“It takes a village to make a beauty queen,” quips Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray, Miss Universe 2018.

“Finding a team that will really support you, cater to building you up whether it is a skill in walking and speaking, whatever it is that you need. Going to a pageant is not easy, it requires a support team that will lift you up constantly, I am blessed to have them. I can say it plays a very big part in what allows to get the Miss Universe crown.”

Gray credits a big group of professionals with helped her in all aspects of her performance: designers; hairstylists; make-up artists. She thanked Carlos Buendia Jr. and Nicole Cordovez for coaching her through the training sessions, which started in May 2017, during the Bb. Pilipinas 2018 class.

Training alone, however, does not make a Miss Universe. “It’s not really the training that makes the girl. You work with what you have, and the girl is a big part of that. I have been approached by girls about what’s the secret to my training and I tell them, ‘Girls if you only knew how hands-on I was, how much work I put in when no one was watching, when I was by myself, you could have my exact same team and it would not guarantee the same result.’ So, I really feel it originates from the girl. You have to have that drive for whatever reason you find it. For me it was to fulfill a purpose, through my advocacy. For another girl it may be something else.”

Only three years ago, in winter of 2016, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was in the same seat talking to the Filipino American media and community members, saying, “If you really, really want something, you must keep working for it.” Wurtzbach noted that training for Binibing Pilipinas was tough. It seemed like running for this beauty contest is almost like a career.

 

Catriona Gray returned to New York where in 2016 she was embraced by Filipino-American community as Miss World Philippines. INQUIRER/ Carol Tanjutco.

As Gray emphasized, “It’s that drive, I’m sure Pia will agree with this, that gets you to those times when you get tested, when you are faced with challenges that might make you feel like giving up, it is that drive that you will push for it. You can have the best training in the world but if you don’t have that drive, you will never make it to that theme.”

The Miss Universe title brings a lot of attention and draws a huge following. Catriona Gray has 4 million followers on Instagram, 1.4 million on Facebook and 459,000 on Twitter. Her advocacy for free access to education for the poor, Young Focus at Tondo, Manila, has expanded to several other charities. She continues to express interest in helping to raise funds not only for Philippine-based charities. In particular, she is drawn to the Latino Commission on HIV’s campaign for testing.

“It is a personal link that drew me to this cause. Being a volunteer for Love Yourself Philippines, talking to volunteers and having friends who had their own experiences, there is an incredible amount of fear.  People don’t know the truth about it. At the end of the day, it is a medical condition but we stigmatize it too much.

“We have a lot of young people who are at most risk, who are afraid to get tested. Because of fear, a lot of people are not tested. As MIss Universe I want to address this, showing that getting tested for HIV should be treated like a regular physical like a blood test, it should be seen in this light not something to be feared.”

The campaign is powered by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Inc., an international HIV awareness group, which partners with the leading local organizations, The LoveYourself, Inc. and the Project Headshot Clinic – The Red Whistle. The campaign also draws support from the Department of Health – National Capital Region office, Philippine National AIDS Council and Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc.

According to LoveYourself founder and executive director Ronivin G. Pagtakhan, “The only way to #KissAIDSGoodbye is by early detection, which can be done through timely testing and early treatment. This is the first-ever HIV awareness campaign in the Philippines on billboards, which practically aims to erase the stigma about HIV and its related health services by putting our message on the mainstream media in order to normalize the discussion about the topic.”