As Peachfest celebrated its 65th anniversary, so did another long-time Penticton tradition. The 65th Queen Val Vedette, Kelsey Laing, was crowned at the Miss Penticton pageant.
Laing was riding high during the Peachfest grand parade on Aug. 11, as it was her first public appearance as Miss Penticton.
The 17-year-old Laing, flanked by princesses Ailsa Craig and Shayla Ritchie and Miss Congeniality Taylor McIlroy, rode down Main Street, and waved to the crowd lining the street during the parade. She received her crown the previous night.
“I still can’t register it, it still feels like a dream to me. I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting my name to be called whatsoever, and when they said it I had to sit for a minute, and I finally realized that no one else was walking up and it was my name they called, and I had to go get my crown.”
Already having spent the last eight months preparing for the pageant, Laing earned the privilege and responsibility of travelling to other communities, as far as Calgary, to promote the city of Penticton.
“It really is like having a job, because your whole life revolves around Miss Penticton,” she said. “I was aware it was going to take this effort. I knew if I was crowned it would be another year around Miss Penticton, so I was very prepared for that.”
The constant public appearances her new role brings are something Laing said she is naturally attracted to, being interested in singing, playing the guitar and the performing arts.
However, she admits public appearances gave her the butterflies until she got involved in the Miss Penticton pageant process — she still gets them, but can deal with the anxiety much better.
“I still get the butterflies, but even now going in front of a crowd I feel much more confident,” she said. “I feel that I can go in front of people and I don’t have to worry about being judged. I’m more comfortable in my skin than I used to be.”
The growth that Laing saw in her public performance skills is just one benefit the candidacy process brings to the teen girls who sign up for it, said Jo Sommerfeld, co-ordinator of the Miss Penticton pageant.
“It’s a training program to teach the girls self-esteem, public speaking and how to conduct themselves over an interview. It’s all beyond what people see on TV,” she said. “What they learn, they use throughout their lives.”
Some of the other topics the two-hour-a-week training, which starts in January, covers are resume writing, etiquette training, networking skills and time management.
Neetu Garcha was Miss Penticton in 2008. She now works for local radio station Country 100.7 as a on-air host and technical producer.
Garcha said the skills she learned during her reign as Miss Penticton will carry on for the rest of her life.
“It’s five years later and I use the, interview skills, the networking skills and the time management skills on a daily basis,” she said. “It sets you up for life, almost.”
However, playing the role of an ambassador for a city of 42,000 can come at a cost. The somewhat strict ideals and norms that come with the crown get in the way of individual expression, said Garcha.
“I didn’t chew gum for a year, I didn’t say dude, I didn’t say man, I didn’t wear jeans out in public very often,” she said. “It’s really hard to let your personality shine through sometimes, when you have all these rules you have to follow.”
For last year’s Miss Penticton Jolene Hayter, balancing the ideals of the role with her own was a key to success.
“One thing I really stand for is my brother,” she said. My older brother is a burn survivor, so I shaved my hair down to one inch to promote you can be that ideal of beauty regardless of your hair, regardless of your skin type or your makeup type, because watching my brother grow up, he didn’t let that stop him. He still found a way to be beautiful within that. I could express my beliefs in a way that still worked in accordance with the program.”
Garcha had this piece of advice to give to anyone considering the role of Miss Penticton:
“Never forget that you’re a role model, that there are little girls that are ages four to 22 looking at you as a role model,” she said. “Everything you do, whether you’ve got your banner and crown on or whether you’re just getting an apple or two from Save-On, you’re being watched. Behave as Miss Penticton with or without your crown on, because you’re always being looked at as a role model.”