Not many people know that the country’s new candidate for Miss Universe 2023 late this year in El Salvador, GMA 7 actress and model Michelle Dee, is also an entrepreneur with a Web3 company, a multi-media company and a beauty vitamin business called Drip Therapy which she co-founded with actress-model Max Collins. Michelle hopes to study again to become a medical doctor. She eats healthy and doesn’t crash diet. She loves reading books.
In her quest to win the pageant this year, Michelle overcame lots of challenges—working as an actress on the TV series Mga Lihim ni Urduja, taking care of two households due to her parents’ accidents and becoming primary caregiver to two autistic half-brothers. Michelle revealed this and other info in an exclusive interview she gave to Philippine STAR.
Advice from her dad, who is a former actor
Michelle Dee’s mother is well known as 1979 Miss International and actress Melanie Marquez, but her father Frederick “Derek” Dee is more low-key as a businessman and former action film actor. (Full disclosure: Derek is a paternal cousin of my late father.) She said both her parents gave her inspiration and advice.
Says Michelle: “My dad has always pushed me to live life with no regrets, and that I should always give my best and always have the purest of intentions in whatever I do; then good karma will always reward me. I believe destiny was on my side the night I won; I trusted Divine Intervention and I just trusted the work that I did. That followed through. I had extreme calmness. Siyempre (Of course), I credit my dad for that mindset.” Proud of her accomplishments and strong character, it was Derek who last year suggested that I interview Michelle.
Preparing for Q&A, Michelle’s a “nerd at heart” who loves books
After narrowly losing the Miss Universe Philippines as the first runner-up last year, Michelle didn’t give up and came back last May 13 at Mall of Asia Arena to compete and win. She became the second Filipina beauty queen to win as Philippine contender for both the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants. She previously held the title of Miss World Philippines 2019 and competed for the country in London, where she placed in the semifinal Top 12.
At the Miss Universe Philippines 2023 competition, she excelled in all categories, especially in Best in Evening Gown (elegantly wearing a creation by Mark Bumgarner, the first Filipino apparel designer to be listed on the ultra-hip Moda Operandi) category and the Question and Answer portion, where her eloquent and smart answers were great. She also sizzled with her confident and unique runway walk, which netizens called the “snake walk.”
Michelle describes herself as “a nerd at heart” who loves reading books like The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman; Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear; and other self-help titles. She explained that her good Q&A performance was due to nonstop studying and rigorous practice.
“I still want to be a doctor someday”
Michelle said that her youthful ambitions were to become an astronaut or a medical doctor. She said she still hopes to someday pursue medical studies and become a doctor. Her original college course was Biology, and she shifted to Psychology, which I noted is also a good pre-med course. She believes there is no age limit to studying.
When I told her that our paternal cousin is the Philippines’ legendary cardiologist, board topnotcher and founding president of the Philippine Society of Cardiac Catheterization and Interventions (PSCCI) Dr. Dy Bun Yok, Michelle said she has heard about him and hopes that I can someday introduce her. I also told her that another cousin of ours is Ateneo de Manila University psychology and math whiz Dr. Queena Lee Chua.
Her grandpa was a top banker, and her great-grandpa was a statesman
I recounted to Michelle Dee that the day after she won the Miss Universe Philippines crown, our paternal uncle, Ayala Land, Inc. president Bobby Dy, had asked me who her grandfather was. I told him she’s a granddaughter of the late China Bank chairman Dee K. Chiong (first cousin of Bobby’s late dad, lumber businessman Donald Dy). Dee was also vice president of the postwar Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) and wedding godfather of many self-made entrepreneurs who became tycoons such as JG Summit Holdings, Inc./Cebu Pacific Air founder John L. Gokongwei, Jr.
Our fascinating family’s immigrant paternal ancestors from Shizhen (Chiochun in Hokkien) Village in Fujian province became successful entrepreneurs in Manila around the 1750s, then became prominent in the lumber industry by the mid-19th century due to lumber pioneer and philanthropist Dy Han Kia. I told her that our family has produced many idealistic philanthropists and activists, even WW2 martyrs who died fighting Japanese military invaders. An example was our granduncle, early 20th century “Lumber King” and Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce activist president and 1920 China Bank founder Dee C. Chuan. Another of our family’s philanthropic members is devout Christian and 2018 Magsaysay Awardee Ambassador Howard Q. Dee, who humbly told me that he is “a social worker.”
After Michelle’s grandfather Dee K. Chiong became a widower, he remarried Regina Y. Dee, daughter of 1930s Shanghai City Mayor and 1958 Premier of President Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist regime in Taiwan. Her grandmother Regina was fluent in three Chinese languages (Mandarin, Shanghainese and Cantonese) and English, having graduated from Oberlin College and New York University. Michelle remembered her late grandmother practicing the ancient meditation and healthy martial art Tai chi.
After narrowly losing the Miss Universe Philippines as the first runner-up last year, Michelle didn’t give up and came back last May 13 at Mall of Asia Arena to compete and win. She became the second Filipina beauty queen to win as Philippine contender for both the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants.
Martial arts, swimming, yoga, eat healthy, autism advocacy
Michelle also does martial arts like aikido and taekwondo. She usually does weight training but temporarily stopped during the pageant in order to not come across as too muscular. She said lifting weights is good to tone one’s back, arms and butt. She regularly does swimming and yoga. Michelle said, “I’ve been an athlete all my life, that’s also one reason I’m naturally competitive.”
On eating habits, Michelle said she usually eats “curated meals,” stays away from pork and fried foods. She prefers mostly vegetables, simple proteins and olive oil. She eats a healthy and holistic diet, not “crash diets,” which she used to eat years ago as a starting model.
When asked about beauty, Michelle reflected: “You know, the most beautiful part of me is not physical, it is my heart.” She views her having become a beauty queen as an opportunity to help her advocacies on autism, Web3 adoption and the LGBTQ cause.
Since, on her mother’s side, she has two half-brothers with autism, she has for years been campaigning that “more care, opportunities, education and interventions” be given for autistic people. In this cause, she has worked with the Autism Works campaign, SM Cares, Pancake and Max Group. Michelle Dee said: “Stop seeing (the autistic) as cripples. Let us change the language we use to refer to them. Let us promote autism awareness, acceptance and inclusivity.”