Bahrain's first representative at the Miss Universe pageant says she was so excited to attend the global beauty contest that she hardly slept the night before her flight to Israel, the host country this year.
Manar Nadeem Deyani, 25, is one of 79 contestants who are taking part in the annual competition, where current Miss Universe Andrea Meza from Mexico will crown her successor at the gala finals in the resort city of Eilat on December 12.
Despite the threat of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which resulted in Israeli authorities shutting out the country from foreigners, the pageant has been allowed to go ahead, with Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov saying last month it was the kind of event Israel "is very much in need of".
Deyani, a fashion student living in Dubai, was named on November 29 as her country's first Miss Universe participant. While beauty pageants have been held in Bahrain before, this will be the first time a contestant has represented the country at the competition, which is celebrating its 70th year this year.
Here, Deyani shares with The National her daily journey at Miss Universe 2021, which she called a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".
December 1: the training
"I’m on the last stretch of my preparations before I fly out from Dubai. It has been an intense week of training by Yugen Group, from improving my pasarela walk (a walking style used in pageants) to my outfits to perfecting my daily hair and makeup look.
"I am someone who’s very particular with how I present myself, so having to work with Maggie Semaan, an international celebrity hair artist, is actually a dream come true. I’ve been working with her since the day I was appointed as the first ever Miss Universe Bahrain and it’s been a pleasure working with Maggie in terms of planning my complete day-to-day looks from the moment I land in Israel to the time I depart – hopefully with a crown to match my gorgeous hair."
December 2: arriving in Tel Aviv
"I don’t know if it’s just me but I can’t wait to start my Miss Universe journey. I literally stayed up all night just thinking of how this once-in-a-lifetime experience will turn out. But of course, before anything else, I had to pack my bags and finish off some of my university work on the side.
"But today’s the day! I’m off to Israel to meet my Miss Universe sisters. I managed to catch some sleep on my four-hour journey but I’m just full of excitement.
"I almost lost my luggage when I landed in Tel Aviv but thankfully it has been found. I was met by the Miss Universe team just as soon as I exited the baggage claim. I went straight to the hotel, finished the registration and started my quarantine."
December 3 and 4: quarantine
"After landing, I spent the next 72 hours in quarantine. I used this time to further prepare myself both physically and mentally, doing quick workouts inside my room, virtual training with my team, improving my walk and practicing my Q&A. I also got the chance to catch up and call my family and work on some of my university assignments."
December 5: meeting other contestants
"I'm finally off quarantine period, yay! Just as soon as I left my hotel room, I met the sweetest Elle Smith, Miss USA. We had a quick chat and it was an amazing feeling meeting my Miss Universe sisters in person.
"Today we also leave from Jerusalem to Eilat. After a four-hour ride, I went straight for lunch with Miss USA, Miss Peru and Miss Russia. We also ended the night with an orientation where I got to meet most of my new sisters. It has been a very exciting day to say the least."
December 6: the rehearsals
"Woke up feeling great. I did my make up, my hair and headed down for breakfast. I wanted to join my sisters on the trips but since I only got out of quarantine a few days ago I have so many things to do.
"In the afternoon, it was all rehearsals. We can see how dedicated the Miss Universe team are – so all the girls are behaving well and trying our best to learn the choreographies. I remember my pasarela coach training me for my catwalk before and now it really does feel different doing the catwalk with my sisters here. It’s amazing and I've never felt more confident in [my] life. I can’t wait for the live shows."
December 7: my first trip around Eilat
"I woke up with excitement today, I’m finally going on my first trip with my Miss Universe sisters. I have been on fittings, interviews and shoots since I came to Eilat and finally it’s time for me to enjoy the trips.
"I headed down for breakfast with my sisters then straight to see a waterpark where we met the dolphins named Luna and Nikita. The place is amazing and I can see everything beneath because the water is crystal clear. Miss Universe India and I spotted a tree house and it brought back a lot of memories from when I was young.
"I had an amazing time, it was pure joy and laughter with Miss Universe USA, Miss Universe Nigeria and Miss Universe Mauritius. After the trip, we chilled in another hotel that gave me peaceful vibe. I wish I had brought my sketchpads with me, I feel like the place would have been perfect for me to find inspiration.
"Later, we had more rehearsals, then dinner and then I went back to my room. My day did not finish there. I had to do a Q&A training with my coaches for the personality interview the next day. I’m very lucky to have an amazing team making sure I’m ready."
December 8: the personality interview
"This is it! The day I’ve been waiting for the most – the personality Interview. If you know me personally, I talk a lot and I think talking has really been my strongest suit. I prayed and did my duaas – I’m nervous but I’m excited. I don’t know what’s gonna happen or what to expect but I’m ready to represent Bahrain and everyone that feels unrepresented.
"I walked into the room where the panelist were and started talking. I am the shortest candidate in Miss Universe history, the first Miss Universe Bahrain and the first one to represent Gulf countries, so I think it more as a responsibility. I talked about myself, my country and what my purpose is. And I did it, I nailed my personality interview!
"The rush I got from that moment was so much, I wanted more and it’s making me excited to perform at the preliminaries and the finals. I had lunch and headed back to my room to prepare for my next event.
"Our next stop is the workshop for Smile Train, a non-profit organisation and charity providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates. They provide free corrective cleft surgeries in 87 countries, training local doctors and providing hospital funding for the procedures. The workshop really did inspire me and I realised that this is my purpose – raising awareness about causes that will help the younger generation to have a better life. I can’t wait to bring Smile Train to Bahrain and give Bahraini kids with cleft palates the chance to smile.
"It was a long day but it was very worth it. I went back to my room and called it a day."
– This article was first published on December 8, 2021
Scroll through the gallery for pictures of Miss Universe 2021 contestants in Jerusalem's Old City: