Maristella Okpala is currently counting herself as one of the luckiest girls in the world as she was recently crowned as Miss Universe Nigeria 2021 at the just concluded Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria competition. In 2018, Maristella won Miss Earth beauty pageant. That is added to her air hostess job with international airline, Emirates, a job that has taken her to more than 50 countries in the world. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, the two-time elegant Beauty Queen speaks about coming this far in her modeling career, how she almost ended up alone fighting for her dream and how she became a brand ambassador to top Nigerian fashion brand, Rikaoto By Me
You wowed everyone at the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria contest where you became the first runner and was crowned Miss Universe Nigeria. With that big win, tell us how you feel
I honestly can’t find a word for my feelings. This is something I’ve dreamed of and pursued for so many years and now that it’s here, I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable and I feel blessed.
With your tight schedule as an air hostess, how did you manage to sign up for MBGN?
I think this is one of the good things that came out of this pandemic. For the first time, the audition was done online. So, it was easy for me to do it when I was free and from the comfort of my home.
When you signed up for the competition, did anything whisper to you that you would win a big title?
Not at all, which is why I think this is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I almost gave up but my friends didn’t let that happen. I had a team that believed in me even more than I believed in myself. And that’s very important, to have people that believe in you. A support system.
You are pretty but of course, there is a kind of confidence an elegant dress gives a beauty pageant contestant. Tell us how you felt when you saw that dress by Rikaoto for the first time?
Rikaotobyme is the best designer in Nigeria and you can’t expect anything less from her. I saw my dress for the first time during the first fittings and it was all I wanted. I felt like a Queen in it.
So, I was excited and couldn’t wait to walk in it on the finals. And many people testified that I glowed on stage.
You have been the brands ambassador for the Rikaoto brand for a few years now. Tell us how you landed that contract.
I was officially made Rikaotobyme brand ambassador after I made top 5 at world Miss University Nigeria 2013 where she made me her ambassador because she was sad I didn’t win and according to her, I was the best. Plus, she loved how I slayed in my evening dress.
You won Miss Earth 2018. You are an air hostess with Emirates airline and now you are the winner of Miss Universe Nigeria 2021. At this rate, how often do you count yourself as one of the luckiest beauty queens out there?
Every day! Every minute! At this point, I’m convinced that I am God’s favourite. You can’t tell me otherwise…laughs
You must have a big pet project planned to support this win. Tell us about it.
Of course, I’ve always been an advocate for early child education. I believe that education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world. My big project would be to continue the work I’ve been doing with my foundation “LSI INITIATIVE.”
Taking children off the street and equipping them with the tools needed to be in school.
So far, I’ve helped more than 80 kids both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. LSI means LETS SAY IT Initiative. More awareness is needed. Everyone needs to use their voice no matter how little it is and speak up for these children.
Let’s come together and be the voice of the voiceless because an educated child is an empowered child
Tell us about your childhood. Did you dream about being a doctor, lawyer, or was it all about being a model and beauty queen?
Growing up as the first daughter in my family, it’s natural that I became the second mother of my siblings. I was always caring for them and helping out. So, I wanted a profession that will allow me to do more of that. Yes, I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer.
If there wasn’t the challenge of unemployment, I would have become a practicing dentist. CON
At what point in finding yourself and the career of passion did you decide you can be a successful model?
I wouldn’t say I found myself. I think it found me because my mother’s heels suffered in my hands. I was always wearing them around the house at any chance I get. I laugh as I remember those days. Then I knew I will be successful when I won my first contest in 2018.
Did your parents support your ambition to become a model, knowing that sometimes you could be asked to wear bikini in public?
Coming from a staunch Catholic family, of course, it wasn’t easy at first. My father nearly disowned me and in my early days in the modeling industry, I was almost alone. My mother and grandma were my support. But now, after proving to my Dad that I could be a successful model with integrity and hold a professional career, he’s relaxed.
Did you offer any course in the university that made you get a job as an air hostess?
The course I did in the university is totally different and it didn’t help me in getting the air hostess job. There are special training one must undergo to become an air hostess and only when you become successful after the examination, will you be given the job.
Being an air hostess must be fun. Tell us all the countries in the world you have been to because of the job?
I can’t remember all the countries. I’ve been to more than 50 countries and yes, it’s fun and though it’s quite risky but the experience is worth it. I’ve met a lot of people and learnt different cultures. It’s also made me realize that we all speak one language- LOVE. I now have friends from almost every part of the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Your Instagram handle is filled with happy photos, vacation photos. It’s like you don’t ever have sad moments. How do you get rid of sad moments so it doesn’t linger?
I don’t think there’s any human being that doesn’t have sad moments. It’s quite inevitable. I’ve had my own share of it especially while preparing for this pageants. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that no situation lasts forever. Tough times don’t last but tough people do. I also use affirmations to keep my mind off negative things and focus more on the positive.
With this Miss Universe win, will you go for any other big beauty contest or is this the last bus stop for you?
Wouldn’t it be strange if I did? I think I’ve reached the top of my pageant career and winning Miss Universe will mark the end of my pageant journey. Besides, no other pageant is bigger than Miss Universe.
Would you say you have achieved all you dreamed of at this young age?
I’m grateful that I’ve achieved 80 per cent of all I’ve dreamed of . The remaining 20 per cent would be to have helped more than 1 million children get out of the streets and get the education that they need. A child without education is like a bird without wings. No child should be left out.
Are you in a relationship at the moment or are you single and searching?
I am single but not searching. My relationship is not what I will like going into at the moment.
Describe your kind of man for us?
If he is a God fearing and kind man, I might get interested.