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Like a latter-day Princess Diana, Wilnelia is fêted for her charity work, and recognised everywhere she goes.
‘But I knew that if our marriage lasted one year, I would be happy, because he was perfect and he treated me like a queen.’She was 23 when they met, Bruce, 52, with two failed marriages behind him and five daughters, two older than her – all of which he explained as they took to the dancefloor for the first time after the Miss World dinner.
Wilnelia turned 59 as she was leaving Puerto Rico – a milestone most beauty queens would dread – but age has never bothered her, she says: ‘In Latin cultures, we never think about it.’ When she got home to Surrey, ‘there were balloons everywhere and flowers and presents’ to celebrate.
‘Bruce is very romantic…’A year ago this week, she was wondering if he would survive the night.
‘It has really made me think about my life,’ she says. (After 40 years, they are still friends.) Wilnelia’s eyes are bright, her manner easy. Her curled black hair looks natural, with a few grey flecks.
‘If ever there was anyone for whom Destiny was written, it is me. She wears minimal make-up – just a slick of kohl around her eyes and bright orange lipstick that matches her silk shirt – but she is strict about her diet, wondering how many calories there are in the (small) chicken salad we each have for lunch.
Medical tests after a fall at home showed that Bruce, now 88, had two life-threatening aneurysms – blood-filled swellings on his major arteries – which, if ruptured, could prove fatal. Wilnelia says she was ‘petrified’ as he was taken to theatre, and some of her fears have proved justified.