Just over three weeks ago Baglan 21-year-old Sara Manchipp became Miss Wales 2011.
The former Neath Port Talbot College student can now look forward to a year of wonderful new experiences.
In her first major interview as a Welsh standard bearer, she tells Port Talbot Magnet that life’s not all about physical beauty.
Far from it.
In this full version of an interview we’ve run over the past five days, she tells of her Baglan-based grandparents Rosemary and Gareth have had a massive influence so far and are likely to continue as a strong force as she progresses through life.
Their ethos is one of rare humanity. They have been foster parents for more than 20 years – since as far back as Sara can remember. As role models go, she couldn’t hope for any better.
Sara grew up in Baglan with mum Eira who still lives there. Other close relatives include 16-year-old brother Garin who’s awaiting GCSE results from Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera – Sara’s former secondary.
Sara’s other grandparents, Marlene and Peter Manchipp, have also been positive influences in her life. Peter died last year but Sara knows how proud Grandpa would have been of her achievements.
For more than two years, Sara has worked in the Swansea city centre branch of global snacks chain Subway. She’d like that to continue but acknowledges that time pressures with university and Miss Wales duty could have a knock-on effect.
It was only in March, incidentally, that she took the Miss Neath Port Talbot title at the Princess Royal Theatre to qualify for Miss Wales. In three months’ time she’ll be back on stage, this time for the Miss World pageant. And she promises to take with her a wholeheartedly positive message about her home town.
Go for it, Sara – pob lwc!
Q: Sara, well done on winning the title Miss Wales 2011 – you must be chuffed. Tell us about your aspirations for the year ahead.
A: Well, I feel strongly that knowledge and success go hand in hand so the thing I’m most looking forward to right now is getting my A level results next month. I studied psychology, communication and culture, and the Welsh Baccalaureate at Neath Port Talbot College and I’ve got a conditional offer to study at Swansea Metropolitan University. I need grade C’s but I’m hoping – with fingers crossed – that I’ve done much better than that because I tried really hard. At one point I locked myself in my room for a week and a half, getting rid of Facebook and all those other things that can distract you! Yes, I’ve won Miss Wales but you can’t base your future on the way you look because looks fade with age. Intellect and education are gifts that stay with you for life. Schooling has always been very important to me; my family have always stressed how education is important and I’ve taken that on board. Education is the most important thing to me. At the Met my course will be psychology with counselling; I’m fascinated by the psychological aspect of understanding people’s behaviour and especially the cognitive part of the subject.
Q: Psychology and counselling aren’t traditional secondary school territory. Why choose them for uni?
A: Whilst growing up my grandparents have had a huge influence on me; they’ve always fostered children – up to five at any one time – so I’ve seen on a regular basis how helping someone can change lives for the better. That’s drawn me to counselling – there’s such a positive force that comes from talking problems through, from help and guidance. How does that apply to me? Well, I like chatting, I’m friendly, try to be warm with everyone and I’ve always been interested in the underlying reasons for behaviour – good and bad. On a selfish level, of course, it’s been great to have lots of young people around them as I’ve been growing up and staying there at weekends; it’s been lovely to get to know them and to see them develop from a state of anger or upset to state of great happiness and positivity.
Q: So what’s the perfect job for you?
A: I’d love to work with youth offenders. It’s a role that has the capacity to transform lives for the better and to deliver job satisfaction. It’d certainly put my career to good use; why should three years of university study – not to mention the time spent on GCSEs and A levels – go to waste? My own opinion on young people who offend is that they shouldn’t be locked up as too many are. The accent should be on help not punishment. Not only would the individuals benefit but also, I think, their families and wider society. Who knows how things would improve for us all if there were more people out there well qualified and tasked with understanding and helping others? My view is that the world would be a much better place. There aren’t enough foster carers, for instance. If only there were more people like my grandparents!
Q: So I guess that your grandparents are among your true heroes?
A: They’re my role models. I’d never aspire to be like some of the extreme cases you see on reality TV shows – my grandparents are real people who have made a real difference to the lives of the children they have fostered. In the years to come I’d love to make an impact to match their’s.
Q: How has your mother shaped you?
A: Even though they’ve not been together since I was four, my relationship with them is great. I grew up with Mum and I’ve always been lucky enough to treat my grandparents’ house as a second home.
Q: The Miss Wales competition has suddenly thrown a young woman from Port Talbot into the national spotlight. What messages from the town will you be taking across the country during your year’s reign?
A: The key message is that Port Talbot is underrated and is wrongly overlooked by too many people and too many organisations. Too often it’s talked about in terms of pollution and lost industry – but it’s actually far more deserving than that. Stars like Michael Sheen come from Port Talbot, for goodness sake, and I think that his project The Passion this year was one of the great Welsh events of 2011 or any other year this Millennium! That made me very proud, the whole of Port Talbot – thousands of people – coming together and celebrating what this community is all about. It was an outstanding event that was unique in world terms never mind in terms of Wales. It often takes people in the public eye, like Michael Sheen, to successfully promote a positive public image of the things they care about. I feel that, as Miss Wales, I can have a good effect in my own way. There are some wonderful things associated with Port Talbot – the mountains, beaches, countryside, rivers, enterprise – and I see it as part of my role to promote them. We’ve spent too long being played down; every time I get the chance I’ll be talking in glowing terms about this place which is so many good things in one package – that’ll be in TV interviews on radio and in the newspapers. In a sentence, Port Talbot is the ultimate pick’n’mix of talent, beauty, industry and potential.
Q: The Miss Wales pageant was an all-guns-blazing show. Tell us a little bit about it.
A: Oh, there were 55 beautiful women on stage that night, some tall, some short, some in between. They were all talented in their own individual ways and, although everyone thinks they have a chance and there’s always hope, there’s always a big question mark because the only thing that really counts is the collective opinion of the 11 judges. When my name was read out as the winner I had a whole mixture of emotions, from feeling physically sick to feeling like I’d just been hit by a thousand tons of bread flour! It was such a shock, I couldn’t believe it and it took my breath away for a few moments. everything seemed to go quiet, I couldn’t hear anything, all I could see was bright lights and the main thought going through my mind was ‘Oh my gosh, am I dreaming?’ Of course, the judges each perceive beauty in different ways. When it comes to the Miss World event in London in November I just hope the judges think that being short is a good thing because I’ll be the shortest in the show – by five inches! I’m only 5ft 3ins – the nearest to me is 5ft 8ins.
Q: Other than good A level results and a bright start to university life, what would you really like to achieve over the coming 12 months?
A: I really hope my time as Miss Wales will mean something for Port Talbot. If I’m not mistaken, I’m the first Miss Neath Port Talbot to take this national title so that in itself is a great honour and opportunity. It’s a confidence boost to me – so that’ll help me at the Met – and I’d like to turn it into a confidence boost for the town. It’ll definitely prepare me for my future career and it’ll help me take Port Talbot’s good messages to a wide audience. I’m really proud to be representing Neath Port Talbot, I’m proud to be representing Wales and I hope that a lot of good can come from that. I’ve always been incredibly patriotic, I love the fact that our small country of three million people can be distinguished through fabulous things such as its own language and I love the fact that I’m a fluent Welsh speaker. That means an enormous deal to me; I’ve always loved being involved in the Urdd and the eisteddfodau. Having our own national language that’s many hundreds of years old is a big positive for us, a great strength and something that celebrates our independent nature; more of us should learn it and it should be spoken much more than it is. You can’t imagine most French people speaking English instead of their own language, can you? Just wait until I get onto the Miss World stage in London … girls from other countries will speak their own languages so, on behalf of the three million people I’ll be representing, I’ll definitely be speaking a bit of Welsh!
Tomorrow The start of Sara Manchipp’s monthly blog for Port Talbot Magnet. Don’t miss it!