A Boricua Queen Among Royals
Wilnelia Merced Cruz, or Lady Wilnelia Forsyth-Johnson as she is known in Britain, was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico on October 12th, 1957.
She is the daughter of Enrique Merced and Delia Cruz.
Wilnelia, motivated by her mom, started competing in beauty pageants when she was eight years old.
In 1975, at the age of 18, while still in high school, she won the Ms. World beauty pageant. She remains to this date the youngest winner ever.
After her reign ended, she was signed by Ford Models agency and modeled for Yves St Laurent, Valentino, and Dior. She divided her time between New York and Paris.
In 1978, a giant publicity poster with her face adorned Times Square.
With the help of fellow Puerto Rican Mirta Silva, she started dabbling in singing and acting on TV sketches in New York’s Hispanic TV stations. Her star was ascending for a future career in entertainment.
However, destiny had a different fate for this once most beautiful woman in the world. And it won’t be Puerto Rico or the USA but London instead.
Wilnelia‘s life will change while participating as a judge for the Miss World 1980 contest where she met the fellow judge and beloved British celebrity Bruce Forsyth.
Thus, the Boricua queen will join the British aristocracy.
Nobility has several definitions. One means a member of the noble class (ranked below the monarchy), a person of high social status.
The second definition refers to people who show very fine and admirable qualities such as courage, kindness, and honesty.
Wilnelia is both. When Queen Elizabeth gave Bruce Forsyth a knighthood on 12/10/2011, she became Lady Forsyth.
Nevertheless, it is not the royal titles, the beauty titles, or professional and business accolades that make her noble. It is her character.
We previously looked at five lessons from the five Puerto Rican Miss Universe. But what about our first-ever Miss World?
What can Wilnelia Merced de Forsyth teach us about nobility? Here are four lessons.
Lesson One: Always Smile and Look the Part
How does this Puerto Rican trigueña end in England fitting in among those people? Because the Anglo culture is as different from the Latino culture as the moon and the sun.
Whenever I look at Wilnelia’s public appearances, I am struck at three things:
- She speaks English with a perfect London accent.
- She always looks impeccably dressed and styled.
- She always sports a wide smile.
If you did not know she was born and raised in Puerto Rico, you would think she was British by birth.
So many like to complain about racism and discrimination, about not fitting in, but I wonder, when you live in another culture, how hard do you try to fit in?
Granted, the British nobility and their harsh tabloid culture. And yet, Wilnelia is loved by them.
In an interview with El Nuevo Día newspaper, she said “the Queen has always been lovely to me and I have never experienced racism.” Of course, the reporter’s question was asked because you know who.
Nonetheless, Wilnelia is embraced by the British not because she is the widow of a beloved public figure, but because she worked hard to fit in, adapt, and blend to their culture.
The lesson: People will respect you if you show them respect. As cliché as it sounds, a welcoming smile is truly your best accessory.
Lesson Two: Have Painful Conversations in an Honest Way
When I researched Wilnelia Merced, one thing that struck me was the easiness she navigated uncomfortable questions from the press. The British press is infamous for its ferocity.
And yet, a sign of a good communicator and a great leader is how they handle those uncomfortable questions and conversations.
While some people look down on beauty pageants, they are great at producing leaders and communicators. If you can debate serious world issues while wearing a bathing suit, the British press is nothing.
And while modern politicians love their euphemisms, political spin, and platitudes, Wilnelia does not hold back. Except she is polite and honest about it.
Yes, she married a man much older than her parents; yes she left her fortune to her and zero to his other kids; yes, she is a mixed raced woman from a Spanish-speaking Caribbean island; yes, she was born and raised poor. So what?
Whether it was her marriage, her husband’s illness and death, her mother’s progressive disease, etc., she will answer you sincerely.
She is not afraid to talk about it.
In effect, Lady Forsyth is a master at communicating honestly regardless of how painful or unpleasant the topic is. When you have nothing to hide, you can be as open as you want.
The lesson: It is better to talk about difficult topics with honesty than pretend everything is okay. Nobility equals being truthful.
Lesson Three: Embrace Your Roots
You would think after over forty years living in Europe among celebrities and royals and losing her accent, Wilnelia forgot her Boricua roots. You would be wrong.
Not only does she visit Puerto Rico often, but her Foundation is also located in San Juan.
Her candles, which she sells on her fashion and home luxury website, Wilnelia Forsyth London, have scents such as “coquito”, “valle de Collores”, and “cundeamor”. Their glass features houses styled like those found on Old San Juan.
Furthermore, wherever she goes she is an ambassador for Puerto Rico, always representing us with dignity and honor, and yes, glamour (she is glamourous).
Some people change who they are to be accepted. Don’t fall for that trap. Never deny who you are or your origins.
The lesson: Embrace your roots. True nobility begins with yourself. Be yourself.
Lesson Four: Practice Philanthropy
The greatest Puerto Ricans all share one thing in common: they all love to give back to the community. They practice philanthropy.
Lady Forsyth, as well as her late husband Bruce both, gave money and time to the most underserved Puerto Ricans.
Through her Wilnelia Forsyth Foundation, she supports several charities, including one close to me, Alzheimer’s disease.
Her foundation’s slogan is “reconstruyendo vidas” (rebuilding lives).
Indeed, charity should be about empowering others. Sor Isolina Ferré would approve.
Anyone can be a royal; anyone can be a fashion model or a celebrity. But not everyone can be a role model and a philanthropist.
Philanthropy is about selflessness. True nobility is not about helping yourself but helping others.
The lesson: Help those who need it the most and your life would be fulfilling.
Beauty with a Purpose
At 64 years of age, Lady Forsyth still looks stunning and captivating. Always impeccable and well-dressed, always well-spoken and charming.
Nevertheless, her true beauty is her personality and how she carries herself in a dignified manner.
The slogan of Miss World’s pageant is “beauty with a purpose”.
Wilnelia’s purpose? She is our goodwill ambassador in London. I hope we never forget her because she had never forgotten Puerto Rico.
In her own words,
Ayudar comienza en el corazón y mi corazón está en Puerto Rico. (Helping starts within the heart and my heart is in Puerto Rico.) –Wilnelia Merced-Forsyth
She would know about helping others since she was born poor.
And before you think she is a golddigger, remember, she was working in Paris when she was asked to help judge the contest where she met her late husband.
Golddiggers don’t have day jobs. Neither do they volunteer work nor do they do practice charity. Nor do they stay by their husband’s side through better and worse.
Golddiggers are selfish by definition. Wilnelia cared about Bruce and his children.
If a poor mixed-race girl from Caguas can become a beauty queen and a British aristocrat, what is stopping you from achieving your dreams?
In the end, beauty fades, and you can’t take your money with you to the afterlife. But those lives you touched, those smiles you provoked, those tears you wiped, those are your legacy.
True nobility means kindness. Like Lady Forsyth, let kindness be your purpose.
Reader, what does nobility means to you?