Do You Mo, Bro?

During the November in the Virgin Islands, any smooth-faced man should be ashamed. This is the month when men sprout lip fur, raise cash from sponsors, and use their facial hair to start conversations about men’s health and cancer screening. Then, at the end of the month, the men groom themselves into champions, competing in categories such as Celebrity Mo, Man of Movember, Lame Mo, Mo Class, Big Sexy Mo, and Team MoBro. The cause, which initiated in Australia in 2003 but came to the BVI in 2006, makes men proud to grow moustaches.

“BVI Movember started basically the same way that the international movement began—a couple of guys sitting in a bar talking about how they could help out,” BVI Movember Committee member Brendan Joyce said in his Scottish brogue as we sat on a picnic bench by the Nanny Cay beach, “and now it’s grown—both locally and internationally—into this huge fundraiser.” The Movember website reinforces this fact: “From 30 Mo Bros in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 to 854,288 Mo’s [worldwide] in 2011, Movember, through the power of the moustache has become a truly global movement that is changing the face of men’s health.”

BVI Movember co-founder Adam McDonnell, a Kiwi, explained that he had heard about Movember “but not in great detail” until 2006 when he was reading up about that year’s Movember on the Internet. He and colleague Matthew Owen “went to The Dove, lamenting how it would’ve been a good thing to do,” but since it was already the first of November, they assumed it was a lost cause. Enter Scott Hart, owner of The Dove. “Matt and Adam were talking at the bar about the concept of Movember,” Scott said, “and they were saying how it would be difficult to get going in the BVI. I was drawn by the charity and the irreverence of it, so I said we could do it at The Dove.” The initial team of three put up homemade signs at the restaurant and signed up men through their connections in the financial. “All of a sudden, there were 30 guys growing moustaches in the BVI,” Scott said. During that first year, in 2006, the concept of Movember was not as accepted or widespread as it is today. According to the Movember website, the cause did not reach North America until 2007, so the BVI was one of the first countries, along with New Zealand and Australia, to participate. “When we were walking around with our moustaches, it was embarrassing. It wasn’t cool,” Scott said. “It was fun, though. It was this joke that 30 people on the island were a part of.”

The first year’s moustache competition prize-giving event at the end of the month was intimate though it did have some celebrity clout. “It started out at The Dove, a very small affair,” Adam said. “But it was great,” Scott added, “Sienna Miller and Rhys Ifans happened to be having dinner at The Dove that night, so they were partying with us at the awards ceremony.”

Since that first year at The Dove, the event, like many a participant’s moustache, has grown. It moved to the upscale Frenchmans Resort for one year in 2008 then relocated to its current home at Nanny Cay beach. Last year’s End of Movember Party at Nanny Cay featured such notable judges as BVI Governor Boyd McCleary, international business magnate Sir Richard Branson, TV host Tamara Archibald-Gill, BVI Cancer Society representative Omonike Robinson-Pickering, and Nanny Cay manager Miles Sutherland-Pilch.

Adam told me that he’d contacted Sir Richard’s assistant to elicit the involvement of the celebrity mogul, who owns two British Virgin Islands. “I emailed her to see if he would be keen, and he said he was, but he couldn’t commit to it because of his busy schedule. I only told Scott [about the possibility of Branson’s participation], as he was the MC, because I wasn’t sure it would come off, and I thought it’d be a great surprise for everyone if he made it.” Sir Richard brought his catamaran, Necker Belle, over to Nanny Cay and said he could only stay about thirty to forty minutes, Adam told me, but Branson ended up staying about twice that time as “he seemed to be enjoying the occasion and was having so much fun.” Adam expressed equal excitement when talking about the involvement of the governor, who is the patron of BVI Movember Charitable Trust. Due to the governor’s involvement, Adam said, “people realize that it’s a legitimate charity and a worthwhile cause. It has given a lot of credentials to the cause, and it’s given us a responsibility that we have to live up to the trust that the Governor has placed in us.”

And that is what BVI Movember is really about: fighting prostate cancer and promoting men’s health. The funds raised originally went to the BVI Red Cross for PSA tests, Scott told me, “but the science now reveals that the test results in too many false positives, so as a group, we didn’t feel right about giving money to an unreliable test.” The Committee met to reevaluate their fund distribution and decided on several efforts, including direct funding to men who are suffering from prostate cancer in the territory. “We are going to see the money actually in action,” he said. In addition to distributing funds to cancer patients, BVI Movember Charitable Trust donated $10,000 this year to the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the United Kingdom, with the funds earmarked for prostate cancer research. In a press release, Governor McCleary said, “I am delighted to see that BVI Movember has supported the important work being carried out by the MRC and very much hope that the research will lead to more effective therapies being developed for this disease, which is so prevalent in the male population.” BVI Movember Charitable Trust also used funds to print men’s health posters which will be hung throughout the territory to raise awareness about cancer and health check-ups for men of all ages.

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This year’s month-long event includes several new fundraising efforts as well as the traditional festivities. Movember registration takes place on Thursday, Nov 1 at The Dove Restaurant. Participants must show up clean-shaven to pay the entry fee and get their sponsor sheets. On Saturday, Nov 3, interested parties can join in on the BVI Movember Poster Pub Crawl when MoBros and MoSistas are invited to join the member of the BVI Movember Committee in hanging posters in men’s restrooms throughout the territory while enjoying great deals on drinks as well as a buffet-style dinner at The Tamarind Club. At the BVI Crewed Yacht Show at Nanny Cay on November 6, BVI Movember will announce the Mini-Mo contest for week-long charter guests. A Willy-T fundraising day is tentatively scheduled for Nov 18. The final race of the BVI running season will raise funds for Movember with all participants required to sport either a real or fake moustache for the race/walk up Cane Garden Bay hill. The race starts at Myett’s at 4:30pm and ends with a party at Rudy’s. And, of course the Jack Daniels End of Movember Party and Moustache Competition will take place at 7pm on Friday, November 30.

Personally, this Movember marks the end of my reign as Miss Movember 2011. I look forward to passing along the sash and stache to the next deserving MoSista.

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