Olivia Grange, or ‘Babsy’ as everyone calls her, is Jamaica’s Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sport. Not just a politician, she’s one of Jamaica’s most prolific talents and campaigners - a business-woman, activist, social worker, as well as mother and grandmother.
Babsy came to visit the World Travel Awards VIP Sports Lounge at the Westin Beijing Financial Street, and spoke to BTN on the eve of the men’s 100m final, with two of her national heroes, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, neck and neck favourites to take gold.
Babsy spent her formative years in West Kingston with her grandmother. Her talents were quickly spotted by a young Edward Seaga, the then MP for West Kingston and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, who would go on to become Prime Minister in 1980. He began to transform the infamous slum into a community, and Grange got involved organising cultural programmes for youth in the community and later become the first president of the Chocomo Lawn-based Victor’s Youth Club.
She attended Patricia Stevens Finishing School and Ryerson University in Canada, where she was got her first taste of politics. She co-founded Contrast, Canada’s first black community newspaper, managed a number of promising reggae acts such as Carlene Davis and Leroy Sibbles as well as platinum selling artists Shabba Ranks and Lady Patra, and began work with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
(pictured above: Olivia ‘Babys’ Grange and Reigning Miss World, Zi Lin Zhang of China)
In 1980, after a summer of volunteer work on an Indian reservation, Babsy returned to Jamaica on holiday, when Edward Seaga, who had just become prime minister, immediately invited her to work with him in West Kingston. And the rest, as they say, is history.
BTN: How has Beijing 2008 been for you so far?
BG: I’m really in an exciting situation and Jamaica is in a very exciting time. I think Beijing is a wonderful place and it’s very exciting at this time, certainly we are expecting to do very well as a little country.
BTN: What are your hopes for the Jamaican team and what would success mean to you personally and to Jamaica and its tourist trade?
BG: I think that the Jamaican team will do extremely well. I expect a record hall of golds and other medals, particularly in track and field. We have of course two of the fastest men and of course some of the fastest women and so we expect to do better than we have ever done. And that of course will really be wonderful for Jamaica. It will help to enhance the brand because sports and culture is at the centre of brand Jamaica.
BTN: What is it about Jamaica that helps cultivate such amazing sports men and women?
BG: When you ask me that question I think of rhythm and motion. We’re a musical country, we have a music that has penetrated all the corners of the earth - reggae music, made famous by Bob Marley. We also have a religion through Bob Marley - Rastafari, which is the newest religion in the world and with all of those things that are so much a part of our culture, being fast runners, being great athletes, is also the talent, the God given talent and so with a mix of all these things, we somehow manage to be a little country that is awesome.
BTN: Is there any event in particular that you are looking forward to?
BG: I am looking forward to the 100m. I will be right there as close to the finish line as possible and we expect to come in with one and two, and if possible, one two and three. Words can’t express how I am anticipating that race, we are gonna show the world that we will maintain the record of having the fastest men in the world… and the fastest women we expect to do well in the 100m and the 200m. And we also expect to do very well in the relay.
BTN: Do you have a message for the team?
BG: Yes, I certainly do. You go out there and you do your best. Do it like you know Jamaica can. You have an entire nation behind you, so just go out there and go for gold. God bless!