By Zara Zhuang

Pia Wurtzbach is Going Places—Including Our May 2024 Cover

An actress, advocate, fashion icon, model and now author, Pia Wurtzbach has done it all—or so you’d think.
pia wurtzbach
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We have all seen Pia Wurtzbach—being crowned Miss Universe in 2015, only the third Filipina to win the title; as a regular at fashion shows since, where her impeccable style and statuesque presence turn
heads and draw cameras; immortalised in wax at Madame Tussauds in 2019, becoming the first Filipino to be featured in the international museum; and on the TEDx stage in 2021, sharing her heartfelt story of overcoming mental health struggles. More recently, we saw her step into the limelight as an author at various promotional events, talking about Queen of the Universe, her debut novel released last November that tells the tale of a beautiful, talented young woman navigating the world of pageants and celebrity
without losing sight of her true self.

One wouldn’t fault her for wanting to take a good rest after all the years of tirelessly pushing her advocacies—among other things, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific champions gender equality, and self‐love for optimal health and well‐being—and chasing her personal dreams. But far from putting up her feet, the multi‐hyphenate is in
the midst of establishing a new business that is close to her life’s mission.

Here, she bares all to GRAZIA—opening up about how she sees herself, her journey thus far, the road ahead and more.

What was your childhood like, and how did it influence you to become the person you are today? Were there any indications or incidents that hinted at your achievements or missions today?

Pia Wurtzbach (PW): I was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where I spent my early years with my German father and Filipina mother. The family moved back to the Philippines when I was four and I was raised by a single mother. As luck would have it, I was scouted by a modelling agency when I was 11 and I’ve been the family’s breadwinner since. Whatever work I was doing—making boxes in a factory, assisting in hotel kitchens, waiting tables, modelling, acting … my mindset has always been “whatever it takes”: that when I put my mind and heart into something, I always give everything I’ve got. I’m that determined as
a person.

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How did competing in pageants build you up?

PW: Competing in pageants isn’t just about looking good; it’s about building yourself up from the inside out, self‐discovery, and empowerment that comes with stepping onto that stage. Pageants are a wonderful tool for personal development—you watch yourself become stronger, more confident and more resilient with every competition. It’s about letting confidence shine as you showcase your true
beauty, voice and talent to the world!

Considering the breadth of what you do and represent, what do you want people to take away from your journey?
PW: That I’ve lost more crowns than I’ve won, if you think about it. But determination, hard work and a bit of luck literally led me to where I am now. I’ve always wanted to leave a lasting legacy of positive change and impact countless lives for the better. It’s amazing when you can inspire and lead a community and just do good—a ripple effect.

You’ve talked about starting acting at four and looking up to Meryl Streep. What is it about acting that interests you? What kind of actor do you want to become, and are there specific roles or stories that you’re drawn to?

PW: I love exploring the depths of human emotions and bringing characters to life on camera. Acting is all about storytelling and connecting with people on a deeper level. It’s an art form that allows me to step into someone else’s shoes and experience the world from a different perspective. It’s a little secret of mine, but I’ve always wanted to try doing theatre. I know it’s a different discipline, but it intrigues and challenges me.

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What are some memorable acting projects for you?

PW: From honing my improvisation to embracing spontaneity, every role has been a stepping stone to help me keep pushing boundaries and exploring new characters. That said, the humour and timing of doing comedy (her last acting project was the 2022 small‐screen comedy series My Papi Pi) has been such a rewarding challenge! Also, I did a movie back in 2018 called My Perfect You, where mental health awareness was cleverly [fused] into a love story. It was good to spread through film this awareness of schizophrenia, which some people have trouble seeing or talking about.

With the release of your first book, Queen of the Universe, published last year, you’re now an author as well. So tell us: how’s life in this new role? Also, did penning this novel change how you think about your road thus far?

PW: Embarking on [this] new chapter has been both familiar and unique … Every step along the way has brought its own set of challenges and triumphs. It’s a thrilling adventure that keeps me on my toes, pushing me to explore uncharted territories. Embracing this creative journey has allowed me to explore new facets of my identity and storytelling abilities. And for sure I’ll be writing more!

What inspired Queen of the Universe?

PW: [The book is] loosely based on my journey towards the [Miss Universe] crown, but it’s [also] about stepping into your power and owning your story. Of course, all the behind‐the‐scenes secrets and glam moments from ordinary to extraordinary are exciting bits, but it’s fiction! Ultimately, this was my way of expressing my thoughts through writing and being unafraid to wear the author hat, letting my light shine and inspiring others to do the same. You are the author of your own story, so make it a masterpiece—[same as] what I did!

In your novel, you posed this question: “What is the price of fame and fortune?” How would you answer that?

PW: [I’d say the journey to fame and fortune is] full of highs and lows, but [it’s] always worth the ride if you don’t lose sight of what truly matters. The journey is always worth it when you embrace the challenges that come with success and keep striving for your dreams. Remember, too, that the
most valuable things in life are often the ones that money can’t buy.

Among other things, you’ve been a strong advocate for HIV/Aids testing. Tell us more about your motivations and what you hope to accomplish on this front.

PW: The [HIV/Aids] cases are still rising and there’s still so much work to do [when it comes to raising awareness]. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working closely with local and international organisations, such as LoveYourself and UNAids, on HIV awareness. It’s incredible to witness how far we’ve come in the fight against HIV/Aids, and to see the inspiring work of young people coming together to make a difference. It’s important to continue the conversation in raising awareness and to remember that together, we can make a difference.

In 2021, you spoke publicly at TEDx about your personal mental health struggles after winning the Miss Universe title. What made you decide to be so open, especially when the topics you touched on still carry some stigma?

PW: I shared my story with the hope that [it’ll make] someone experiencing something similar feel [that] they’re not alone. For the longest time, I never wanted to admit I was sad, out of fear that people would judge me or say that I’m being ungrateful. I wanted to be sure that if I spoke about it, it was coming from a place of strength and confidence. There’s no way I’m 100 per cent okay all the time, because [mental
health is] always a work in progress and every day, you just find healthier ways to cope. As I continue talking about mental health, I’ve started to equip myself with the right people around me, to make sure that whatever I share is helpful.

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What does it mean to you to be a public figure and a role model?

PW: It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly [and] one that fills my heart with purpose every day. I want to use my platform to spread positivity and make a difference!

Do you feel that celebrities should use their platforms to advocate for causes?

PW: A thousand per cent yes. We should be using our influence for good and amplifying important messages together. Celebrities have a powerful voice that can encourage others to also speak up for what matters. Together, we can create a better world for everyone.

How do you react to and deal with naysayers and doubters?

PW: The more you tell me no, the more I’ll fight to prove you wrong. Don’t tell me I can’t do something, because that’s the surest way for me to make it happen. Nothing fuels me more than negativity, naysayers, bashers, and people who diminish my efforts and worth.

What’s next for you? Anything exciting in store?

PW: I don’t want to jinx anything by saying too much. I’ve started to lay the groundwork for my next book and a business venture I just can’t get into so much now. I’m going to be part of some events I’m excited about, some things I wished hard for and [that are] finally coming true. The future’s looking bright and I’m here for all of it!

Well, congrats to adding entrepreneur to the many hats you wear! Any thoughts to share about building a new business?

PW: Starting a new business isn’t just about building a brand; it’s about building a dream. Every late night, early morning and all the hard work in between is worth it when you see your vision come to life. I hustle hard to make those entrepreneurial dreams a reality!

Looking back, would you say that everything you’ve accomplished today was inevitable?

PW: Whenever I find myself with doubts or uncertainty, I think it’s a solid reminder that whatever is meant for you will always find its way to you, no matter what, as long as you put in the work.

Photography: Reuben Foong
Fashion Director: Kelly Hsu 
On-Set Stylist: Perry Tabora 
Hair: Jeck Aguilar
Makeup: Justin Louise Soriano
Lighting: McDouglas Lim
Fashion Assistants: Carlyn Soo, Effie Goh
Photography Assistants: Daniel Oliver West, Khairul Amirin
Set Assistant: Germaine Ng