She put us on top of the world

  • Crowning moment: Gina Swainson shortly after being named Miss World at the Royal Albert Hall on November 15, 1979 (File photograph)
  • The arrival: hundreds of family, friends and residents gathered at the arrivals hall at the airport as the newly crowned Miss World, Gina Swainson, arrived from London. Behind her is then premier Sir David Gibbons
  • There she is: hundreds of people crowded  the corner of Front and Queen Streets to catch a glimpse of the newly crowned Miss World 1979, Gina Swainson, as she passed in a motorcade to City Hall (File photograph)
  • the front page of The Royal Gazette, November 16, 1979, announcing that Miss Bermuda, Gina Swainson had won the Miss World title

Former Miss World Gina Swainson has welcomed a proposal for a commemoration of her historic triumph 40 years ago today with a street named after her in her childhood home of St George’s.

Ms Swainson said last night she would be “extremely honoured” if the “lovely idea” of a permanent reminder of her triumph was created.

She added: “Winning the crown 40 years ago was a special moment in my life and I have always appreciated the love and support I received from all Bermudians. Thank you for remembering.”

Ms Swainson’s older sister, Donna Swainson, said the night the 21-year-old was crowned Miss World in the Royal Albert Hall, London, was “unbelievable” and that Wellington Back Road should be renamed to mark the event.

“They should name the street after her. They should call Wellington Hill Gina Swainson Hill.”

Donna said the area was a quiet, tight-knit neighbourhood where “all the Swainsons lived — uncles, grandparents, everybody”.

She added her sister’s Miss World win catapulted Bermuda into the global spotlight, and also put their neighbourhood “on the map”.

Donna said: “All kinds of cousins and relatives came out of the woodwork. The whole neighbourhood was like a big party.

“Everybody was out in the street. They were so proud of Gina. It was a place where everyone looked after each other.”

However, Donna admitted she was living with their brother, John, in San Diego on the big night and did not even know that her little sister had entered the contest.

Their mother, Winifred, rang them with the news that Gina had won.

Donna said: “People were calling; all my friends who had been watching it.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I flew back home when they had the parade for her. It was wonderful.”

Donna added Gina was “the baby” to her, her brother and their sister Katherine.

She said: “The one thing I always remember was that, because she was the baby, I had to take her everywhere with me. I couldn’t stand it.”

Donna added: “She remembers I used to make her walk in the middle of the road when we were coming home.”

It had already been a big year for Gina, who had been runner-up in the Miss Universe contest earlier in 1979.

The former Miss World is a now a counsellor for at-risk young people and lives in Surrey, in the UK, with husband Peter Jovetic.

But Gina visited the island over the summer, and her older sister said she was “doing wonderfully”.

Darlene Livingston, who went on to become a top name in Bermudian broadcasting, played dolls on Wellington Back Road with the Swainson sisters, and lived nearby.

Ms Livingston said: “Gina is younger than I am. We were all close. Our families were about five houses apart.”

She added: “I think a renaming is a great idea. Gina did something that had never, ever, ever been done before.

“It was huge; one of the proudest moment’s in the country’s history.

“We were thrilled. Gina was so gracious and beautiful, and so deserving. She was exactly the right choice for the crown.”

A massive crowd packed Front Street for a parade thrown in Gina’s honour and a half-day holiday was declared.

A commemorative postage stamp was issued in 1980.

Ms Livingston said: “We were so proud of the fact that Gina had been born and bred in St George’s.

“It wasn’t just St George’s. It was the whole country, but we were especially proud and prouder that she came from Wellington Hill.”

Ms Livingston said she had been pleased to meet her old friend over the summer.

She said: “She’s just as lovely and engaging as ever, very down to earth, very much a family person. She’s a real sweetheart.