Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray celebrates the numerous opportunities she’s had to inspire, influence, and change lives, hers included.
It’s 8:00 AM and I’m nervous. I’m sitting in the hotel lobby in one of the country’s central business district’s hotels, waiting for a very important phone call. When the phone rings, I’m paralyzed; I can’t breathe. It’s Esther Swan, talent manager of the Miss Universe organization, telling me that she and Ms. Universe Catriona Gray (and her bodyguard) are ready to come down to the lobby. When I volunteered at the office to let my car be used as the pick-up, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would also have to be making conversation. I was only prepared for the interview; suddenly I was going to be face to face with a person who feels like the most famous woman in the world. After all, the Miss Universe competition for Filipinos is like our bread and butter. Each year, rain or shine or disastrous political consequences, we watch with breathless anticipation, hoping our bet makes it and is crowned by that iconic Mikimoto headpiece. I had thought myself immune to it but faced with the prospect of meeting Catriona, all normal thinking flew out the window.
When she appeared at the hotel entrance, she greeted me warmly. Dressed simply in an orange hoodie with her hair up in a ponytail, she was fresh-faced, radiant, relaxed, and ready to get on with the day. In the car, on the way to the shoot, she and Esther made small talk, laughing when they noticed her picture on an advertising hoarding. The sound of her laughter was surprising; it was loud and boisterous, unexpected from someone like her. But it was the sound of laughter from someone who enjoys life and is thankful for every joyful thing that has happened to her this year.
When a Dream Comes True
Later, as makeup artist Jelly Eugenio gets to work on her perfect skin, Catriona candidly tells me it was always the goal to win. “You don’t go after a dream without setting your sights on something,” she says, frankly. Not a dream as big and unfathomable, as time-and-life-consuming as Miss Universe (before winning the Beauty pageant industry’s biggest crown, she also placed Top Five at Miss World, making her the only pageant contestant in the current century to have made Top Five in both competitions and eventually winning Miss Universe). What she didn’t realize were the eventual connections she would make with people. “I didn’t expect that people would be so touched by my journey or connect so much with me,” she says.
After the crowning, the celebratory walk, the confetti, and the celebrations, Catriona was able to watch the video of our kababayans singing the national anthem outside the pageant venue at Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. “That’s another moment when it sunk in,” she mentions. It also allowed her to reflect on the importance of the crown to the Philippine people, something that was even more apparent during her homecoming parade. “I was awe-struck, every single day for about a week. I was bought to tears almost every single time because I could never wrap my head around how many people I was able to connect with,” she says. “And the amount of pride I was able to inspire in so many people is something I never expected.”
A New Kind of Influencer
In the answer during the pageant’s Question and Answer portion that won her the crown, Catriona mentioned Tondo, Manila. The subject remains near and dear to her heart. “A lot of people assume it was only a problem in the 80s, they think of Smokey Mountain and it seems like a problem in the past,” she says, “But the people who live there still face the same challenges, still need the same outreach. They still need resources.”
One of the things she is most proud of is that Young Focus, an NGO she works with, had their entire financial budget covered for 2019 after her win. It means that underprivileged children and young people in Smokey Mountain will have a chance for self-development through education. “It was very fulfilling for me,” she says.
As an agent of change, Catriona believes that she is a different kind of influencer. “These days influencer means having a big social media following, but influencer can also mean you’re able to empower people through what you do,” she says. “To show people how they can get involved in their community and that’s what I did.” After her reign, she plans to continue pursuing that line of work. “I don’t see it as being limited to my year of being Miss Universe,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been given a launchpad to be able to pursue my next dream.”
Read the full story written by Sara Siguion-Reyna in Lifestyle Asia’s December 2019-January 2020 Edition titled, “Agents of Change.”
Producer SUKI SALVADOR
Sittings Editor DONG RONQUILLO
Stylist JUSTINE ALIMAN
Makeup JELLY EUGENIO
Hair BRENT SALES
Set Design EVENTS STUDIO BY GIDEON HERMOSA
Shoot Coordination ALYANNA TIMOG
Special Thanks to MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION, ESTHER SWAN, & MARICAR OF EMPIRE STUDIO