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21 Jan 2022

Offaly's Miss Universe history maker

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Edenderry’s  Abbii Badmus who became the first black woman to hold the  Miss Universe Offaly  title in 2020

On December 12, Katherine Walker from Belfast will represent Ireland at the 2021 Miss Universe final in Israel. Katherine, a nurse, is the fourth Miss Universe Ireland of Brittany Mason’s 'Moxie' era, following on from Cailín Toibín in 2017, Grainne Gallanagh in 2018, Fionnaghuala O’ Reilly in 2019, and Nadia Sayers last year.

While Katherine sets her sights on writing her name into the record books by bringing home the biggest prize in world pageantry, the same 'Moxie' era has given Offaly its own history maker in the shape of Edenderry’s Abbii Badmus who became the first black woman to hold the Miss Universe Offaly title in 2020.

For Abbii and her Miss Universe Ireland (MUI) class of 2020, the opportunity to be part of one of the planet’s most prestigious pageants was certainly a little bit different. Under normal circumstances, the weeks leading up to the aforementioned gala Grand Final in the famous and historic Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House would be filled with glitter and glam filled events, with flashbulbs and champagne corks often popping in equal measure.

These events usually give all of the contestants –  including Abbii, who was one of 2020’s twelve finalists - a chance to get to know each other as they share in what has always been a line-up of unforgettable experiences organised by Brittany Mason and her MUI team. Covid-19, however, changed all of that in 2020, with the entire MUI competition taking place online.

While the 2020 crown eventually went to Nadia Sayers, Abbii has flown the Faithful flag high and proud, proving herself to be as outstanding a representative of the county as we could ever have wished for on a national stage.

And, as Covid continues to cast its cloud of confusion across the world, and with restrictions preventing the MUI organisation from holding its annual Grand Final for a second year, Abbii is still – at the time of writing at the end of November 2021 – our Miss Universe Offaly.

And that title couldn’t be in better hands.

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of catching up with Abbii - one of the loveliest souls you could ever meet – and I began our chat by asking how her time as Miss Universe Offaly has been?

“Oh, my time has been amazing! I’ve loved every single moment of it. From the very start, even until now, everywhere I go people are like, ‘Oh, you’re Miss Universe Offaly.' So you’re part of the whole Miss Universe Ireland crew, that gang, the sisterhood, and I think that’s something that’s very common. Pageantry is not something that’s very common in Ireland, but that’s really starting to change. So I’m delighted that I have the title Miss Universe Offaly, and that I’ve been able to represent the country very well. Everywhere I go people are always like, ‘You’re such an Offaly girl’, and I’m like, excuse you, my name is Miss Universe Offaly [laughs]. But yeah, it’s been amazing, it’s been a great year.”

For Abbii, and her fellow 2020 contestants, it was a very different Miss Universe Ireland competition, with everything happening entirely online. But since restrictions had begun to ease, I wondered if Abbii had finally had a chance to meet any of the other Miss Universe queens from around the country?

“No, I haven’t actually met any of the girls that were finalists with myself. And yeah, obviously our year was very different with the pandemic, so everything we did during the year was virtual. But at least now restrictions are lifting bit by bit, which is great to know because if the competition does go ahead again this year, it can be in real-life. But because it was virtual last year, we all met each other through Teams, and Skype. But it didn’t feel like we were doing things virtually, because we were still able to get so much out of it, and with some of the girls, we’ve become like friends for life now, sisters for life! I’ve made closer friendships with some of those girls than I have with some people I see in my life on a daily basis! [Laughs]. And that’s so great to have.”

So why was getting involved with the Miss Universe Ireland organisation something that Abbii wanted to do in the first place?

“The reason why I wanted to get involved was that I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I still want to make a difference. I believe that the Miss Universe Ireland title should be mine [laughs]. That’s something that I’m very, very passionate about. So, behind closed doors, I’m still practising. For people that don’t know, it takes a lot of work! And obviously last year was my first year running in pageants, so I didn’t expect to go and win it first time around. And some of our previous winners have run twice.  It just takes practise and experience. I’m a woman who’s true to herself, and I love sharing my experience, and being able to meet new people, and representing my county, and my country. I carry that responsibility with me everywhere I go.”

What has been Abbii’s favourite moment of her time as Miss Universe Offaly so far?

“My favourite thing in the world is just having the title! That just means so much to me. I’m someone who has so much potential, but so many things in life can hold me back. It could be yourself, could be friends, could be family. Things can hold you back, but I believe that if you want to do something and want to achieve something, you need to have the right mindset. And when I ran last year, I wasn’t in the best state of mind during the whole competition. But what I’ve realised is that even while not being in the best state of mind, I was still able to achieve something. That just shows that if you really put your mind to something, and believe, it can be yours. So I enjoy every single moment of this. I still have my title, and everywhere I go, people are always pointing that out.”

At the time of our chat, one of Abbii’s fellow Miss Universe Ireland 2020 queens, Laura Nolan - who wore the Miss Universe Leinster crown - was killing it on RTE’s hit show,  Ultimate Hell Week. I asked Abbii if she’d been following Laura’s progress, and if she could ever see herself following in Laura’s footsteps on a show like that?

“I actually haven’t been following the show because I have so many things going on right now. Outside of the whole Miss Universe side of things, you get so many opportunities that arise from that, so many people reach out to you because you’ve been part of the MUI organisation. You do get that advantage from it. So I haven’t been following the show, but I keep up with Laura on Instagram, and it’s so great for me. And it’s so great to see that someone can get so much, and gain so much, from the M.U.I. experience, and I would love to be in Laura’s shows one day!

What kind of opportunities have come Abbii’s way from being involved with Miss Universe Ireland?

“I’ve become involved in modelling, with the ‘Not Another Agency’, I work with them. Lots of photographers reach out to you as well to work with them. Because of being involved with something like Miss Universe Ireland, everybody sees your social media and even just walking by people, the feedback is great. And sometimes someone would say to me, ‘I can see that you’re gonna make it!’ So that’s what I’m hoping to do, and to help others along the way as well.”

Has getting involved in modelling been something that Abbii enjoys?

“I do! I love modelling! But I’m shy, and I need to grow legs! [Laughs]. I need longer legs, I’m only 5 ‘ 4’’ [laughs].”

But even at just 5’ 4’’, Abbii has never been afraid of a challenge, and, lest anyone doubt it for a moment, has always proud of her country, having donned the famous green, white, and gold to represent Offaly in Gaelic football…

“Yeah, I played county for Offaly, I loved it. That’s one thing that actually weighs on my mind daily, and it’s something that I regret, giving up football. Every single day I say to myself, I’m gonna take up football again. I go for training the odd time, with some of the lads or whatever, but I need to actually find a club down here [in Galway, where Abbii is living and working right now] and join up. I was going to this year, but then the championship finished so quick, before I even opened my eyes! [Laughs].”

Although Abbii has since changed career-paths, back in the early days of the pandemic she was working with a medical devices company in Galway. I wondered what it was like being in a job that was important to begin with, but suddenly, as everything in the world changed so dramatically, she found herself in a job that would potentially become one of the most vital on the frontline?

“Yeah, back at the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn’t really know where we stood, that’s where I was working. We were making ventilators and shipping them worldwide. That’s what we were always doing, but then the pandemic struck and we became very, very busy. And as a frontline worker, what else could you do except go into work each day, get your head down, and work hard. We knew we were making a difference, not just here in Ireland, in our own country, but worldwide as well. And that was great to know. We were caring for others in a kind of a way. We weren’t physically, in person able to help, but we were making ventilators to help keep people alive around the world.”

However, Abbii recently changed jobs and returned to the world of finance, something she studied in college…

“Yeah, I recently - well, back a while now - started this new job. So basically what happened is that after working so hard in that medical devices company, things then went a little bit quiet, because there’s only so many ventilators you can make and ship out, because they last for years and years and years. So a lot of us were made redundant, and to go out and look for a job – because there was so many of us, and because the pandemic was still going on – was very difficult. Personally, I decided I was going to take a couple of weeks out to rebuild myself because the last few months up to that had been very, very tough. Obviously the competition was on, I was going to work full-time, and I was dealing with my own mental health as well. But then I actually got sick for a few months, and I couldn’t work for a few months. But health is wealth, so I had to take care of myself. Before I realised I was that fragile, I was still going into work for a long time. But when May came, I started looking for a job, and because I studied accounting in college – in GMIT – I decided to start working in what I actually studied again. I had been in a finance job before the medical devices company, and I needed to get back to that. So now, I ‘m working with AIB, and it’s very cool because it’s obviously one of the big banks in Ireland. I just love coming into work here, I love everybody. The team I’ve met, I can’t thank them enough, and they’re really great people. It’s not every day that you meet people like that. I’m so happy that I’m in a job that I love, and where I’m happy.”

This year, Miss Ireland has its first black queen in Pamela Uba, but that was a milestone that the Miss Universe Ireland organisation reached back in 2019 when Fionnghuala (‘Fig’) O’ Reilly took the crown. But Abbii, as the first ever black Miss Universe Offaly, is also a history maker. What does it mean to her to have that honour, and to be that role-model?

“To me, honestly, it means so much! As you said, I am the first black person to be crowned Miss Universe Offaly. Watching Fig be crowned Miss Universe Ireland in 2019, she has literally set the way for black people. I’ll speak for my generation growing up. As a black person, as a minority to be honest, our opportunities are limited. So this – what Fig has done, what I’m doing – this sets the bar for what can be done. Because even now some people are still just beginning to realise that there is such a thing as Miss Universe Ireland, AND black people can actually be part of that, and earn that title. The Miss Universe Ireland organisation is very, very fair in that, and I do hope that we can have more black people crowned, and different cultures, too. And that’s great, because at the end of the day, we’re all Irish!”

Abbii continued,  “If anyone wants to do something, you need to do it, you can’t let anyone stop you. That’s one thing I’ve realised, and that I’ve learned so much from last year. When I ran last year, I wasn’t letting my whole self go, be seen, there was so much that I hid. It’s only now I realise that there’s so much more I could have given. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and what I’ve gained from being part of the Miss Universe Ireland family. But sometimes, as a black person, even that can hold you back because you might be afraid to post things on your social media because of the culture. At the end of the day, I’m still black, and I want to respect my culture. And I’m still Irish, and I want to respect that culture as well. But it has to be about what YOU want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Focus on yourself. Build yourself. “

You can follow Abbii (@abbi_badmus), the official Miss Universe Ireland account (@missuniverseireland), and Miss Universe Ireland 2021 Katherine Walker (@katwalker21) on Instagram.

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