On what can only be described as a fine, picture-perfect day in New York, we catch up with the reigning Miss Universe, Catriona Gray, as she takes us on an adventure in and around the city she now calls home, unraveling a truth that makes her truly worthy of the crown and more.
Even in a world ravaged by skepticism, one cannot discount the fact that the ascendancy of prophecy is very much in play in the affairs of the modern world. No, this isn’t your saturated astrology analogy nor is it an exaltation of Nostradamus and his spine-chilling predictions from the 16th century. It will be an almost exhaustive exercise to detail how fate weaves its assigned destinies to us mere mortals, much like how the ancient Greeks have believed the Moirai to do so, but nothing is more clear-cut of this literature than the unraveling of the life of one Miss Catriona Gray.
“I never dreamed of being a beauty queen. But it’s hard to justify when it’s like, ‘Well, when you were five, you were in Little Miss Philippines, right?’ Blame my mom for that. My mom and my dad are just the proudest parents, and I’m very blessed to have supportive parents,” she reveals in her Build Series interview during her much-talked about media week blitz since her assumption of her role as Miss Universe. “But yeah, I was five years old, I did Little Miss Philippines. I don’t remember much, but I know that in the talent competition, I danced and lip-synced to Stop by the Spice Girls. I had a matching silver outfit, and I was yeah, feeling myself.”
Call it what you will, fortuitous coincidence, divine providence, or a master plan revealed by fate itself, but one of significant things that made Catriona Gray clinch the coveted Mikimoto crown during the Miss Universe finals was her all-encompassing and impassioned answer when asked what the most important lesson she’s learned in her life, and how she can apply it as Miss Universe. As if anchored by just one draw of breath, she confidently and very calmly articulated what would now be canon in the history of pageantry: “I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it, to look for the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson,” she says, rousing the packed audience at the cavernous Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand. “If I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face. Thank you.”
See, silver linings.
More than its proverbial deliverance of hope cracking through an assumed impenetrable barricade, this also meant a realization of a dream that manifested itself early on without her even being aware of it. From a silver-clad tot hamming it up on Little Miss Philippines, here she was, radiant and resplendent in a fiery red number punctuated by an even bolder red lip diffused only by a wash of glinting metallic on the lids, decidedly and deservedly crowned Miss Universe 2018. There is nothing more to it, Catriona Gray was meant for this.
Coming Full Circle
The reality we know of today would have been very, very different had she stuck to her initial decision following her first run at a global pageant with Miss World in 2016. “Everyone was telling me to join Binibining Pilipinas, and I said no. Like I was done,” she reveals in a conversation we had a month shy of her competing for Miss Universe. “I don’t know how girls can do this more than once, because you do invest so much of yourself; your time, other people’s time and effort. I just ignored everyone and really focused myself in my charity work. It made me feel better despite not taking the title, because I was still able to see my project come to provision, like the school I raised funds for opened. Just to see that is very fulfilling to me so that made me realize that although I didn’t bring home the crown, I have something [to be] really proud [of].” Despite this, life didn’t stop for her. She got up, dusted herself off, and went straight to work on things that mattered more to her, which gives you a clear idea how seriously strong her spirit is.
Needless to say, destiny had other plans for Catriona, engineering a blueprint that was bigger than she had imagined. “Sobrang frustrated ako noon, but seeing the [Lord’s] plan for me pala, [I was meant for something else] and I never saw that back then. It just goes to show that whenever something closes on you or an opportunity doesn’t work out, you’re not being denied. You’re being redirected,” she relates of pursuing her passions. “That is the tone of my whole journey, that if you have a dream, there will be setbacks, because that isn’t meant to be your path. There is a path for you and you just have to kind of get lost a little bit to find it. And what was really sobrang fulfilling sa journey na ‘to was the pride that the Filipino felt—the amount of comments I got, especially around my national costume, and how I really made an effort to integrate our culture in some way into every single thing that I did, I feel like a lot of people suddenly sat up and took notice of what we have to offer as a country.”
For Catriona Gray, it wasn’t just her in singular form competing for Miss Universe, but rather she dutifully included everyone, as if judiciously lifting the nation and enjoining everyone to join her quest. “I just have to give everything and it’s for me, it is for me.” And it sure was meant for her.
“It’s so hard to describe that moment because I wasn’t in my body,” she recalls of her coronation night, coddled in a hearty fit of laughter that matched the very determined puncturing of the spring sun warming up what was a depressing overcast of drear and rain just a day ago in New York City. “It’s crazy, because when that announcement happened, in a matter of seconds, there is someone coming up to sash you and give you flowers, and Demi comes up and puts the crown on my head. I think you can see it in my face: Oh my God, oh my God. It was a dream state, even with my first walk; I was just spaced out and incredulous. How could you absorb and even process that moment? But it was really special. The moment it really did sink in was when I saw my parents. It was onstage. Seeing my mom in tears and my dad just a little bit speechless, it really hit me: I just won Miss Universe.”
Beyond The Crown
Things no longer operate on watch what happens next. In fact, drummed up by by-the-second updates on social media and binge-watching content, the world wants to know the next step now. This doesn’t stray far for the newly crowned Miss Universe, Catriona Gray, who even before standing in contention for the crown, asked herself what her intentions are for going through the rigors of yet another pageant, this time on a much broader, passionate, and effective scale. With the 29.7 carat crown adorned with 18 carats of diamonds and 120 white South Sea and Akoya pearls safely nestled on her luscious wave-like locks, the purpose exponentially grew as Catriona assessed how she wanted to build her legacy as a title-holder. “I really took the time over Christmas and New Year to really think: What do I want to achieve in this position? It is a potentially impactful role and that’s what I want do, I want it to be very purposeful,” she ruminates. “You would think that the crowning is the climax or pinnacle. And then it’s like, what happens after? It’s like a beginning of another journey. It’s been a whirlwind, especially moving to New York. [But also,] I’m always traveling, which is a huge blessing. I’ve gotten to work with many organizations, which is very fulfilling for me as Catriona, not just as Miss Universe.”
Catriona Gray goes to explain how much her role is laden with responsibilities, despite it being seen as just glitz and glamour. “Having that full range of meeting everyone makes you realize that when you have the sash, you are representing every single person. There is a pride and there is something that you need to step up to,” she says, beaming. What people don’t realize that much rests on the shoulders of a beauty queen, especially one crowned Miss Universe. It isn’t merely putting on a smile, waving to no end, and jetting off to postcard-perfect locales. The job entails doing a grassroots level type of work for various advocacies and non-profit machineries that lay the groundwork for these many causes. On a humanity perspective, these realizations of wit, beauty, and charm resuscitate a sense of hope, especially at a time when it is being siphoned out of our systems on the daily. Needless to say, there is a lot of pressure attached to its hem, which Catriona herself wholeheartedly admits to. “There is a pressure, because I’m not only a Filipino representative, but one to a universal audience. I do want to do my best, and with that comes with a little bit of pressure. Is it a debilitating pressure? No. I really enjoy the process. I learn so much, especially with this expanded platform that I am very aware that I speak to many, many people now,” she says. “And I always want to put out something to kind of contribute back to the community, as well as sharing my journey as Miss Universe.”
Instead of being crippled by what can be perceived as insurmountable compression, Catriona Gray goes back to a nugget of truth she has learned in her journey as a beauty queen. “What I’ve tried to do is to show that I’m just simple and I just have things that I’m passionate about. I’m just you, and you are just like me, and I hope that that realization will relate you to me. And maybe, if I can impart anything on you, then you can too, because we’re on the same level. I think if you’re able to be relatable to the people then you grow connected to them,” she relates. More so, being in the position that she is in, and with the platform that she has, she is also proudly able to raise the flag for women all over the world, affecting good, positive change to the community. “I am not only able to empower myself through this avenue, but the women around me are empowering each other. And I think that’s when women are most powerful, when we band together, we pool resources, and we lift each other up.”
Of Epic Proportions
If the public’s reaction to her reign as Miss Universe is any indication, then even this early on, we can confidently call it a memorable, legacy-building one at that. And we don’t just mean the atmospheric rise of her social media following in record time, which includes the likes of Tyra Banks (who even interviewed her for a special feature on V Magazine). We’re talking about actual, real-life reach and engagement, as we saw first-hand navigating our way through the tourist-packed center of Times Square in the bustling Midtown Manhattan.
With a cacophony of languages, a now violent streaking of light, and a rainbow-like smearing of colors, it would be understandable if she gets lost in the riot of it all. But no, as we stood letting the crowd course through, a group of tourists are starting to crane their necks, deciding if their hunch was right: that Miss Universe was strolling along the hustle. All it takes is one smile for them to ascertain that it was in fact, Catriona Gray. They take their obligatory photo-ops, exchange a fleeting chit-chat, and we were off to cap off our day in Central Park, which is a hop and skip from the famed Miss Universe Organization office and apartment.
As the heels of our boots skidded through the cobbled concrete, finding the best light to shoot at, and well, extract more conversation, her face lights up as she whips out her Samsung Galaxy A80 and points and shoots it at her line of sight where her steady gaze flicked from one pocket of moment to the next: families flicking their picnic blankets in the air, a jazz musician peddling his passion for a few spare change, and a Tony Bennett look-alike sitting by the benches. You know, sometimes we get caught up in our heads. We overthink things instead of just being a little bit spontaneous,” Catriona says as she steadies her smartphone and activates its innovative rotating camera, seamlessly switching to a front-facing camera, where she took a series of crisp, beaming, teeming with life selfies. More than the vivid images she snapped up, there isn’t a compromise on the depth as the Galaxy A80 guarantees focused stills and videos by scanning objects for measurement and distance.
“It’s like seeing everyday as an opportunity, allowing life to take us where the tides pull us if you would say,” she answers, when asked how she has been living life now in New York, especially one that can be qualified as epic by all means necessary. “Living an epic life is just about letting life kind of have its way and just having fun with it. Or if there’s something you want to do, do something that makes your heart happy. You don’t have to plan around it. Just go out and let the adventure unfold.”
It is immensely admirable how Catriona Gray is standing up and defining herself beyond that of the crown that has bolstered her into a worldwide consciousness. Even with tailing her, and perhaps, even proving to be a permanent appendage to the calling card of her name, she doesn’t let it consume her. A conscious creative, she makes sure to just live life for all its highs, lows, as well as the beauty and imperfections it offers. “Every single day, I am very mindful that I have no regrets,” she says as we watch the throng of people navigate their way through the winding path, weaving through a congestion of an art in the park-style of pop-up that she a little earlier had lingered at. Focusing her curious scrutiny at the man offering a slightly overpriced caricature to a frazzled Asian tourist in a bucket hat, she offers another consideration that keeps her in check. “I always observe people who are so caught up in the moment that they forget to enjoy the experience,” she says, massaging the deepening furrow in her brows. “Sayang eh, this…it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it really should be one that you’re present for.”
Without missing a beat, she looks up and rotates the Galaxy A80 camera again, capturing a panorama of the scene above and around her in one swift and stealthy motion, where the super steady video mode visibly reduced video shake for a smooth, pro-level action video for the ‘Gram. Narrating her little adventure in the city she now calls home, it becomes very apparent that everything considered, her ease and grace included, this was the path laid out for her by the masters of destiny from far back, no doubt. “I’m a little bit crazy sometimes, but I’m a very simple girl. I’m a very creative person, too. And I just fit myself into all these different aspects and facets. Being a Miss Universe is of course just one of them,” she says. “But aside from that, I’m a daughter, I’m a creative, I love music, and I’m an advocate. I’m able to switch around and exchange these roles as is needed, but yeah, I’m just a simple girl chasing my dreams,” she continues, as a tone of warmth colors her voice, mimicking the scene of springtime now in full view before us.
Where others would see as an impediment is more than enough reason for Catriona Gray to bolster down and break those barriers down. This do-what-you-can’t attitude is more than just Catriona standing her ground despite what others has to say, whether solicited or not. For the woman who is all but herself, this unerring quality to her roots herself in what is essential and what matters, her family, her friends, her creative pursuits, and her dreams most especially.
“The dream is now a reality,” I offer as we make our way out of the park’s periphery. “I know, right?” she answers, as if still in disbelief, this time replete of the glamour earlier put on as she now assumed the role of herself: makeup wiped clean and her hair tumbled in a quick, no-fuss bun, wearing just a shirt and jeans and her puffed jacket. Turning even more serious, she knows there is more to her rightful claim to the crown, that this isn’t a mere display of pomp and circumstance. She wants to make her time as Miss Universe matter. “I want to be remembered as a purposeful Miss Universe,” she says with full conviction. “What does that mean? That means I want to look back on my year and know that I made a substantial difference to a lot of people. If that be with a lot of different organizations or one, if I can look back and say, wow, I really did make a difference or a contribution in any way that I did, I will feel fulfilled that I did a good job.”
We may be a mere speck in the world’s dense population, or heck, the universe even, but if there is one thing to be certain of, it is that Catriona Gray is the Miss Universe we need right now. And yes, you are doing amazing, queen.