Catriona Gray’s life forever changed in December 2018 when she was crowned Miss Universe in Bangkok, beating contestants from 93 other countries.
The 24-year-old singer and model, who was representing the Philippines, wore a sparkling red dress that she said was inspired by the Mayon Volcano, as she was handed the crown in front of a roaring crowd.
But instead of celebrating her new reign, Gray went into hiding.
Fox News spoke with the beauty queen about becoming Miss Universe, why she temporarily disappeared and how she managed to feel confident while rocking a swimsuit.
Fox News: What was going through your mind when it was announced you had won Miss Universe?
Catriona Gray: I don't think anything was going through my mind. Like you could just see from the expression on my face, I was just ... I don't know. I guess the word would be incredulous. I feel like I entered into a dream state when I look back on the memory. It feels like such a blur.
All the excitement, all the work from the past couple of months, all the effort just pinnacled to this one point. But I just remember walking out there and hearing the cheers and seeing the Filipino flags, and I just knew that I felt so fulfilled that I was able to bring that kind of joy to my country. Because I knew, I just knew that so many Filipinos all over the world were watching on their screens, just not at the arena themselves, and they were just so, so happy and that I was able to create that kind of happiness. I felt over the moon.
Fox News: It’s been reported you went into hiding after you won. What happened?
Gray: Well, I did go into hiding, mostly because I was in the Philippines for a charity event, but it wasn't actually my homecoming event. So I didn't really do a lot of interviews or talk to the media. And another thing is that Christmas and New Year for me is a time for family. I'm an only child, and I'm very, very close with my parents, who actually live in Australia.
So before the coronation in Thailand, the only time that I was with them previously, was in March of 2018. So that Christmas and New Year break was only one of the two times in the whole year that I was able to be with them and spend time with them.
So that is why. And I always take a hiatus, and take quiet time during moments like those, like Christmas and New Year. Because as I said, it's really a time for family for me. But my family is so proud of me. Especially my mom and dad, being so close to me. And they're incredibly, incredibly thrilled. I am so blessed to say that they supported me since day one. And for them to be there on the coronation night was very, very special.
Fox News: You became a viral sensation for your walk during the swimsuit portion. Where did your confidence come from?
Gray: As confident as I look onstage, backstage, I was really, really nervous. I am quite a conservative person, just as an individual. Even when I'm on the beach wearing a two-piece, I feel quite ... I want to be conservative. So, of course, being on a stage and in front of so many people, I was really nervous.
I'm proud of my body. I feel strong in my body. My body has carried me through the whole journey, has given me energy, has given me the strength to do my job. And I feel healthy and that's why I really just wanted to have fun out on stage, you know? I just wanted to really feel beautiful. So I walked with confidence. And it was fun.
Fox News: You originally didn’t want to pursue pageants because you were worried about being scrutinized and judged. What changed your mind?
Gray: I initially didn't have an interest in pageants just because I saw it as a show. I didn't see past that final coronation night. But of course, being from the Philippines, pageantry is a world in its own. We don't have Superbowl, we have pageants. And seeing the kind of platform that it had the potential to be, that's what really drew me to pageantry. Because I was already working as a volunteer in some of my charities, and I realized what a bigger reach I could have if I went into pageantry with it. So actually, that was the main reason I pursued pageantry.
So after my first international pageant, I didn't really want to join again. I felt like once was enough for my life. And the thing is, there is such high expectations on you, placed, being a Philippine representative. Because our girls do so well, and year after year, we do send such amazing women to represent the country. So I was afraid to put myself out there again. Because it is such a public arena. We are exposed to so many different people, negative and positive, through social media. It really did take overcoming some of my fears. But looking back now, I'm so glad that I decided to do it again, to pursue it again. Because if not, I wouldn't be Miss Universe today.
Fox News: How do you deal with the pressures of looking a certain way, especially in the era of social media?
Gray: It is definitely a journey. A very personal journey. And as much as I want to say I do have thick skin, there are days or there are certain comments that really do hurt. And I think that's completely natural.
I just constantly tell myself that I should be the only one to define my worth and what I'm capable of, and how I perceive myself. And that I should never source that worth from other people, especially strangers on social media. They don't know who I am, the length of my journey, who I am as a person. So why should I let their words define me? Or allow me to change how I view myself, or to think negatively about myself. I just tell myself that I know my worth, I know my capability, and that's what really drives me.
Fox News: What does being Miss Universe mean to you, especially with the current political climate?
Gray: I really feel that the younger generations, especially, could do with more role models, more people to look up to. And being a Miss Universe, I really feel that my job is to be a spokesperson. Yes, the basis of it is a pageant, but that's only one night. The rest of the year, it's me really working as a spokesperson, lending my voice to different causes and different organizations.
And me, as Catriona, I really want to bring my creativity into that, especially my love for music and my love for the arts. And I feel that that's a way that I can connect to people, that I can communicate with them to either create awareness or educate them on something, that's what being a Miss Universe means to me. And I feel that a Miss Universe really does have the potential to teach people things or to bring people to a cause. And that's why I think we do have a role to play in today's society.
Fox News: There are some people who may feel pageants are outdated, or that they glorify a certain look over anything else. How would you respond to such claims?
Gray: I would challenge those people to really see past what's onstage. We're not just there for that one night and that's it, that's the finished thing. Behind every girl is a story, there's a journey. There's something that they're passionate about. And the women that I competed with, they are incredibly successful. Some are medical students, some are budding lawyers, some are business owners, artists, they're such accomplished women. And they all have something to not only pursue but also a reason why they do what they do.
And I think that's exactly what Miss Universe represents, the coming together of women from all around the world who have their own stories to tell, who are empowered, who do have their own purposes. And it really does give them that platform. And that's what I would challenge. We are not just there to put on a show, but behind the scenes, we're also talking country to country.
We're not only learning about different cultures which, you know, teaches us understanding, but we also broaden our view of the world. And I think that's an amazing thing. Because with that, we're given the platform to share our experiences. And if we can share a message of inclusivity, of understanding and respect, I think that in itself is a really great thing, too.
Fox News: Before you pursued the pageant world, you used money earned from modeling to buy a plane ticket from Australia, where you were raised, to the Philippines. Why the Philippines?
Gray: There was the whole aspect of me wanting to rediscover my roots. I had just graduated from high school, and I didn't really know what I wanted to pursue for university. So I wanted to take a gap year to take the time to kind of discover myself. Being a sheltered only child, I wanted to discover who was I on my own.
It was a journey of self-discovery for me, and it made sense to go to the Philippines first because that was my heritage. It's my roots. And I wanted to discover that.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.