First Published May 2021
READY TO BE NOTICED
Imagine your life being at a stage where the surreal somehow seems to become the norm. On the one hand, of course, life has probably been a little bit surreal for all of us over the past year. But for Belfast native NADIA SAYERS, the level of surreal she’s been living through is certainly something she’ll never forget. In fact, while most of us will look back on 2020 and the first half of this year with a fairly mixed bag of emotions, it’s unlikely that Nadia will ever do anything but smile when she remembers that same period.
On December 21st last year, Nadia, a psychologist-in-training who works with the Hope4Life charity, and who is the reigning Miss Universe Ulster, was crowned MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND 2020…via Zoom! Normally, that most magical of moments would have taken place in front of a sold-out audience in the spectacular surroundings of the Round Room in Dublin’s historic Mansion House, shared not only with family, but with friends, all of the other contestants, and the fantastic Miss Universe Ireland team. But, needs must, as the saying goes, so Nadia – sitting in front of her laptop, with just a few close family members in the next room – found out that she had become the fourth Queen of Brittany Mason‘s Moxie era at Miss Universe Ireland. Crowned without a crown, and without even meeting any of her fellow contestants. Pretty surreal, by any measure.
Last week, Nadia finally made it to Miami where she’s representing Ireland at the Miss Universe finals, with the Grand Final set to take place on Sunday next, May 16th. And it’s fair to say that a few more surreal moments have already come Nadia’s way while she’s been in Florida! More about that soon. Regardless of whatever happens on the night, it’s already clear that Nadia has been doing us proud, and will continue to do so over the days and nights ahead by building further on the legacy already created by her predecessors; Cailín Tobin, Grainne Gallanagh, and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (whose reign as Miss Universe Ireland ended up lasting for an incredible 508 days!).
Having first spoken to Nadia back when she was only a few days into her reign as Miss Universe Ireland, we had the pleasure of catching up with the lady herself once again as her official Miss Universe finals adventure got underway at last. So, having finally made it to Miami, and with the Grand Final moving ever closer by the day, I began by asking Nadia to give readers an idea of what the day ahead held in store for her…
“Of course. So today is the day before check-in with Miss Universe, so thankfully I am still with my team today. And today is going to consist of preparing and packing all of my wardrobe, and finalising wardrobe for going into Miss Universe. Because we don’t have the full itinerary, we don’t know what we need, so we need to prepare for every eventuality; interview practise, photoshoot practise, catwalk practise. All of these things take time and effort to perfect. And to be able to get them right on first go, which is what needs to be done whenever you’re there at Miss Universe. So there’s going to be a lot of training, a lot of preparation, and then – hopefully! – a good early night’s sleep for tomorrow! [Laughs].”
Nadia mentioned that she was still with her team as we spoke. So I wondered if, after she checked in the following day, that meant she would be on her own from then on?
“Well initially when I check in with Miss Universe, I’ll do a Covid test and I’m in isolation for the first day and night, until my Covid test result comes back. Then, once that comes back, I’ll be able to go and do the daily activities with Miss Universe. My first day out of isolation will consist of doing orientation, doing fittings for outfits for the final show. So my team will only be able to contact me by my phone. They’re not allowed to be around me at the hotel, they won’t have access to contestants’ floors, nobody does. So we’re pretty much gonna be in our Covid safe groups with the other contestants, and the only people who can access us are Miss Universe staff.”
Are those procedures all new this year because of concerns around Covid?
“No, typically the contestants can’t see their directors or their teams anyway during that time period. The girls are very much let out on their own and they have to represent their team individually there. Obviously we can touch base on the phone and that, but not in person. However, the strictness of the initial isolation, the smaller groups, the lack of events – and even it’s a shorter time-period, [that is] because of Covid. Typically it would be two to three weeks, whereas this year it’s ten days long.”
One of the biggest moments for Miss Universe Ireland every year is the reveal of the national costume. What little hints could Nadia give us about what could be expected this year?
“So, preliminaries for the costume are next week. If everyone keeps an eye on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram page, they’ll be announced. And the preliminaries are also streamed online so everybody can watch the reveal online. With regards to my costume…! Oh! You’re gonna love it! [Laughs]. The team and I, we talked about a lot of ideas, a lot of different concepts, because we like to get creative and we like to look into the history of Ireland. The mythology, the legends, every area of culture. We like to delve into all of them and see what we can pull out to create an elaborate costume. Now this year, the costume is THE most elaborate costume that Miss Universe Ireland has ever brought! It is the most detailed piece, containing over…I think…seven-hundred individual pieces! It’s just going to be phenomenal. And this costume is actually a concept that my director – Brittany Mason – had an idea for before she even took over Miss Universe Ireland. So this is something that stood out to her from the start. And now, from talking with me and with the team, we all kind of had a similar idea. And that’s the amazing thing. With regards to that and the evening-gown, we’ve all been on the same page, even when individually making our decisions from different countries.”
As of a week ago today at this stage, there has been the most amazing ‘get-to-know’ Nadia video on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram. It’s spectacular. I’d go as far as to say STOP reading this right now, and go and take a few minutes to check it out. I asked Nadia to fill me in on the filming…
“That was so much fun! Oh my goodness! I’ve been sitting on that for a while! [Laughs] I’ve had that for a while and I couldn’t say anything, and I’m so bad at keeping secrets! [Laughs]. I can’t believe I didn’t let it slip to anybody. Because we were in ‘lockdown’ for so long, there was no hair and make-up, no big teams, no nothing! It was done when restrictions lifted and six different people from two households could meet outside. So when that happened, we were able to dig in and find out if we could get permission to film, take a day and a half, and film for Miss Universe. I did my own hair and make-up. I sourced my own wardrobe and it was dropped at my door [laughs]. Everyone was working from a distance and in masks, oh my goodness. But it was so much fun, though, so much fun. We saw some of the most beautiful parts of the country. The team we worked with, the film crew, they’re a new team, we hadn’t worked with them before. I actually came across them on Instagram, and they’re so talented (full details of the film and production team areavailable on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram). They made the whole process a lot easier and smoother. When I first saw the video, I was just in awe [laughs]. It’s so cool. I like that it’s a bit different than the norm. It’s more me! [Laughs].”
My next question was one that only Nadia could answer, because only Nadia has ever had this experience! Normally, as mentioned earlier, on the night a new Miss Universe Ireland is crowned, the winner actually IS crowned on the night, in public and in front of family and friends. This year, of course, that wasn’t possible, with Nadia finding out the coveted crown and sash were hers in a live online broadcast! But, when that moment finally came her way, when the crown was right there in the same room as her, right in front of her eyes…and eventually, at last…upon her head…what was that moment like?
“Ohhhhhh my goodness! So, it arrived in the post! [Laughs]. And I wasn’t expecting it. This box came, and I had no idea what it was. At this point deliveries were coming every day anyway. I was kind of caught off guard. I opened the box, and dug through all of the packing, and saw it. And honestly, I sat back on the floor, and I cried a little bit [Laughs]. But it was because, I think, it was something that for so long I had looked up to and admired. In my younger years, when I followed Miss Universe Ireland, it was something I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I could ever achieve. So to have it there in front of me… And then finally, it was a couple of hours later because I wanted to get ready, I wanted to do my hair and make-up, I put it on. And I was thinking I don’t think I’m ever gonna take this off my head! [Laughs]. It was just so overwhelming.”
I couldn’t believe that Nadia had the patience to wait and do her hair and make-up before trying it on!
“[Laughs] I was like, if I’m gonna do it, I wanna do it right! [Laughs]. But it was, it was so overwhelming, and amazing. It’s been sitting out in my dressing room on a shelf since, I look at it every day when I’m working [Laughs].”
Because Nadia’s reign as Miss Universe Ireland is completely different to anyone who has ever preceded her, and probably to anyone who will one day follow her, I wondered how she is actually enjoying her experience of being…Miss Universe Ireland?
“It’s definitely a different year! [Laughs]. But do you know what it is? I believe I was given this year for a reason. I know I can do it. I know I can make the best of it, and I am. I’m making the best of this year. I’m just trying to be creative and think of new ways of delivering the same messages we want to deliver every year, and with the same force and passion, But obviously, virtually. The biggest difference for me was obviously coming here. At home, we were in a little bubble. Because we were still in my house! I’d been Miss Universe Ireland in my house! [Laughs]. So although I was putting in the work, and making my own photoshoots, and doing interviews, and creating content for Miss Universe, it was all within my bubble. So whenever I left that bubble to travel to Florida, it was a bit of a culture shock at the beginning because I hadn’t really seen anybody since October.”
Nadia continued, “All of a sudden, I’m in an airport. Then on an airplane. Then I’m somewhere where it’s really warm and there’s loads of people around! Then to have people see me and address me as Miss Universe Ireland, people other than my family [laughs], and online, that was a little bit strange to begin with. But it’s hitting me more, solidifying a lot more now, from actually being here. But I love it. I know that it’s not a typical year, it doesn’t have all the same events and things like that. But, in a way it’s giving me more time to speak to people online, talk to younger kids, do Zooms with schools. Things like that that I’m passionate about, and that I really want to be able to give time to. Because the busyness of daily life was taken away for so long, I was able to focus on Miss Universe, and on being the best Miss Universe Ireland that I could be. And to prepare myself the best I could to get here. So I’m grateful for that. And I do think that it was all for a reason. I’m so excited just to be here, and to show Miss Universe what Ireland has! And then, moving forward, to continue to support the next queen, and really be a part of that sisterhood and help other girls that follow in these footsteps, and will surpass them, no doubt. I want to help those girls to be the best versions of themselves, and feel fully supported because they have the strongest team behind them.”
I wondered if there’d been any particular moment since Nadia arrived into that Miss Universe bubble in Florida that felt just completely surreal? The kind of moment where you sometimes have to check yourself, and think, ‘Wait…how is THIS my life right now?!’
“Actually, yesterday! I did a photoshoot yesterday, and one the day before. Obviously it’s been so long since I’ve been able to be on-set anywhere. The shoots that I did at home were outside, or against walls! [Laughs]. So just being able to do one for a start. But I was in shock, because there’s this phenomenal photographer who I had admired because I’d seen his work with Grainne [Gallanagh] a few years ago. And I remember looking at Brittany and Grainne images and going, oh my goodness, they just look PHENOMENAL! LOOK at them! [Laughs]. Then, after my initial video came out, he contacted Brittany to see about shooting with me! That was cool. When I was on-set, I had my team around me – Brittany, JScot, Katie – the photographer was there, we were on a beach in Miami, I had these gorgeous dresses on…and at one stage I just stood there and I was like, this is my Wednesday! [Laughs]. Normally I’m sitting in my house in front of a laptop with my hair in a messy bun! [Laughs].”
In Miami, Nadia is representing the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, she’s representing Ireland, and of course, she’s representing herself – Nadia Sayers – as well. I asked her to tell me what she wanted to show the world about each of those during her time at Miss Universe this year?
“With regard to the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, I want to show the world – contestants here, but especially girls at home – how dedicated the team are. How much they give you, personal growth-wise. How much they support you in your personal development. I want to show them that Ireland, even though we’re a small country, compared to the others that are here – and we’re a small team as well – but although we’re small, we are ready! We’re ready, we’re feisty [laughs], and we are here! And we’re a lot stronger, I think, than people give us credit for. So I want to show them that Ireland is here to be noticed! And with regard to me…? I want to show them that you can be strong, and fiesty, and powerful, whilst being genuine and allowing that level of vulnerability through. To me, vulnerability is so important. To be able to be open with people, and build those connections, that doesn’t mean weakness. Being genuine and sweet isn’t a weakness. It adds to strength. I think that’s a misconception globally. So, I want to show them that we’re a strong country, we are here, we have so much to offer the world, and…it’s our time to get noticed!”
~ The MISS UNIVERSE GRAND FINAL takes place this coming Sunday, May 16th, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida. To stay up to date with the journey of MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND NADIA SAYERS, and for further information on how to view the Grand Final, you can follow Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram.