In 2016, in a quiet coliseum miles away from her phalanx of supporters, a 22-year-old Catriona Gray was asked the final question, “Which qualities do you think it will take to wear my crown?”
It was textbook pageant question and the crowd of Philippine supporters held their breath all at once. The 5’10” stunner, standing in a regal pink embellished soft-tulle Francis Libiran number, smiled and breathed in response, “I think, first of all, it takes bravery. To be a Miss World is to carry a burning torch. It is like action carried out by one to illuminate the lives of many. I would dedicate my whole self, my love for the arts, and my voice to try to uplift, empower and educate people. And it will be my greatest honor and duty to hold this torch high enough so that all the world could feel and see its light.”
The whole of the MGM National Harbor in Maryland, in USA was enveloped by absolute silence before exploding in a thunderous applause and cheers, seemingly announcing her as the rightful heir to the coveted crown.
In a nail-biting announcement, unfortunately, and much to the dismay of many, a different candidate went home with the crown and the world of pageantry was one with the Filipino believers that asked why. In fact, a cursory search of Gray’s coronation night performance would lead to a number of pages that ask the same question. On YouTube alone, three out of three reaction videos call Gray the most fitting title holder. One even said, “That is inspiring. That is an answer that deserves to be listened to.”
In the end, an emotional Gray stood graciously in front of the cheering crowd, grateful and fulfilled about her performance. Like a true woman of poise and grace, she never talked about the Miss World 2016 crown slipping through her fingertips like it was something that was robbed from her.
Instead, it was a challenge that made her strive and build herself even more, and her answer served as a binding agreement that hers would be a voice that would resonate change to the world.
On March 19, the whole of the pageant-loving nation stayed tune to the television screens as a new queen was set to don the honorable crown. Two months before, on January 2018, in an Instagram post, Gray shared an exciting news. Two years following her stint as Miss World Philippines title holder, she announced her intent to join the Bb. Pilipinas pageant, to the delight of her fans.
She wrote, “Are you ready for it? Today marks the reveal of an evolution of self that has been quietly happening away from the public’s eye for a little while now. It was in no way planned, but sometimes the stars align to make things happen. Maraming Salamat sa inyong tiwala at sana samahan niyo ako sa aking bagong paglalakbay.”
Fast forward to the coronation night, before the sea of supporters, Gray was asked. “After the devastating war, Marawi is now on its way to recovery. What is your message to the young women of Marawi?”
She eloquently answered, “My answer and message to the women [of Marawi]is to be strong. As women, we are the head of the household. And, we have amazing influence not only [on]our own families – as mothers, sisters, and friends – but also [on]our community. If we could get the 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.”
Just like that, Gray earned a historic first in the long line of crowned queens in the country, winning both the Binibining Universe and Binibining World titles, considered two of the most prestigious crowns in the land.
“It was unbelievable. I have never imagined myself having the chance to show everyone what I am all about and yet here we are. I feel a lot of love from people,” she shared.
Born Catriona Elisa Gray to an Australian father and Filipina mother, the 24-year-old model-turned-beauty queen had a proclivity for the arts, math and science, and even sports. She earned her Master Certificate in Music Theory from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has dabbled into local musical productions, including Miss Saigon.
A black belter and a jazz band lead singer in her younger years, Gray decided to live on her own while tracing her Filipino roots. Thrust in the world of fashion modeling at the age of 18, Gray has been hailed as one of the most promising faces in the industry. Not long after, she was transformed from a gorgeous mannequin to an influencer with a deadly combination of ethereal beauty and grace and angelic voice.
Now, more than ever, with a stronger sense of self and a solid gallery of adoring fans, the pantheon of the country’s strong beauty queens awaits. Gray stands a chance of bringing home the fourth Miss Universe crown the country has seen, after Pia Wurtzbach in 2015.
“The most important thing for me right now is to shine a bright light on the Philippines as a country that not only cares about beautiful women, but women who have something to say, and who believe in bringing good for the benefit of many. If I do well, I know that I am doing it for the honor of the Philippines,” she said.