn’t sleep with anybody. As far as I am concerned, there’s no such thing. If you know of anyone who has slept with someone to win the crown, then say it or stop assuming. In any contest, there is always someone who would win and some who won’t agree that the truimph is genuine. It is the same thing as saying you cannot please everyone. You find that when the queens are crowned, some people would be protesting. So it is so easy to assume that something has gone down. From my own experience, I didn’t and I don’t know of anyone who slept with someone to get the crown. For the low points, l would say l was forced to become an adult earlier than l would have been. I couldn’t hang out with my mates, l couldn’t do what l wanted to do, dress the way l wanted to dress as a young adult and all that. It was indeed a challenge.
For the high points, it is basically about a young person becoming what she became before time. It helped me indeed. Doors were opened because I was recognized. I went into business after the contest and I used the platform to grow my fashion business. I was able to build a clientele base that was good for me. As a beauty queen, I was sure if I pay you a visit then, you would like to see me and you know I wasn’t coming to waste your time.
Can we talk about your marriage and why it crashed?
[Laugh]I do not want to bring another man’s matter into mine. Two people are involved here and it is best left alone.
Do you think being a beauty queen affected your marriage be?
Being a beauty queen is not the reason I got divorced and famous people are not known for calling off their marriages. Marriages are called off when differences between the couples cannot be resolved. There are many beauty queens in their marital homes without issues and there are many who are enduring their marriages. Divorce is a personal thing.
Could this have affected your marriage?
Personally, l don’t think my queenship is a reason I had problems in my marriage. I wasn’t in any form of duress when I was getting married. I could have given myself time if that was what I wanted, but I would agree to a large extent that sometimes, when people are going into something they don’t really know, they may not be prepared. And getting married to a beauty queen, if you are not prepared then, you might be intimidated. And no matter how much the person tries, once you are set in your thoughts, it just gradually wears everybody down. I would say to an extent that that was part of the reason for my divorce but it is not all of it.
Do you have a child?
I have a daughter. She is 21 years old and she is in her last year in the university.
How come she is not in a beauty pageant contest?
She doesn’t have to take the path I took, even if she is my daughter. She is an individual. Besides, she hasn’t shown any sign that she’s interested in something like that. But if she wants to, I would encourage her.
What do you think of beauty pageant of those days and now?
I think they have improved! Everything has improved. The country has improved in many ways.
Do you advice that women should take advantage of the platform, the beauty pageant?
Yes! They should take advantage of it. The youths these days are more mature and more exposed. I think they would do better if they can use the opportunity. They can do much for themselves and the country if it is properly channeled.
Would you remarry if given the chance?
Of course I would marry again and I pray it lasts forever this time. Nobody prays to go into marriage and intentionally plan to end it. It is heartbreaking. I wasn’t trained that way!
What’s your form of exercise?
I work out in the gym, but for some time now I haven’t done much because I am so busy. But l watch what I eat. Like I said before, I love eating what I want to eat. I am only careful with the time of eating.But whenever it is getting out of hand, I hit the gym.
What’s your advice to the young lady who is planning a wedding and not a marriage?
To make sure she relies on God and to make the man her best friend. She should learn the art of communicating with him and vise versa. She should have it in mind that when all the chips are down, only God and the friendship you have can save the day.
What is your best fashion item?
Every item is important, but if l were to be traveling, l would be ready for anything. I would pack a full suit case in case of necessity.