EXCLUSIVE: Miss Universe Catriona Gray Looks Back At Her Past Lessons And Reveals Who She Really Wants To Share Her Crown With
For Catriona Gray, the one year that she will hold her Miss Universe sash and crown marks a year of achievement, a year of making things come true, a year so extraordinary not just for her, but for the Philippines.
That journey began a little more than a year ago, on March 18, during the 55th edition of Binibining Pilipinas. She emerged as the favorite among the other competitors, having won third runner-up two years prior in Miss World; but more so because of her on-point, empowering response to a question about the young women of Marawi. “Be strong,” she said. “If we could get women to stay strong and be that image of strength for the children and the people around them, once the rebuilding is complete, the morale of the community will stay strong and high.”
She remembered that moment poignantly just last week, as she bid goodbye to and thank you to those who supported her reign as Miss Universe Philippines. “Philippines—my heart is overflowing with gratitude because I’m here on this exact stage, I was given the chance to pursue this dream, this journey has been made even more meaningful because every single step of the way, I felt each and every one of you, right here with me,” she said.
We catch her in-between one of her more grueling days, right after her appearance at the Miss Universe Charity Gala, and right before a back-to-back series of endorsement shoots. The red carpet at the Marriott Grand Ballroom was abuzz with reporters, journalists, all hoping to get a statement from Ms. Gray—or, if possible, a selfie, as some have tried. There was a warning from the press handlers: 5 minutes. There was no need to wait longer, because suddenly Catriona came walking in, wearing a shining gold strapless gown. She was smiling, waving, making eye contact with everyone, all at once, that it felt like her first homecoming walk, despite having done these rounds many times before.
It was as if light beams of happiness radiated from her being, giving everyone an instant high.
This, they say, is the Catriona effect. That Cat, the little firecracker, is a bastion of positivity and good vibes that she influences not only those around her, but also uplifts the stock market, the fashion industry, and every single advocacy she has vouched for.
“I’m just a really passionate person, and I found that giving back to the community at a young age is such a fulfilling thing,” she shares with me after the program. “And that’s what I’m constantly trying to share to the public, especially to my fellow Filipinos, that there is deep fulfilment in your heart when you’re working with your community and giving back,” she adds. “It’s more fulfilling than any career, or any material gain, I guarantee it.”
One of the things she feels strongly about is Young Focus, one of the education-led advocacies she has been supporting for years now. By lending her voice and her time, she has made a big difference to the children of Balut, Tondo, even helping them set up some pre-schools in Smokey Mountain.
Advocacies might form part and parcel of a queen’s reign, but for Catriona, they are part of her plan, her grand vision.
With her every word, every action, even every red carpet appearance, she is making a statement towards a new ignited nationalism. She embodies this in her very definition of the modern Filipina: “[She] comes from her values, she’s very family-oriented but she’s also a visionary, and going forward, she wants to contribute back and share more to the world what the Philippines has to offer,” she says.
Being a beauty queen is never easy, and even for Catriona, she had to go through three seemingly unsurmountable mountains, “conquering three Mayon volcanoes” that includes “conquering herself and the fear that comes within,” but also, conquering others. “There were so may times that people told me that I would fail,” she said during her speech. From it being too soon for a Miss Universe from the Philippines to win, to being body shamed and being put down by others, it was Team Catriona, the people who had uplifted, supported, and mentored her along the way, that truly helped her succeed.
The third, which became clear to her over time, was finding her purpose. She was passionate, but what did she really want to achieve apart from all this? “I looked down at the lettering over my heart that said Philippines,” she said of her sash, “and I felt its weight knowing the history, challenges, and triumphs of the Filipino people.”
It was not easy, but for Catriona, she wouldn’t want to change a thing about her past. “I see every struggle, every exchange, every mistake, every misstep somehow taught me something, somehow taught me a different direction that led me here,” she tells Metro.Style. “So there was never something that happened that I didn’t learn from, and I think that’s the best part of life. Not everyone succeeds every single time, but it’s in the times we are challenged that we really grow,” she adds.
She looks back at her reign in retrospect, and poignantly tries to image who she would share the crown with.
“I would choose a little girl from a far flung area, because there are so many of our country’s children who really feel like they could never be in that position, and it’s a dream that they don’t even feel worth having,” she says. “They think: How am I going to get there?”
But with Catriona sharing her crown, just with a young girl: “It would just make them feel a little bit of a magical moment,” she says: “That someday, with the right things, with the right people, you can just end up pursuing a dream.”
Produced by Geolette Esguerra
Photography by Seven Barretto
Video by Spotlight Creatives
Special thanks to Mari Santiago, Danica Valdes-Lloren, Miss Universe Foundation