Filipino-Australian Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray has made history in Philippine beauty pageantry for being the first to win the local franchises of Miss World and Miss Universe.
Born in Cairns on January 6, 1994 to Australian Ian Gray—whose origins are from Scotland—and Bicolana Normita Magnayon of Oas, Albay the two-time beauty queen started her public life as a singer and martial arts expert.
She was lead vocalist of her school’s jazz band and earned a Certificate in Music Theory from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, before moving to Manila to work as commercial model.
Prior to joining Miss World Philippines, Gray became a familiar face on television and among the underprivileged children and their parents whom she served in depressed areas of Manila via the advocacy project, Paraiso.
In 2013, she was one of shampoo brand Pantene’s “Labels Against Women” advocates who were fighting for gender equality. Her face is likewise recognizable as a Pond’s girl.
Gray further appeared on the cover of Rogue Magazine in its music issue in 2014 and has worked the runway in Bench Body fashion shows.
Statuesque at five-feet-10-inches, Gray was a natural candidate for beauty pageants. She was crowned Miss World Philippines 2016, besides sweeping the major awards as Best in Swimsuit, Best in Evening Gown, Best in Fashion Runway and Best in Talent.
With many similarities to the Philippines’ first Miss World winner, TV host and actress Megan Young, it was not only Filipino pageant fans who were disappointed when Gray made toward the tail end of the competition’s Top 5, but many others in the international communities.
As that year’s Multimedia awardee, a second-placer in Talent and among the Top 5 in the “Beauty with a Purpose” project, Gray was easily a shoo-in for the title and successor to Mireia Lalaguna of Spain.
It was Stephanie Del Valle of Puerto Rico who was crowned Miss World in the 66th edition of the UK-based pageant at MGM National Harbor in Washington, DC, USA, with Gray gracious in defeat.
But fans were all the more dismayed when the organizers and winners of Miss World and Mr. World led by Julia Morley and Del Valle came to visit Manila in September 2017, without including Gray in the entourage, given she was still the reigning Miss World Philippines.
Diehard beauty pageant aficionados soon expressed on social media that it would be to Gray’s advantage—and their form of revenge—to vie for the Miss Universe Philippines title via Binibining Pilipinas.
As such, her fans became ecstatic in January when they learned that Gray was indeed one of the earliest applicants for Binibining Pilipinas 2018, confident she would win the country its fourth Miss Universe crown after Pia Wurtzbach’s phenomenal win in 2015.
Indeed, from the press presentation in February to the National Costume and Jag Jeans fashion show and Parade of Beauties in March, Gray was the picture of a worthy Miss Universe Philippines. The coronation on March 18 just confirmed what pageant experts had predicted all along.
Just as she did in Miss World Philippines, Gray swept five special awards at Binibining Pilipinas: the Pitoy Moreno National Costume Award (named after the fashion czar who passed away in January), Miss Ever Bilena, Jag Denim Queen, Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown.
Nevertheless, it was the question-and-answer portion that sealed Gray’s fate, so to speak. As final candidate to be asked among the Top 15 finalists, the jam-packed Smart Araneta Coliseum waited with bated breath for her reply to pageant judge and US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim’s question.
“After the devastating war, Marawi [City] is now on its way to recovery. What will be your message to the young women of Marawi?” he asked.
Confident, and straight to the point, Gray replied, “Thank you for that question. My answer and my message to the women is to be strong. As women, we’re the head of the household and we have amazing influence not only in our own families as mothers, sisters, and friends, but also in our community. If we can get the women to stay strong and be that image of strength for the children and the people around them, then once the rebuilding is complete and is underway, the morale of the community will stay strong and high. Thank you.”
The Big Dome erupted in deafening cheers and there was no doubt that Gray is the worthy winner of the Miss Universe Philippines crown.
The rest of the winners proclaimed with Gray were Ma. Ahtisa Manalo of Quezon Province as Binibining Pilipinas International; Jehza Mae Huelar of Davao City as Binibining Supranational; Eva Psychee Patalinjug of Cebu City as Binibining Pilipinas Grand International; Karen Gallman of Bohol as Binibining Pilipinas Intercontinental; and Michele Gumabao of Quezon City as Binibining Pilipinas Globe.
The day after the pageant, the newly crowned darling of the Universe in the Philippines (at least for now) shared her thoughts on Instagram and Facebook.
“After months of preparation and guidance and prayers, I kept waiting for a wave of nerves to hit me but it never came. Maybe it was God’s gift to me that night, or maybe I just knew I had done everything to be ready, now it was just for me to enjoy and have fun. Just to think that I’m going to say Catriona Gray… PHILIPPINES gives me the chills all over again,” she said.
She then thanked all those who helped her along the way, especially “Madam SMA (Stella Marquez Araneta) and the Binibining Pilipinas Charities Incorporated (BPCI) executive committee … her family, friends and her loyal #Catrionians.”
She added, “What an amazing journey we’ve been on. Through the highs and lows you’ve never left my side. For your love, dedication and ceaseless support … I am forever grateful that you’ve chosen me as your queen.”
No doubt, Gray helped in bringing a record crowd to the Araneta Center, which had the biggest audience turnout in its long, illustrious history. More than 10,000 high-energy fans came to watch the pageant live, making Gray’s Binibining Pilipinas win more memorable.
Recalling the moment
In a pocket interview with select media outfits and The Sunday Times Magazine on Wednesday, Gray recalled she did not feel nervous throughout the contest run, not even while waiting for her turn at the nerve-wracking Q&A portion.
“Throughout the competition, even before I joined Binibini, my mindset was [Miss] Universe [Philippines] or nothing, that being the goal of my journey, I knew I only had to prove to myself and prove to everyone else that I worked hard for this,” she narrated.
“When I woke up that day, parang ang feeling ko, ‘Ay, coronation pala today, bakit wala akong nerves?’ I thought baka when I hear the sound of the crowd and I see all the people, that’s when I’d feel it. Then when we were about to step on to the stage and I still didn’t feel nervous, I was like, ‘Lord, is this a gift?’ I just felt so reassured in that I had done everything to prepare [for the pageant]so now it’s time for me to enjoy,” she continued.
“I was just so happy to be there. I was so happy every time I would see the fans and see my family… Then when it was announcement time na, I thought again that I would be so nervous, especially because I was really aiming for [Miss] Universe [Philippines]. pero I still wasn’t. I was just weirdly calm and feeling strange. Now that I think about it, masaya lang talaga.”
Backtracking, she added, “I guess the only time I got a little nervous was when I realized that I was going to be last for the Q&A, and I was wondering if there was a reason why. Like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what are they gonna ask me; are they leaving something really difficult for last’ or something like that… But OK lang.”
It was also providential that her question complemented her National Costume—that of a Maranao princess.
“When I look back at it, I really just feel very content on how I performed—being able to walk away, especially with National Costume [award]. I’m so proud because I was able to work so closely with my designer, Jearson Dimavivas, in the whole process of making that National Costume and to have it recognized—to have him recognized for showcasing the culture of Marawi and also the Maranao princess—was just wonderful.”
Feeling blessed beyond belief, Gray is all the more inspired to continue her multiple advocacies, especially now that she is Miss Universe Philippines. She considers Tondo, Manila her main focus where she pushes for free education for indigent children.
She has also been proactively supporting LoveYourself—an organization involved in HIV testing, education, prevention, counselling and more—for the past two years now.
Her third advocacy is supporting projects for indigenous people in the south.
According to Gray, the rise of HIV in the Philippines is alarming, since the rest of Southeast Asia is on the decline. These days, those usually infected with the disease are apparently within the 14- to 21-year-old bracket.
“They’re young, they need to have a future, they need to enjoy life. This [problem]needs to be addressed, and I’ve been talking to a lot of people [who can assist at least]to bring the cost of testing down,” she shared.
Asked about the controversial decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to close down Boracay for six months, Gray said she is happy that the administration has “a tomorrow mindset” in preserving the famous island rather than thinking only of what it can give economically in the short term.
“It sets a good example for other destinations to be aware not to reach that point where Boracay is now. I think this is a good wake up call for everyone that our environment matters. And even though I do sympathize with the businesses that will be closed down for six months, because I know it will be a big blow especially to small businesses, I think that it is necessary. We can’t it let go on to the point of no return.”
She offered that it is through educating and empowering oneself in the preservation of the environment as that everyone can help in preserving the pristine beauty of the Philippines.
“Bring your trash with you; don’t leave it on the island or throw into the water. Leave only footprints and take only photographs,” she stated with conviction.
While some beauty queens become aware of their social responsibility only upon their win, Gray has long known how everyone needs to help make their community, their country and the world a better place.
As Miss Universe Philippines, she said she wants her reign to be remembered as one that has been very proactive in supporting and advancing good causes.
“The only sacrifice is really time. I mean, a lot of different things will command my time now, especially [that]I want to dedicate my reign to being very proactive. Being a beauty queen, I believe that an advocacy is what anchors you in the whole journey because [this]can be so glamorous, so glitzy and beautiful. But if you anchor yourself onto cause, you’ll feel like a regular person even if you’re wearing a crown,” she explained.
“Thankfully, my loved ones understand and know that other things are demanding my time and they don’t take it against me. I’m so lucky that I have a very supportive group of people around me.”
Grateful for a second chance to represent the Philippines in an international beauty pageant, Gray said there has been no announcement so far on where Miss Universe 2018 will be held, albeit rumors it will be held in China.
Nevertheless, soon after Holy Week, she and her team already started preparing for the competition, beginning with wardrobe and styling to best represent the Philippines.
“We’re really looking to showcase Filipino designers, different textiles, and different inspirations from different Filipinos icons. I’m very excited for that. Physically, I’ve started my workout regimen and also an eating plan, to give myself a lot of energy.
“Thirdly, the pasarela [or catwalk]and public speaking will start very soon. I’m really looking forward to transforming my performance from Binibini onto another level because I feel I can push myself more,” she shared.
Asked to comment on predictions she will win the Philippines its next Miss Universe—past beauty queens included—Gray graciously said, “Grateful talaga ako [for the support and encouragement]and I will work for it even harder and stronger. I will put my 150 percent effort in every aspect to bring home the crown. I owe it to the Philippines to give Miss Universe all that I’ve got,” she promised.