“I am doing this for my country and the people who live there," Evlin Khalifa, the newly crowned Miss Universe Bahrain, tells The National.
Khalifa, a trained pianist and model who was born to a Russian mother and Bahraini father, is only the second beauty queen to represent the kingdom at the renowned global pageant. She follows in the footsteps of Manar Deyani, who last year made history by participating on her country's behalf for the first time.
A true example of Bahrain's multinational outlook, Khalifa is also blessed with a beauty that transcends borders. It's little surprise she was chosen from 300 applicants.
"This is the best moment in my life," she says. "When I was crowned, I felt so blessed, so honoured and so happy. I am very thankful for all of the support and trust, and I feel like it is my birthday, but even better."
Less than two days after being named the winner, Khalifa is clearly still coming to terms with the impact this title will have on her life. "The moment my parents found out they wanted to call me, but I was busy in meetings and interviews. So, they talked with each other, congratulated each other and my dad told me, 'I knew you were going to win it, I am so proud of you.' And my mum, she is the happiest, because finally her daughter is in the place she is supposed to be. And I am so glad to see her happy."
With the eyes of the world now focused on her, Khalifa is hoping to use her new platform to shine a light on her home nation. "With big power comes big responsibility. Now I have this voice to speak about the women of Bahrain.
"I want to represent our country on an international stage, because I am really proud of my country.," she says.
"The Kingdom of Bahrain is the pearl of the Middle East, and although it is a small country, it is very strong. Here, centuries-old traditions combine with modern values, so it’s a really unique country. Also its a country of many nationalities, and it is very kind, very friendly and very hospitable."
While it is still early days, already thoughts are turning to how best to approach the final competition. "I am excited to work with the team. We are going to meet and make a strategy on how to win."
Part of that strategy, she explains, is helping to promote regional designers. While her final looks have yet to be chosen, she is determined to use the occasion to champion fashion talents from the Middle East. "I have thought about it, and it will definitely be a designer based in the Gulf ... They are very talented and passionate and I would like the world to know about them more."
The new title also gives Khalifa ample opportunity to support causes she believes in. One is the Smile Train charity, which has been providing corrective surgery for children born with cleft lips and palates since 1999. The cause "is really close to my heart", she says.
She also wants to be a inspiration to other Bahraini women. "Bahrain is my soul, my heart and I see so many empowered, passionate women, and I want the universe to see their beauty and to know about them.
"I work as a model and I see every day women who have their passion, purpose and goals and it amazes me. Some of them are businesswomen, some are just workers, and I see how they work hard for their dreams, I really admire them."
Any talk of beauty pageants raises the issue that, in 2022, some would argue a parade judging women purely on their physical attributes is outdated. To these naysayers, Khalifa asks instead that they dig a little deeper. "It is not just a parade of beauty. It is an exemplary and inspiring competition where strong women stand for their rights, their dreams and for others.
"These women are changing the world for the better. Miss Universe platform is a big opportunity for women to raise their voices for advocacy, rights and beliefs. It's very important for humanity and I am honoured to participate."
Scroll through the gallery below to see photos of the first Miss Universe Bahrain