Catriona Gray’s full name is Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray. On December 17, 2018, she was crowned Miss Universe 2018 at the 67th annual Miss Universe pageant. She was crowned at the IMPACT Arena, Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi Province, a northern suburb of Bangkok, Thailand.
She was born in Cairns, a city in the Cairns Region, Queensland, Australia, to a Scottish-born father, Ian Gray, from Fraserburgh, and a Filipina mother, Normita Ragas Magnayon, from Oas, Albay.
Gray is reportedly named after her paternal grandmother, Catherine Gray, who immigrated to Western Australia from Scotland in 1952 as well has her maternal grandmother, Elsa Magnayon, her maternal grandmother from Oas, Albay, Philippines.
According to BNY Jeans, she is an only child has spoken about how she often longed for siblings. However, her parents early on made the decision not to have any more children, as her father already had two from a previous marriage, although her mother did share her desire for a big family. Instead, the Grays worked hard to make sure that Gray grew up a well-rounded child with a variety of experiences and talents.
She studied martial arts in her youth. She started training in Choi Kwang Do when she was 8 years old, and earned her black belt when she was 12. According to an interview with ABS-CBN Lifestyle, Gray says she was not very sporty or coordinated due to her height, standing at 5’ 9.5.” While her height clearly has advantages, growing up, it was awkward.
“I was so uncoordinated because I was so tall. And school activities like athletics and balls sports – I just couldn't do it,” she admitted.
However, when her parents encouraged her to try self-defense, Gray finally found a sport she could really enjoy.
“I started when I was eight years old and I got my black belt when I was 12,” said Gray. “There’s this sense of achievement every time I moved up a belt. I did karate four times a week for four years; it was crazy. It really taught me discipline. When you're young, you sometimes just want to stay home and watch TV. But I just enjoyed karate naman. It teaches you about common sense and being aware of your surroundings.”
Her training taught her discipline and still comes in handy sometimes when she models.
Gray was a student at Trinity Anglican School located in Cairns where she was a house captain. She was the lead singer of her school's jazz band and also starred in local productions of Miss Saigon.
After graduating, she received a master's certificate in music theory from the online school of Berklee College of Music located in Boston, Massachusetts. She also earned a Certificate in Outdoor Recreation in her college years as a result of being involved in sports from such a young age. She says her involvement has made her more open to new experiences. She describes herself as adventurous and fond of traveling and the outdoors.
After graduating from high school, she moved to Manila where she worked as a commercial model. At the age of 18, she was listed as one of Cosmo Magazines’ Top Model in the Philippines. Gray worked in TV, commercial, and runway modeling for several years, eventually becoming a familiar face in endorsements and ads.
One of the biggest campaigns she’s been a part of is the renowned Pantene #WhipIt commercial, which was lauded for combating gender stereotypes. Gray can be seen strutting her signature walk in the Pantene Labels Against Women TVC, and also provided the vocals for the background music to the commercial.
Gray’s first pageant was in 1999 when she won Little Miss Philippines in Sydney, Australia at the age of five but pageants were not on the top of her priority list. However, her perspective changed during one of the toughest periods of her life.
According to BNY Jeans, she was the main breadwinner for her family when her work as a commercial model started to dry up, with no new projects coming in for a while. This period was difficult for her emotionally and financially, so she decided to turn to charity work.
She found herself on the streets of Tondo, a district located in Manila, Philippines and one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country’s capital city. In modern times, slums have developed in Tondo along the Pasig River.
Gray became a vocal advocate in eradicating poverty. She began working with Young Focus Philippines, a Non-Governmental Organization (N.G.O.) that provides free education and school sponsorships for children in Tondo, Manila.
Through her friend, Miss World Philippines 2014, Valerie Weigmann, Gray realized the potential of having a platform as large as titleholder’s. Thus, she began to enter in pageants in order to further her charitable work.
This lead to her forming, “Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project.” The project is geared toward raising funds for wayward youths in the Smokey Mountain landfill in Tondo, Manila.
In 2016, Gray entered the sixth annual Miss World Philippines pageant. However, her decision to enter the pageant surprised even herself.
In an interview with Rappler, she said her decision to join the competition was a surprise back then.
"I don’t know. I was even kind of surprised myself,” said Gray. “I didn’t expect it because I kind of look at the whole pageantry thing in a certain light before. And all of a sudden, parang overnight, I saw it in a different perspective and I looked at it as the heart of it is the advocacy. So that’s what made me fall in love with it. So that’s why I’m joining Miss World."
She won the title of Miss World Philippines 2016 on October 2, 2016. The win qualified Gray to compete at the Miss World pageant.
In addition to winning the title, Gray also won the Best in Swimsuit, Best in Evening Gown, Best in Fashion Runway and Best in Talent awards. She also won many corporate endorsement awards including Miss FIG Image Gateway, Miss Folded and Hung, Miss Hannah Beach Resort, Miss Figlia, Miss Manila Hotel and Miss Organique.
During the Top 12 question and answer round she was asked, "When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?" Gray answered:
"I see someone who is constantly trying to be better. I've always endured to always be better than the day before, to do things that challenge me, to do things outside the box. And something that is very fulfilling that I have found is when I look in the mirror, I want to see someone who gives back to the community, and that's someone who I achieve to be every single day."
During the final question and answer round all the five finalists were asked the same question, "Why should you be Miss World Philippines 2016?" Gray answered:
"To be a Miss World is to be passed a torch that burns with passion and purpose. If I am to become Miss World Philippines, I will dedicate my voice and essence to carry that torch and to set charitable causes alight, such as my personal advocacy, the Paraiso Bright Beginnings Project. And I would focus on passing on this torch to empower others because I believe together there is no darkness in this world that our light cannot overcome."
On November 8, 2016, shortly after winning the crown, Gray made Facebook post explaining her project:
“Within the slums of Tondo Manila - one of the largest garbage collecting areas in the Philippines, families are making a living from the toxic trash. As a consequence, many children in this area aren't able to experience the reality of education. I've partnered up with Young Focus an organization that provides free and accessible education for the youth of Tondo, Manila. However there is currently not enough facilities to cater to all the children. My personal advocacy the PARAISO Bright Beginnings Project is raising funds to acquire and renovate a 3-storey building that will become a Preschool and Childcare center for the youth of Smokey Mountain, Tondo. For information about donating you can head to cat-elle.com/paraiso. Let's work together to see what future we can create for our children - a PARAISO for every child."
Gray then went on to compete at the 2016 Miss World pageant, her first international pageant, on December 18, 2016 at the MGM National Harbor located in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Gray placed in the Top 5 as third runner-up. She also won the Multimedia Award, second place to the Talent Award and was named to the Top 5 for her Beauty with a Purpose project.
During the question and answer portion, she was asked by the reigning Miss World 2015, Mireia Lalaguna, "Which qualities do you think will take to wear my crown?" Gray answered:
"I think, first of all, it takes bravery. To be a Miss World is to carry a burning torch. It is like action carried out by one to illuminate the lives of many. And I would dedicate my whole self, my love for the arts and my voice to try to uplift, empower and educate people. And it would be my greatest honor and duty to hold this torch high enough so that all the world could feel and see its light. Thank you."
In a video posted to YouTube, after the crowning of Miss World 2016, Stephanie Del Valle, of Puerto Rico, Gray is seen hugging the flag of her country, emotional as her fans cheer for her.
On September 3, 2017, Gray crowned her successor, Miss World Philippines 2017, Laura Victoria Lehmann as Miss World Philippines 2017.
On January 8, 2018, Gray submitted her application form at the Binibining Pilipinas office at the Araneta Center to officially join the 2018 national pageant, the largest pageant held in the Philippines. The pageant decides the country’s representatives for Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Supranational, Miss Grand International, Miss Intercontinental and Miss Globe.
On January 16, 2018, Stella Araneta, the national director, officially accepted her application and confirmed that Gray will be competing at the 2018 Binibining Pilipinas pageant.
On a show titled "Road to the Crown," Gray appeared with all of her fellow Binibining contestants to talk about their journey to the Binibining Pilipinas 2018 pageant.
On the show, Catriona appeared before a panel and said that her greatest strength was that she is an empath and feels for others very deeply.
Miss International Philippines 2017, Mariel De Leon, was quoted saying to Gray, "I really love your confidence and the way you speak, but sometimes it seems just a tiny bit scripted," De Leon said on the show.
De Leon followed her comment with a post on social media to discuss her comment to Gray during the show.
"As strong and empowered women, we are open to one another for these healthy discussions knowing we have the best of intentions for each other," De Leon continued.
Many of Gray's fans started bashing and attacking De Leon on social media for her comment. Gray responded to the comment and social media attacks on De Leon.
"Firstly, any advice from our queens is valuable to us Binibinis and I took all of those given to me, in a very constructive way!” said Gray. “Secondly, everyone is entitled to their opinion and although at times you may not favor it, it doesn't give a good reason to turn around and try to hurt others through bullying or bashing."
On March 18, 2018, Gray was crowned as Miss Universe Philippines 2018 by the outgoing titleholder Miss Universe Philippines 2017, Rachel Peters.
In addition to the title, Gray won the Best in National Costume, Best in Evening Gown and Best in Swimsuit awards. She also won the Miss Jag Denim Queen and Miss Ever Bilena Cosmetics endorsement awards. In addition, she won the Dairy Queen's and Pizza Hut's awards.
At Binibining Pilipinas 2018, Gray was asked by United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim, "After the devastating war—Marawi is now on its way to recovery, what will be your message to the young women of Marawi?" Gray responded:
"...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 could 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...”
Gray’s win as Miss Universe Philippines made history as she became the first Filipina to represent the country at both the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants, and the second to represent the Philippines in two major international pageants, the first entry being Carlene Aguilar in 2005.
Gray used her win to continue to promote her organization and Young Focus Philippines. She released the music video, posted to YouTube on November 25, 2018, “We’re In This Together.” Gray, providing the vocals, advocates for peace and unity in helping the impoverished community of Tondo.
Gray went on to compete at the 2018 Miss Universe pageant. Prior to the pageant, Gray was a favorite to win the crown. A Facebook page titled, “Miss Philippines Catriona Gray for the Miss Universe 2018 Crown” currently has 90,000 likes and more than 92,000 followers.
During the National Costume Competition, Gray wore a beaded tribal suit featuring the indigenous tribes of the ancient pagan Filipinos, alongside an oversized Parol painted Christmas lantern pulled by a roller device. The costume was accompanied by a pre-Christian Shamanic dance of the historical Babaylan paganism.
The costume gained both support and criticism, due to the perceived difficulty of walking and the failure of LEDs to function.
During the preliminary competition, Gray made headlines with her now famous “Lava Walk.”
The walk was so iconic, it made supermodels including Tyra Banks and Ashley Graham take notice. Banks posted on Instagram praising the walk and later interviewed Gray for V Magazine.
During the preliminary evening gown competition, Gray wore a Mak Tumang orange and gold gown.
During the final competition, airing on December 17, 2018 Gray was called into the Top 20.
Debuting a new phase of competition, the opening statement, she was asked by host Steve Harvey, "If you were gonna write a song about your experience here in Miss Universe, what would you call it?" Gray responded:
"Well, you know what, Steve, as Miss Philippines, I've always felt the love and support of the Filipino people, and I think I brought half of my country here tonight and so I would name my song, 'Raise Your Flag,' because I stand here not as one, but as 104 million FIlipinos!"
Gray made the cut for the Top 10. After once again showcasing her lava walk in the swimsuit competition, Gray showcased another evening gown, this time a sparkling red number by the same designer, Mak Tumang. Tumang posted to Facebook explaining the design of the now iconic gown.
"Today, Catriona is coming home,” he wrote. “She is celebrating her roots – she is celebrating Albay! The prominent and iconic Mayon Volcano is the penultimate inspiration for this creation. It is dubbed the ‘perfect cone’ because of its symmetric conical form. Folk tales have it that it was named after the mythological heroine ‘Daragang Magayon’ (Beautiful Lady). Despite its pulchritude is the fact that it is the most active volcano in the Philippines erupting numerous times in the past half a millennium. Catriona can be considered as the modern-day Daragang Magayon. She embodies the Filipina’s beauty, intelligence and burning passion. This lady is definitely on fire! Watch her erupt right before your very eyes and let the lava of grace, goodness and hope flow."
Her now-iconic earcuff by Tessera Jewelry that accompanied the gown is a tribute to the three stars and sun in the Philippine flag.
Gray was called to the Top 5. During the first onstage question, Gray was asked by host Steve Harvey, "Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the legalization of marijuana?" She responded:
“I’m for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use. Because I think if people were to argue: Then what about alcohol and cigarettes? Well, everything is good but in moderation.”
In the final question onstage question, the top three contestants were asked the same question by Harvey: "What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life and how will you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?" She answered:
“I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is very... it's poor and it's very sad. And I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it; to look in the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. And this I think if I could also teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children will have a smile on their faces.”
At the end of the night, Gray was crowned Miss Universe by the outgoing Miss Universe 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa.
Words of congratulations began pouring in, including from the Malacanang presidential palace. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement:
“Ms. Gray’s triumph sets the bar high in empowering more Filipino women to believe in themselves and to fight for their own place in the universe.”
Even a top opposition leader, Vice President Leni Robredo, joined in.
“With the eyes of the world on you, you chose to highlight your work with the poor, and to send a much needed message of hope to all,” Robredo wrote on Twitter.
Gray became the fourth Miss Philippines to bring home the Miss Universe crown after Gloria Diaz in 1969, Margarita Moran in 1973 and Pia Wurtzbach in 2015.
Fans around the world began pointing out that with Gray’s red dress, each representative who had won the Miss Universe title wore an evening gown representing the colors of the country’s flag. Diaz wore yellow, Moran wore white, Wurtzback wore blue and Gray wore red.
According to the Washington Post, after her crowning, Gray told reporters of a dream her mother had when gray was a child.
“When I was 13 years old, my mother told me, ‘I had a dream that you were in Miss Universe, and you won in a red dress,’” Gray said.
In addition to her own platform, Gray is an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention after losing a close friend to the virus. She supports Love Yourself Philippines, an organization that offers free testing, education and treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS, and now as Miss Universe, plans to bring more awareness to the epidemic. She penned an open letter on International Women’s Day to women about HIV/AIDS. The letter was posted to the Love Yourself website.
She is also a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, posting many messages of love and support on her Instagram during Pride Month.
Gray received backlash from some fans over her support due to her Christian faith. One follower commented, “What happened @catriona_gray about your testimony about your christianity? Please do not compromise.”
“My belief as a Christian does not limit me from fighting for the rights of others. I love my God and love me fellow brothers and sisters. Religion is never an excuse to hate, put down or act indifferent to the suffering of others. I believe God is love, and I will treat everyone — no matter who they are, to best of my ability, with love."
Like all Miss Universes, Gray had a grand homecoming. However, Gray had not one, but two homecoming parades.
The first was on February 21, spanning Pasay, Manila, and Makati, while the second was on February 23 around Araneta Center in Cubao. Both parades were extremely well-attended, and the perfect opportunity for her to celebrate her win with her supporters.
While Gray was dancing during one of the parades, the Mikimoto crown, estimated to be valued at $250,000, broke. Gray explained in a video posted to the Miss Universe Facebook page.
For now, Gray has roughly six months left in her reign as Miss Universe. She has crowned her successor, Miss Universe Philippines 2019, Gazini Christiana Jordi Ganados.
During the pageant, she gave an emotional farewell speech. The transcript was posted on Rappler. In one of the most notable paragraphs, Gray says:
“I may only be one person, but now I have the opportunity to serve 104 million Filipinos, and I knew that I was doing this para sa Pilipinas. Inside each and every one of us is a king or queen with the ability to conquer the universe, whatever that may be for you. But we must first conquer ourselves, conquer what others perceive of us, and finally, conquer with a purpose.”