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(190221) -- MANILA, Feb. 21, 2019 (Xinhua) -- Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray waves to her fans during her grand homecoming parade in Manila, the Philippines, Feb. 21, 2019. Gray won the 67th Miss Universe 2018 beauty pageant in Bangkok in December. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali) Image Credit:

It was always written in the stars for reigning Miss Universe Catriona Gray. From her first ever beauty contest as a five-year-old at a Little Miss Philippines pageant in Sydney to when she was only 13 when her mother had a dream that she would one day become Miss Universe wearing a red dress, it seems it was always meant to be. But the journey to her eventual crowning as Miss Universe 2018 in December last year, wearing a red dress no less, has been one of steely determination, and a lot of sacrifices.

Born in Queensland, Australia, to a Scottish father and Filipina mother, Gray is the fourth beauty queen from the Philippines to be crowned Miss Universe. She’s also the first beauty queen from the Philippines to represent the country at both the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants — she was crowned Miss World Philippines in 2016 and finished in the Top 5 in the international pageant. Not one to give up, she enlisted for Binibining Pilipinas, the organisation that sends the Philippines’ representative to the Miss Universe pageant in 2018, and went on to win that title.

Gray is primed for beauty pageantry: She’s a formally trained singer, an accomplished martial artist and painter and was already an established fashion model long before the pageant bug bit. She’s also still very grounded months into her reign, acutely aware of her status as a global icon and eternal grateful for the platform she’s earned.

Ahead of her first trip to the UAE on September 19 as part of her partnership with the Dubai-based Xpedition Magazine, the 25-year-old ‘Pride of the Philippines’ spoke exclusively to Gulf News tabloid! about how much life has changed for her, what she plans to accomplish during her reign and what she plans to do after she passes on her crown.

You’ve never visited the UAE before. What’s the one thing you are most looking forward to doing when here?

Well because it is my first time to the UAE, I’m looking forward to experiencing everything: the scenery, the culture, the food. I’m really hoping to do a desert tour and to experience the desert at dusk. I think it would be nothing but magical!

How different has life been since the evening of December 17?

My life has completely changed and I know it’ll never be the same. I’m insanely grateful for the experience this year, to be a part of the legacy of Miss Universe, but more so for the opportunities I know I’ll be able to pursue in my passions in music, charity work and in being a spokesperson in the future.

Are there any aspects of your life before that night that you miss?

I guess I miss the quiet anonymity, especially in my home country of the Philippines. There are times that the fame can be overwhelming. But I always surround myself with my family and friends who keep me grounded and take every opportunity to be grateful for this amazing turn my life has taken.

You kept a really low profile right after you were crowned Miss Universe. Why?

Christmas is a time for family and I took that time (since I was crowned December 17 and had my last Miss Universe appearance for 2018 on December 20) to celebrate my victory and Christmas with my loved ones. I’ve always held that value, I want to be present during those times and that means off my phone and off social media.

Your walk at the pageant went viral. How long did it take you to perfect it and can you give us some tips?

My walk took about eight months to reach competition level ready. I really took my time with it because from the beginning I had to “un-learn” a lot of things and start from scratch. Learning your signature walk is all about accessing what works for your body build. Next is working on balance, overcoming inhibitions, and lastly enjoying yourself and allow yourself to experience genuine emotion on stage.

You’ve passionately worked with HIV/AIDS charities, why this specific cause? Is it personal?

I never had any awareness of HIV/AIDS until a close friend of mine passed from medical complications connected to the disease. Since then my eyes have been opened not only to the health implications but also to the stigma and discrimination that face the community because of HIV/AIDS. I have been an active advocate going on 3 years now.

What does it mean to you to be called ‘The Pride of the Philippines’?

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(190221) -- MANILA, Feb. 21, 2019 (Xinhua) -- Confetti rains down on Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray as she waves to her fans during her grand homecoming parade in Manila, the Philippines, Feb. 21, 2019. Gray won the 67th Miss Universe 2018 beauty pageant in Bangkok in December. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

It is one of my greatest honours and achievements to be able to bring happiness and pride to my country. I have such a love for the Philippines and I love being able to represent my country every day as well as share our unique culture to the rest of the world.

Have you made any plans for when your reign will be over?

Yes, I definitely won’t be slowing down when my reign as Miss Universe comes to a close. I hope to pursue music which has been a passion of mine for my whole life.

We have a huge Filipino community here in the UAE, what would you like to tell to all the youngsters who’d like to be you one day?

Always know that your dreams are valid and that they are in your heart for a reason. Never allow fear or other people tell you otherwise.

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QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Catriona Gray on…

— her fitness mantra: Routine is best.

— preparing for a beauty pageant: Make the journey yours.

— dealing with failures: Failure is essential to success.

— fame, wealth or good looks: I can find happiness without.

— her guilty pleasures: Food, family and travel.

— the three things you’ll always find in her handbag: Phone, charger, earphones.

— the one funny bad habit you wish you could stop: Speaking in baby voice with my parents.

HOW TO MEET CATRIONA GRAY IN DUBAI

On her first day, September 19, Gray will attend a fashion night at BurJuman mall, which will feature 10 Dubai-based designers showcasing their latest collections. The free-to-attend event will also offer a chance for fans to meet the beauty queen in person. The event is set to start at 6pm.

On September 20, Gray will attend an Xpedition Annual Gala Award hosted by the Dubai-based Xpedition Magazine that will also help raise funds for Smile Train, a charity that provides corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates. Gray will also be honoured that evening as Woman of the Year and will help unveil the latest issue of Xpedition Magazine featuring her as the cover star. The ticketed event, to be held at the Grand Millenium Hotel in Al Barsha, will include a three-course dinner, with a portion of the proceeds going to Smile Train. Tickets and more information are available on xagadubai.com.