Rachel Stuart-Baker: 30 years after Miss Jamaica Universe

LIFE-CHANGING! That’s how Rachel Stuart-Baker describes her Miss Universe pageant journey.

This year marks 30 years since she strut down the runway as queen; Jamaica’s ambassador to the 42nd Miss Universe pageant.

It was in 1993 that, as a college student studying television broadcasting, the opportunity to enter the Miss Jamaica Universe competition came.

In April that year she won the contest and represented Jamaica at the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico.

Rachel Stuart-Baker.

“I really enjoyed it. There are very few places you can go and meet representatives from so many countries. The exposure I gained from meeting and making friends with so many bright and beautiful young women, who represented their countries so well, was invaluable.

“I’ve also never forgotten what a wonderful host Mexico was to the pageant. We travelled all over the country and learned so much about their rich culture,” Stuart (now Stuart-Baker) disclosed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

Now 51 years old and mother to three children, she shared what made her decide to enter a beauty pageant.

“I had done some modelling with Pulse modelling agency and I was asked if I had interest in becoming a contestant in the pageant. I was also away in Canada studying television broadcasting. I weighed the pros and cons of entering and I decided that there weren’t any real cons,” said Stuart-Baker, who was also a member of the Canadian Army Reserves.

Rachel Stuart in the 1993 Miss Universe Jamaican national costume.

At the grand coronation show for Miss Jamaica Universe 1993, which took place at Pulse headquarters on Trafalgar Road in New Kingston, Cheri Moonasingh finished second with Simone Forbes placing third. Nina Chang, Denise Chen and Heather Ford completed the top six.

Stuart-Baker was born in Kingston, where she attended Stella Maris Preparatory School and Immaculate Conception High School. For a time, she resided in Canada.

“I originally moved to Canada between the ages of six to 11 and then moved back to Jamaica for high school. I returned to Canada for college after graduating from Immaculate High School,” said Stuart-Baker.

She confessed to the Observer that, though she agreed to be a contestant, she didn’t know what to expect.

Rachel Stuart takes the stage on the night of the 1993 Miss Jamaica Universe coronation show at Pulse.

“I entered with an open mind and the knowledge that I had as good a chance as anyone. I remember after the interview that I received very strong applause and felt pretty good about my chances. I remember feeling very supported by my family and friends and that, no matter what, it would have been a good experience,” she explained.

At the Miss Universe contest, she placed in the top 12 of 79 entrants. She also earned the title Miss Caraibe for countries in the Caribbean and the Americas.

After her reign, Stuart-Baker landed the job of being host to the popular Caribbean Rhythms video magazine programme on BET. At the time, it was the first programme on American cable television which dedicated its slot to Caribbean content. She later hosted other BET-produced shows, including Planet Groove and Video Soul.

“The first show I hosted for BET was Caribbean Rhythms. It was the first weekly show on American television that featured Caribbean music and artistes. Not only did it expose the United States and the world to Caribbean music and artistes, it was a magazine style show that took us all over the West Indies,” she explained.

STUART-BAKER…I travelled the world, met amazing people, and built a foundation on which I still stand strongly

“Because we featured the culture, people, food, topography, and diverse islands that make up the Caribbean, it also was pivotal with increasing tourism in the region. I went on to host other shows for BET, but Caribbean Rhythms will always be the most special and meaningful of all my television endeavours. It was not challenging because I loved it. I travelled the world, met amazing people, and built a foundation on which I still stand strongly.”

According to Stuart-Baker, she left BET so that she could “grow my family”. She has since worked with organisations involving her children, including theatre, food banks, orphanages, and fund-raising for their schools.

These days the proud, active mom is separated from husband Paxton Baker, former vice-president at BET Digital Networks.

Her last visit to Jamaica was in November when she attended the 50th birthday celebration for 1990 Miss Jamaica Universe Michele Hall-Subaran, who is now an interior designer and space planner.

Rachel on the 1993 Miss Universe stage in Mexico.

“I go to Jamaica two to three times a year. I bring my kids in the summer and I usually go again once or twice a year to see family and friends. One of my favourite sites is looking out the window as the plane is landing in Jamaica; I always get an excited feeling in my stomach. I can’t necessarily explain it, but it happens every time. Jamaica will always be home.”

STUART-BAKER…I travelled the world, met amazing people, and built a foundation on which I still stand strongly.

A young Rachel Stuart wearing her Miss Caraibe sash won at Miss Universe in 1993.

Rachel Stuart-Baker seen here with husband Paxton Baker and their three children.

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