THE beauty pageant-mad Filipinos welcomed home freshly crowned Miss Universe Catriona Gray yesterday with a parade through the capital that drew thousands of screeching fans held back by police.
The 25-year-old danced, smiled and waved a tiny Philippine flag from atop a float, shielded from the pounding tropical sun by attendants holding pink umbrellas as some in the crowd scaled utility poles to catch a glimpse.
Manila’s already notorious gridlock was brought to a complete stop by a police motorcycle escort that blocked roads as confetti canons sprayed the crowd, which was pushed back by officers.
Beauty pageants are must-view spectacles in the nation of 106 million people, and winners of global titles are treated like heroines.
Gray, a student of music theory, beat more than 90 contestants from around the globe in the 67th installment of Miss Universe, which was held in the Thai capital in December.
Social media exploded with clips of fans jumping for joy and hugging each other as the Filipina contestant went through each successive round and eventually won.
Gray works at a non-government outfit that provides free education for children at a Manila slum and has lent her voice to her country’s most controversial issues, including legalizing medicines that contain marijuana.
Recent pageant success by Filipinas has given a lift to a nation mired in crushing poverty, debilitating corruption and an annual deluge of typhoons, quakes, floods and other natural disasters.
Gray, whose father is Australian, was the fourth Filipina winner of the prestigious beauty pageant, and the second since Pia Wurtzbach in 2015.