Miss Universe 2015 talks about shopping, family, prize tax

Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.
Reuters

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach showed her fun side during an exclusive interview Sunday at the Novotel Hotel in Quezon City.

Since she knew she was with her Inquirer family, the former contributing writer and stylist for Inquirer Lifestyle's ToBeYou section appeared close to tears as she hugged and renewed ties with people she once worked with.

Wearing a pair of beige Schutz pumps and sleeveless blue-green jumpsuit by designer Bessie Besana, a fully rested Wurtzbach shared snippets of her life in New York City, her views on being taxed for her prizes, and what she would say to President Aquino when she pays him a courtesy call in Malacañang.

"I will say 'Thank you,'" she said of her planned Tuesday meeting with the President. "Actually, I don't want to expect anything since it hasn't happened yet."

42-year drought

Wurtzbach, the country's third Miss Universe after Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margie Moran in 1973, found herself saying the same two words to a higher power soon after winning the title last month in Las Vegas.

Her feat, which was initially marred by controversy after pageant host Steve Harvey announced the wrong winner, ended the Philippines' 42-year title drought. The New York-based beauty queen arrived in Manila on Saturday morning after an official visit to Indonesia.

"After the pageant, I just kept saying 'Thank you,'" the 26-year-old Wurtzbach said. "When you pray, you usually say thank you and ask for something. Ask for blessings. Ask for this and that. When I went to a church in New York, all I said was 'Thank you.'" Message to mom

Like her former rival Ariadna Gutierrez of Colombia, whom Harvey initially declared the winner, the first person Wurtzbach sent a text message to was her London-based mother, Cheryl Alonzo-Tyndall.

"I… said, 'Ma, your baby won!'" Wurtzbach said. "Because of the time difference, she was already asleep."

Tyndall, who's prone to hypertension, deemed it wise not to fly to Las Vegas to watch the pageant. Her blood pressure shot up twice during the times she was in Manila to watch her daughter compete in the Binibining Pilipinas contest.

It took Wurtzbach three tries before finally bagging the coveted Miss Universe Philippines crown. Tyndall still felt nervous even after Wurtzbach finally won the local tilt.

"She saw a delayed telecast of Miss Universe," Wurtzbach said. "It was a good call because of what has happened. I don't think my mom would be able to take it."

Feisty mother

But Wurtzbach described her mother as "palaban" (feisty), a trait that she took after and put to good use while competing in the Miss Universe pageant.

"She's a fighter," she said. "She's fearless. My mom flew as a young woman to Germany on her own. She learned the language and lived there for 10 years. During that time, it was a brave move to do. I got that from her, malakas ang loob (brave)."

Her late dad, a German national, taught her discipline at a young age. "He was very particular with time, with my grades. He taught me discipline and to always aim for the best," she said.

Wurtzbach has no issues if Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares would run after her for winning an undisclosed sum.

Crown on loan

But she drew the line at taxing her diamond-, topaz- and sapphire-encrusted crown because it did not belong to her, but was merely "on loan" from Miss Universe Organisation (MUO).

"I'm the second one to wear this [type of] crown," she said while holding the New York skyline-inspired crown that's reportedly worth $300,000.

"But I have to pass it on. They will give me a tiara instead. I don't even know what it looks like because I haven't seen Paulina's (her predecessor Paulina Vega) tiara."

Just "like any employee," Wurtzbach is aware of her duties to pay the right taxes. She has been doing it all her life, she said, ever since she entered show biz as a preteen.

"When I start working in the US, I will be doing that as well. I"m a law-abiding citizen, I believe," she said.

When asked how much her total winnings were, Wurtzbach looked in the direction of road manager Esther Swan of MUO. Swan merely smiled and gestured with outstretched arms, as if to show the size of Wurtzbach's prizes.

An earlier online report by GMA News said Wurtzbach would be granted a modeling contract, scholarship and a monthly salary, among other prizes.

Surreal

Wurtzbach said winning Miss Universe was everything she dreamt it to be "and more."

"I don't think you can imagine what it's actually going to be like until you're actually there. It's surreal. I still can't believe it up to now. I feel like everything will really, really sink in once I finally do the press con and parade."

Despite MUO's reputation of closely guarding its image, Wurtzbach appreciates the fact that she gets to say things she truly believes in without being "spoon-fed" or coached on what to say.

"Of course, I have to mention my advocacies and what Miss Universe does," she said. "But they never tell you that you should be more like this or more like that. They want you to be yourself 100 per cent."

Her advocacies include promoting HIV/AIDS awareness, relief operations for disaster-prone countries, and measures against cyberbullying.

Follow suit

Since a good number of her fans are gays, Wurtzbach urged them to keep themselves "informed."

"It would be better if you get yourself tested, too," she said. "In New York, we're planning to do a public testing of me. If I take the first step, perhaps others can follow suit."

As Miss Universe, Wurtzbach also considers herself a representative not only of women but also of "everybody."

"I don't consider myself leaning more toward women. I think there should be equality for everybody, for all genders-men, women and everyone in between," she said.

'Timeless' New York

Asked to describe New York in one sentence, she said "it is timeless."

Whenever her schedule allows, Wurtzbach would head home, a Fifth Avenue apartment she shares with Miss USA Olivia Jordan, and quickly change into flats and wear sunglasses before going out again to explore the city.

"I really love watching Broadway shows," she said. "I've only seen three so far, including one starring Lea (Salonga)."

Wurtzbach was so moved by Salonga's performance that she found herself crying while watching "Allegiance." She probably has more reasons to cry once she sees her credit card bill.

"Oh, the shopping in New York," she gushed before breaking into laughter. "I really have to control myself. I'm afraid to see my credit card bill now."