Catriona Gray Does A Throwback On Her Wonder Years, Singing Career, And Pageant Preps
A lot of beauty queens—wherever they hail from—start out little in life, just like you and me. They’re real people, not just Barbie dolls brought to life. While many only tend to appreciate the thoroughly immersed, trained, and manicured contenders that they are, admittedly, deep down, they’re just as real, flawed, and vulnerable as the rest of us.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s easy,” 24-year-old Fil-Aussie Catriona Gray points out. “It looks easy when you see us waving onstage. It looks like ‘Oh, they got dressed up in a pretty dress and they’re just standing there waving.’ There is so much more to it.”
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“I hope that in the future, beauty queens wouldn’t be judged so shallowly. I hope people realize how much work and effort goes into becoming a beauty queen—it literally takes a village [to help someone become one],” she says. As the Philippines’ next Miss Universe contender, standing at a towering 5’10", Catriona is a well-read and intelligent young woman who grew up in the Land Down Under.
Looking back at her early life, Catriona has fond memories of her childhood in Australia. Her wonder years in her other homeland, in her own words, paint a pretty idyllic picture. There was so much more to her childhood than just her first stint at Little Miss Philippines when she was five.
“I was such an adventure kid and I still am. There was my favorite childhood house from when I was eight years old up until I was 17. It was this huge rainforest house, it was in the middle of this rainforest setting. I would take my Rottweiler, she was my best friend—Ellie was her name. I had her ever since I was four years old up until I was 16. We would go to the creek together, just me and her. I would throw pebbles and she would go after them, stick her head in the water and then come up and swim over to me,” Catriona recalls.
Catriona recalled a funny memory of a kiddie crush from school during that period, saying, “I remember my first crush. There was this guy that I really liked, but he didn’t notice me. It was my 5th birthday and I invited almost my whole class, and of course he’s there. When his mom and him came to my house, my mom was like, ‘Catriona kept asking if you were going to come.’ I remember feeling so mortified—I was like 'MOM!'”
At home, being an only child, she benefited from regular mealtime with her folks, and just like many other kids, was also sternly told to eat her vegetables. She shares, “I would spend so much time with them and I’d always look forward to when they’d finish work and come home. We would always sit at the table together every single night. We’re not one of those families who have dinner in front of the TV. When we eat, we always sit at the table. Every mealtime, I would always associate that with family time.”
Catriona noted, however, that she wasn’t sheltered just because she was an only child. Early on, she was strongly urged to function independently. “When people find out that I’m an only child they’re usually like ‘Really? You don’t seem like an only child type.’ It’s because I traveled a lot growing up. They even let me travel alone to visit my relatives during Christmas. When I was nine, I took my first solo flight to America. They really influenced me to be independent,” she says.
Catriona’s father, Ian Grey, an Australian of Scottish descent, was a civil engineer who had to move his family around often. “I was always the new girl in school,” Catriona pointed out. “I was always so shy and quiet. When I moved to Cairns in Queensland, Australia, that was where I stayed from 8 years old up until I moved away at 17. I had a really hard time making friends.” While Catriona had to deal with her frequently reset social circle, longing to belong became a huge deal for her.
One time, she was firmly called out for going about winning friends over less than appropriately. “It started out as something very innocent. I just liked to give gifts to my friends—for their birthdays, I’d put a lot of effort in handmade things. I realized I could make stronger friendships with that. One day, I remember I went home—my dad would always empty his pockets on the counter. There were like $20 AUD worth of $2 coins. I just took it all to school! After school, I took my friends to the nearest convenience store and I bought us all candy—just to be nice, I guess.”
“My parents were so disappointed in me that time [for just taking the money]. They picked me up from school and they both knew. I was on my way to dancing class. All I remember is them saying, 'We’re so disappointed in you.' No one saw it happen and I didn’t ask for it,” she says.
Catriona shared that unlike many teenagers, she never exactly had a rebel phase, so anytime she got into trouble, it was something that really stuck out and she couldn’t forget how she was corrected for it. “I entered the car and I knew already. It’s good that they nipped it in the bud. Imagine if I’d learned to make friendships by providing things for people—buying friends, if you know what I mean. They always instilled the right values like to not forget to work really hard and remember the people who helped you—to know that every journey starts with a single step.”
Currently, Catriona has begun to lay the groundwork for Miss Universe pageant preparation. She’s still getting used to the reality that, in order to win Miss Universe, as early as now, she needs to be Miss Universe, day in and day out.
One aspect of the road to the crown is to be as perfect as possible, physically as well as mentally. “Some people think that I’m intimidating. People get caught off-guard about my being a weird goofball. People get surprised—they’re like ‘Oh my God, you’re weird also!’ I also have a black belt in Choi Kwang Do. It’s a Korean form of Martial Arts that I learned when I was 12," she shares. "I workout every day now which is something I’m not used to—an hour to 2 hours. I do a combination of things—I do an hour of HIIT or weights and an hour of pilates. I’m adjusting to it, it’s just that I feel like a puppy all the time (laughs)—I’m always tired and hungry.”
In her spare time, Catriona likes to Skype with her parents to keep them up to date and sometimes hangs around with her furry friends: Maple, the Beagle, and Marlie, a Rottweiler. She also likes listening to music on Spotify. By the way, in case you haven’t the slightest clue, Catriona can sing! We’ve heard her belt a few high ones, and she’s legit! She shared a couple of her Soundcloud tracks on Instagram a couple of years ago.
Catriona says of the artists and songs she loves, “Gavin James—he has a song called ‘Always’. I love it. He also has a song called ‘Nervous’—the acoustic version, it’s so beautiful. For local music, I like that song by Mark Carpio, ‘Hiling’.” She does write, draw, and paint as well—is there anything at all Catriona can’t do?
Catriona prefers to work out in the morning for a good energy boost, also given the fact that she admits to being pretty spent by the end of the day. “Usually, I start with a workout then I go home and I get ready for an event or training or errands because I live alone. I don’t have any motivation in the evening. I’m like, ‘I’m tired for the day, I don’t have the energy for this.’ I also feel like when you work out in the morning, it sets the tone for your day. At the end of the day, I like to properly take off my makeup with coconut oil—it’s not as harsh on your eyes as a cotton swab would be. Also, [for beauty], I prefer using natural products—your skin is a breathing organ, so you should be mindful of what you put on it.”
Photography by author, additional photos from @catrionagray