Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — There are throngs of people surrounding 22-year-old model, Kelsey Merritt. Most are trying to snap a photo with her. A few are trying to squeeze in a conversation, a courteous hello, a chance to say, “Congratulations!”
Others are glad just to catch a glimpse of her beaming face, her strong, exposed shoulders — the very features that landed Kelsey Merritt a spot in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Merritt is the first Filipino model to book the lingerie brand’s widely anticipated show.
The model is also a San Mig Light ambassador, announcing news of her work with the global beer brand earlier this year. She says she is proud to represent a proudly Filipino label that is recognized the world over. This year, she starred in a television commercial with the brand. She has since moved to New York to pursue her modelling career.
For one of their biggest endorsers’ homecoming, San Mig Light collaborated with fashion magazine MEGA to throw a big party at the rooftop of I’M Hotel in Poblacion, Makati. The five-star accommodation opened their doors to actors and social media influencers from the local industry for the event. Photographer BJ Pascual, model Mathew Custodio, and DJ Patty Tiu are some of the big names who came to welcome San Mig Light’s poster girl.
Merritt’s own friends from her time in school were also present, waiting patiently to catch up with their friend while she attended to her celebrity duties.
Merritt’s inner circle knows her as the pretty girl from Pampanga, the one who is quick to laugh and big on food. They know her as a staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights. Her final thesis even covered HIV awareness and testing in the Philippines.
Janine Recto, associate publisher at MEGA Magazine, shares that Merritt’s stunning looks and warm personality are what made her a favorite at the publication. Recto says she’s been a fan of Merritt since their time in university. “I found out she finished college all the way, and then moved to New York, and then got her big break,” says Recto. “We were schoolmates, so I’d see her and I’m like, I know this girl is going to be big one day.”
At her first public appearance in Manila since arriving earlier this month, Merritt was not only an international model, not just the glittery global success. She was the local girl that had made it. She saw her options, took her chance, and won the world over. In the company of local stars, this history-making model was the woman of the hour, the point of all the noise.
Merritt has had a whirlwind year. She has managed to trump the high expectations of the local industry and shown she’s capable of more. She sits upright in a silk Martin Bautista dress, composed and eager to laugh at a joke. She confides her memories of Manila, her favorite local beer, and how she manages her mental health in the interview below. Here are some edited excerpts from the interview.
It looks like you adapted a pretty intense exercise regimen to prepare for the Victoria’s Secret runway. Is there anything else you did in preparation?
There was a time when I was working out everyday but I wasn’t happy with how I looked. It was because I was eating really unhealthy. I had Shake Shack for lunch; ate Shake Shack for dinner; chocolates for breakfast. I was like, okay, this is not working. So I changed my diet. I started eating healthier. I immediately saw the difference with how my body reacted. And I just feel so much healthier.
I also think about my mental health a lot. I sometimes get anxiety with work. It’s just part of it, I think. I just take time to listen to what my mind and my body feels. I give it what it needs.
Are you on any of those meditation apps, like Headspace?
I do have Headspace. There were times when I couldn’t sleep, and it’s taught me like, little tips on how to train your mind.
What did you miss the most about the Philippines while you were away?
Well, I’m based in New York and I travel a lot. I actually haven’t been to New York in two weeks. I’ve just gone to the Bahamas, LA, Hawaii. What I miss the most about the Philippines is the weather. I love this weather. This is December! It’s so warm! I grew up here. I’m used to this weather. And I just miss it because it’s freezing in New York right now, and that’s all I can think about.
Also, my friends, my family. My whole family still lives here. The food, the beaches. Oh my god, nothing compares.
What do you think is unique about the partying and drinking scene here in Manila?
It’s very unique that people go out at 2 a.m. and finish at 6 a.m.
And you don’t see that in New York or in London?
People don’t start at 2 a.m. They have dinner [at] like 9, and then are out from 11 until like 2 a.m.. They don’t start at 2 a.m. It’s just interesting because each place does it differently.
You mentioned in an interview that you love a restaurant in Pampanga called Iguanas. What are your other favorite spots?
I love Locavore. Their sizzling sinigang. I dream about that. So good. What else do I love here? I love Jollibee.
When you were in New York, how did you stay on top of your engagements here in the Philippines, like your endorsements with San Mig Light?
I would fly back. I fly back a lot, so I get to do work here. The last time I was here was three months ago, so not that long.
What can we expect from you and San Mig Light in the next year or so?
Well, I love the brand. I love saying that I’m the face of San Mig Light when I’m abroad. Because they know San Miguel and whenever I say that I’m with San Miguel they’re like, “That’s so cool.” It’s a proudly Filipino brand. I hope to fly back here more to do more stuff with them. We might have some things in store.