Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova won the pageant held in Thailand, and liked the place so much she decided to stay
Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe 2005, is mesmerizing in the flesh. I couldn't take my eyes off her face when she arrived for our interview, and she wasn't wearing make-up. The Canadian was born in Russia and moved to Toronto with her family when she was 13.
However, Thailand is now her home after she married professional tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan, and she now has her own company here, Fah Glebova International. She even has a Thai nickname, Fah, which means "blue" - the colour of her eyes.
Natalie won the Miss Universe title at the pageant held in Bangkok in June 2005. "My life changed completely," she said. "From having a full-time job as an executive assistant at a beverage company, I moved to New York where I attended many functions, movie premiers, launches and parties.
"However, it wasn't all just glamour. I also volunteered for many charities such as organising food for people, and the rest of the time that I wasn't in New York I travelled all over the world for charity, especially on the platform of HIV and Aids."
She also did a lot of modelling, commercials and endorsements worldwide, including one in Thailand for the Boon Rawd Brewery, the makers of Singha Beer and a variety of other products.
‘‘ I like to try new things. This year, my goal is to try wakeboarding. If I get the chance to go bungee jumping, I would. I’m also a spiritual person. Going on a meditation retreat is also next on my agendaThat job brought Natalie back to Thailand often.
''Singha later asked me to live in Thailand on a one-year contract. I agreed as I love Thailand and had gotten to know some people here. I did modelling for their products and advertised mostly their healthy beverages.
''When I moved here, I knew I wasn't going to leave after one year. I got into the life here pretty quickly and established my own company, Fah Glebova International. My company's first project was launching my own book, Happy Healthy Beautiful, which I wrote in English and was published in Thai.''
Some of the things that attracted Natalie to Thailand was the food, the weather, the culture and the people.
''However, the reason I decided to stay is because this is the place I see myself building a life and being happy here. I feel that I don't have to pretend and can be myself. I feel lucky that Thai people accept me. I'm very grateful to Thailand.''
Natalie loves it when Thai people call her Fah. ''I find it very nice and sweet when people know my nickname and talk to me as if I was Thai. It makes me feel accepted.''
Natalie can speak enough Thai to get by. She admits: ''I get very shy and embarrassed when I speak Thai because I don't want people laughing at me. I've been told that I am a perfectionist. I understand though that you have to be fearless to learn. I can order food, introduce myself, ask for directions, and say what I did today and what I'm going to do next in Thai.
''Meeting my husband Paradorn, who was also a Singha endorser, of course keeps me here,'' she said. ''We met many times through mutual friends. What brought us closer was when we went to donate money to Wat Phra Baht Nam Phu
[a temple that takes care of Aids sufferers]. We had a lot of time to talk on the way there and back.
Afterwards, we had our first dinner, and saw each other every day for a couple of weeks, and our relationship developed pretty quickly.''
EASY RIDERS: Natalie with her husband, former tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan, on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.His proposal was romantic. ''Everything was a surprise. We went to Bali, and on the first night, Paradorn took me for a romantic walk along the beach under the stars and proposed to me at the most perfect moment.''
Natalie has kept up her charity work since moving to Thailand. ''I want help change the lives of others, even in a small way.'' Natalie and friend Shannon Kalayanamitr founded Party 4 Charity, which consists of a collective group of individuals with an idealistic viewpoint towards making a difference in the world. The concept is fun. All you have to do is party, and the proceeds will go directly to different foundations and institutions with reputable causes. The first party was a huge success and the money raised went to the Wat Sakaew Orphanage.
There are, however, two more projects that Natalie plans to start this year. One is her own TV show with the same title as her book, Happy Healthy Beautiful. She has just finished shooting a pilot for it.
''The show is based on the same idea as my book, focusing on three main things _ health, beauty and happiness. It will be in English and hopefully on a global scale or Asia-wise.''
Another project is creating a skincare line under her company using her own brand. When she won the Miss Universe title, Natalie said the feeling was surreal. ''I didn't expect it at all, and it wasn't even my goal. I was excited and happy just being a part of it.
''Now in my mind, I'm not Miss Universe. I'm the old Natalie whom I've been all my life. However, there is this other Natalie who is a public figure. People expect a certain look of me, such as being in good shape, well-groomed and being pedicured and manicured. Still, I'm a human being. I can't look perfect all the time.''
On a normal day, Natalie loves wearing jeans and tank tops, and owns a lot of sundresses. ''I like to wear flat shoes since I'm getting tired of high heels. I wore heels a lot during the pageant and for work, so I've had enough.''
Natalie also has some advice for up and coming models.
''In preparing for a pageant or a photo shoot, one of the most important things is taking care of your diet and exercising. You will look and feel better, and it shows on your outer appearance. However, for my day-to-day life, I'm not as strict, but I realise the less I stay up late, the better I look. I try to exercise as much as I can, which is mostly every day. For instance, I do yoga several times a week, play badminton on the weekends and rollerblade and swim at home.''
She is also adventurous. In 2008, she joined the Amazing Race Asia 3 and came in eighth place, representing Thailand. ''I like to try new things. This year, my goal is to try wakeboarding. If I get the chance to go bungee jumping, I would. I'm also a spiritual person. Going on a meditation retreat is also next on my agenda.''
As we parted, a horde of fans flocked over to have their pictures taken with Fah.