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Hundreds of fans lined the main atrium of BurJuman mall in Dubai on Thursday evening to catch a glimpse of the reigning Miss Universe Catriona Gray. The 25-year-old, who is being honoured at the first ever Xpedition Gala organised by the UAE-based Xpedition Magazine turned up on the dot at 7.30pm to deafening screams.

“Marhaba Dubai. Thank you all so much for coming out and celebrating,” she said to the predominantly Filipino crowd. “It’s my first time in Dubai and it’s such a pleasure to be here.”

Lucky fans, some of whom have been waiting since 10am, got to ask her questions.

“What’s your message to OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers),” one fan asked.

“I am so inspired by all of you. You leave your home to work for the benefit of your families. If that isn’t a hero, I don’t know what is. Thank you for the sacrifice for your family and for the country,” came the reply.

Another fan wanted to know her plans after she passes on her crown at the next pageant.

“I am not going to slow down after my reign ends, I am going to continue this work I’ve been doing long before I became Miss Universe. And I want to empower the future generations to create a better future for themselves.”

Gray, who was crowned in Bangkok in December last year, became the fourth beauty queen from the Philippines to win the Miss Universe title. She’s known for her work with slum children and her HIV/AIDS advocacy.

Pretty Xandie Jhil Mina, who was waiting in the crowd to see Gray, called the beauty queen her role model.

“She is smart and witty and kind, and as a Filipino I’m proud to see her,” said the student, who added that she was bowled over by Gray’s responses to questions during the Miss Universe pageant. “The way she answered questions, she really showed her love for our country, and I lover her for that.”

Another fan, Katrina Ynex Gunday said she loved Gray because of her intelligence. “Apart from her undeniable features, she’s very well spoken and smart and she’s very proud of her culture as a Filipino.”

Joshua Calanda admires Gray for her charity work. “She’s beautiful inside and out, she loves working with children and I love her advocacy.”

Gray’s walk during the Miss Universe pageant went viral and was quickly dubbed ‘the lava walk’, an homage to her mother’s hometown in the volcano-prone Bicol region of the Philippines, and also the inspiration for her winning fiery red dress. Asked to recreate her famous walk in Dubai, she didn’t hesitate, much to the joy of her fans.

For her message to other aspiring young Filipinos, she said she always believes in keeping it real.

“I am just a normal girl. I just happen to have this title. I hope by showing the real me and my struggles, you will understand you can all do it too,” she said to loud cheers.

On Friday, Gray will be honoured as Woman of the Year at the Xpedition Gala. In an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid! on Thursday, she said she couldn’t wait to see around Dubai and go on a desert safari.

Catch the full interview in tabloid! soon.