72-year-old Bernadette Nakaggwa was crowned Uganda’s independence beauty queen on
October 10, 1962. She spoke to Vicky Wandawa about her experience as a beauty queen
What prompted you to participate in the beauty pageant?
For about two weeks, there were announcements on radio calling for girls to participate in the pageant. I did not pay much attention to it until one of the scouts, a photo studio owner, spotted me and asked me to participate. He did not have to convince me, because I also wanted to take part.
Weren’t your parents and relatives against it?
No one was against it because it was admirable. Besides, they had no reason to worry since the auditions were not as indecent as they are today. We dressed decently and all the judges did was measure our waists, busts and legs.
Take me through the events on that day
It was the morning after independence and everyone was still in a jovial mood. We were 27 girls vying for the crown. They locked us up in a room and picked one by one to walk to the stage amid ululation. Finally, I was alone in the room. Then I heard the judges say they were going to announce the winner. I think someone had planned to leave me out. However, my elder sister brought everything to a halt, saying one of the participants was missing. I heard the door open and they asked me to freshen up my make-up. Then I walked onto the stage and the cheers were deafening. I was lucky to have a beautiful song to walk to. Out of the 27, they chose three of us and asked us to stand aside. They asked us questions and finally, I was told to stand in-between them and given a crown and trophy. I was also handed an envelope with sh1,000. The judges were a White male and a female.
What did you use the prize money for?
Those days, that was a lot of money, about sh1m. With a top-up from my sister, we bought land in Kabuusu and shared it.
What other privileges did you enjoy as a beauty queen?
Every weekend, for a year, I would go to the cinema with six of my friends to watch movies, fully sponsored by the pageant organisers. I also won 30 crates of beer and 30 crates of soda.
Weren’t many young men queuing to date you?
They did, but I was very disciplined.
What would these boys compliment you on?
I had a great body. They nicknamed me kalungi, meaning the small, pretty girl. My butt was so big that the White judges thought it was odd. They made me do exercises to firm it up.
So, which of those boys did you finally marry?
Ronald Basudde, who was one of the richest men in East Africa. He was a coffee trader.
How did he win your heart?
He was a friend of my elder brother. I was into fashion and design. He asked me to make him a suit and when I did, he was impressed, since not so many women knew much about men’s clothing then. We became friends and one day, he organised a party and invited me and my brother. After the party, he asked for my hand in marriage.
Was it the money that attracted you to him?
No, my brother had told me about him and I had no doubt that he was the right man for me. I knew that since my brother knew both of us well, he knew we would be fit for each other.
What was it like being married to a rich man?
I travelled the world with him. I, especially, remember when we sailed to Venice in Italy, one of the must-see tourist sites. He also gave me money to do whatever I wanted, including taking care of my parents and siblings.
Are you still together?
He passed away in 1969. I met another man in 1979, but we parted ways in 1982 because I could not stand his character.
Did you have children with any of the men?
All the children I had passed on. I do not want to talk about it.
How do you compare the 1962 beauty pageants to the ones of today?
Today, it is no longer an honour to participate in beauty pageants because contestants dress skimply. This is a culture copied from West. Our culture emphasises decency.