Catriona Gray: The crown gave me an opportunity to grow during my reign.
Ver Paulino
Catriona: Life after Miss U
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

“I’m devastated!”

And Catriona Gray, the immediate past Miss Universe (2018), looked it. No, it was not because of the rumors swirling around her about her private life but because of the wildfire raging around Australia where her parents are (she’s an only child).

Like the Australian actors who appeared in the recent Golden Globes Awards night (Chris Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, et al), Catriona is doing her share in helping her fellow Australians and asking everybody to please also help.

“My parents are on the south side, medyo malayo sa wildfire, so they are relatively safe but I really feel so devastated over the many people affected by the fire,” rued Catriona (who was born in Cairns), “and the animals, kangaroos and koalas, dying in the fire.”

Like most so-called “handlers” who don’t really know how to “handle” the media with courtesy, the one with Catriona was asking what this Conversation would be about and assured that it would be, uhm, “harmless,” he issued a reminder not to ask Catriona about her love life. Reminder strictly followed: No questions about why Catriona broke up with Clint Bondad (reportedly pining for the past somewhere in Germany, obviously hasn’t learned how to move on) or if she is entertaining suitors (she has denied that Sam Milby and Alden Richards were courting her). 

Catriona is a Cornerstone talent. We talked about her post-Miss U life.

Which was more, well, exciting, taking on the crown (from Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters) as a winner or taking it off for your successor (Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi)?

“I think it was more exciting giving it to my successor because coming into this journey, you know that you have it for just a year and that’s the magic of Miss Universe. The crown gives you an opportunity to grow during your reign. It wasn’t mine to hoard or to keep, it was for me to pass it on to another woman for a chance to change her life. It was a very emotional thing because it marks the end of one journey and the start of a new journey.”

How’s the journey after Miss U?

“I should say that the title allows me to now be free in all aspects that I can be creative. I can now have fun with what I want my journey to look like now and that’s what I am excited about. That was what I was thinking about during my reigning year. And I’m determined to learn as much as I could. Keep learning and continue my creative pursuits.”

How was the very moment when you relinquished the crown and the other contestants were crowding around the new winner? (According to Gloria Diaz, the country’s first Miss Universe circa 1969, as soon as she took off the crown, the rest of the girls were stepping on her toes and she almost didn’t have a car to go back to her hotel.)

Hmmmm, my experience was not like that at all. I stayed onstage after passing on the crown. I was excited because I also knew exactly what the feeling (of the new winner) was, so exciting that you can’t even put the feeling into words. The winner’s life changes in that instance, so I was excited for Miss South Africa.

“Other contestants also came up to me, like Miss USA Cheslie Kryst who was my housemate and our very own Gazini (Ganados). I talked to practically all the other girls. And then I was escorted back to the hotel at may security naman, so I was not left out; I didn’t feel ‘dropped.’ It wasn’t a negative experience at all.”

Did you have any bet among the contestants?

“You know what, I’m also a pageant fan so I was trying to put together my own hot picks pero medyo mahirap din because I wasn’t privy to the closed-door interviews and I feel like the results of those interviews put a heavy weight on contestants going into the finals.

“At least I could pick out my Top 20. But from then on, it’s how the girls perform onstage because the reality of pageants is you could have the most hyped candidate, the most popular candidate or the most favorite candidate, but if she doesn’t shine on the night of the finals, wala rin. You know, iba, eh.

How many countries did you visit and what did you learn from each country? What was the most memorable?

“I think I visited seven countries. What I learned, which I love since I’m doing charity work with charities like Smile Train, is that you have the same model that has an international body. But the way it is applied across borders and across different cultures is being able to reach out to people and touch them with the same system, in this case the cleft surgery and different procedures in helping a child have a smile.

“It really opened my eyes to the reality that there is an opportunity to not only embrace other values across different countries but also to help each other no matter what language you speak or where you come from. (She has a project called “Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project” that raises funds for children in a depressed area in Tondo, to help send poor children to school.)

“Incidentally, I wasn’t just into collecting beauty titles. That’s a bit difficult to justify since I came from another pageant (2016 Miss World where she finished among the Top 5 to Miss Puerto Rico. — RFL). The truth is that I felt a calling to be in a position of an international title and I felt that being Miss Universe is the pinnacle. And so now, I feel a new sense of purpose outside of pageantry. I don’t want to limit my reach within the world of pageantry. Actually, I want to talk to different people outside that realm.”

And the best lesson that you learned as Miss Universe?

“Always be true to yourself and to what you believe because being elevated to such a worldwide path really changes your life. At times, it can be very overwhelming because you have a lot of people telling you what to do, what to say, how to appear in this or that event…so it’s important to stay true to yourself and to know who you are, what you are.”

Are you still grounded?

“Oh yes, I am. I’m blessed to be surrounded by an amazing family and amazing friends. I’m glad that I still have the core group around me even before I became Miss Universe because I know that they love me before I was somebody.”

So there’s so much life after Miss Universe, ha!

Ay, oo! Actually, my post-Miss U life is very exciting.”

You are busy with so many things, indeed! You’re writing a book. Is it a tell-all book, with no holds barred?

“The book will show my inner struggle. Tell-all? What I want is to take people into my journey and exactly how it felt. In interviews, you can only say so much. But in my book, people will read more about me, like how I stood up after I fell. It won’t be a tell-all in a negative context but in a positive context that will hopefully inspire people. I have always looked up to the mentors in my life so I hope to be a mentor to other people.”

What about your singing career?

“I’m excited about that creative pursuit. I’ve always loved singing (A talent that she shows during her guestings on the ABS-CBN Sunday show ASAP Natin ‘To where she did a duet with Regine Velasquez Sunday last week. She also hosts the Mini Miss U segment of It’s Showtime — RFL). I haven’t composed a song but I’m jotting down notes and still trying to discover what genre I fit in. I still haven’t landed on that one sound that is distinctly me. I have so many influences in music. Like Ella Fitzgerald, Adele, Dua Lipa and others.”

And acting?

“I’m open to it. I would love to do fight scenes. I have a background in martial arts so I would like to project an image of a strong woman.”

Three actors you would like to work with.

“Judy Ann Santos…a fantastic actress! Rami Malek (of Bohemian Rhapsody who plays the villain in the new James Bond movie No Time To Die, still with Daniel Craig as Agent 007). Margot Robbie because I love the diversity of her roles.”

Anyway, what did you sacrifice for Miss Universe?

“Yes, my privacy. It felt like all of a sudden everyone wanted to have a piece of me. It was a big adjustment for me because I am basically a private person. But I also have to understand that it’s also people’s jobs to ask some questions.”

Did it make you feel vulnerable?

 “It did, definitely! I do value authenticity and I do want to tell the truth. But then, I do respect the people who are involved and I don’t want to speak in behalf of them. If there’s something na mangyari sa buhay nila, that’s theirs…”

So how different is the pre-Miss U and the post-Miss U Catriona Gray?

“I feel the same in a lot of aspects and different in a lot of other aspects. I still feel a simple girl with the same passion and the same stubbornness, with the same vision that I have had. But I learned how to find my voice and speak out on what issue I want.”



(E-mail reactions at For more updates, photos and videos, visit or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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