Natalie Glebova celebrates 15-year anniversary as Miss Universe queen

01 Jun 2020 | Ana Walia

Natalie Glebova was crowned Miss Universe 2005 on 31th May 2005 at Impact Arena in Nonthaburi Province, Bangkok Metropolitan Region, Thailand. Natalie represented the country of Canada at the competition and was crowned by Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins from Australia at the end of the event finale. Glebova's win was Canada's second after Karen Dianne Baldwin had been crowned Miss Universe 1982.

Natalie was born to Vladimir Slezin and Anna Glebova in Tuapse, Russia where her father worked as a radio communications specialist in the merchant marine industry, while Anna was a high school teacher. Glebova studied classical piano and competed in rhythmic gymnastics. At age 13, Glebova and her family left Russia and settled in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the parents found jobs as software specialists. Natalie worked hard and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in information technology management and marketing from Ryerson University. She started working as a professional model after high school and continued till she was graduated. After graduating, diva worked as a motivation speaker for elementary and high school students.



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Natalie remembers that when the family came to Canada, she was scared because of “the unknown" as her family had no relatives or friends. Once there, she recalls being teased for her heavily accented English. "At first it was difficult, just because I went to grade eight at the time, and as you can imagine, kids and teenagers can be cruel sometimes. I was one of the only kids in school with an accent and a different last name, so it was difficult for the first few years until I really perfected my language and started believing in myself more”, she recalls. She quickly discovered the embracing nature of Canadians, and thrived in her new ethnically diverse surroundings in Toronto. She says now she wouldn't change her lilting Russian accent for the world.

Natalie’s desire to represent her country at international stage and the love of being on-stage brought her at Miss Universe Canada 2004 competition where she was placed as the third runner-up.  She mentioned that in 2002, for the first time, she watched the Miss Universe Contest on television and had always desired to represent her country on that stage. She didn’t give up after being placed as the third runner-up and again competed at Miss Universe Canada 2005 and eventually won the title as well as a chance to represent Canada at Miss Universe 2005 stage. She was the fourth Canadian delegate in ten year to advance to the semi-finals. Natalie greeted the Thai audience with a "Wai" on every appearance which made her fan favorite already.

On asking about how did she prepare herself for the competition, Natalie mentioned, “I basically lived and breathed pageant preparation. I would spend hours getting ready for it in every single aspect of the competition. I watched past contests to really know every detail of this competition and visualized myself on the stage doing each part – evening gown, swimsuit, and answer segment. I approached this task as a business or academic project – I made a detailed plan of everything I needed to do in order to place at the top – from wardrobe, to fitness, to skincare and of course interview skills – and checked items off as I completed them. I feel that this has helped me win because I visualized myself at my best and did everything possible to make that vision a reality. At the end, the Universe manifested this victory for me – or rather, I manifested it myself!”



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During the Miss Universe 2005 competition, she was asked “what she considered the biggest challenge of her life?” as her final question. To which she answered, “"I always try to maintain a positive outlook on life”. Later on explaining the answer, the diva mentioned that she focuses on the good rather than bad things in life and tries to compliment more than criticizing, She practices gratitude and “Writing sentences of positivity and gratitude on my computer or journal, or saying them out loud gets me right back to my happy”

The diva who was scared to be a part of Canada had made the countrymen proud by winning the title and aimed to help those with similar immigrant backgrounds like hers, but who may have more difficult adjustments from one culture to another. Immigration "gives people an opportunity to start a new life just like my family," she said. She recalled her friendship with Miss Israel 2005 Elena Ralph, who emigrated from Ukraine just three years ago at the age of 18 and has fared spectacularly well in her new home. The pair spoke in Russian when they were together, along with the representatives from Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine. "I think it's great that countries are open-minded enough to let somebody who was not born in their country represent their country," she said.

During her reign, the diva traveled extensively and immersed herself in a campaign to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS. She attended the G8 Summit in New York City on 11th August 2005, which reflected on ending poverty in underdeveloped regions and ending gang activity and drug cartels in Colombia. In November, Glebova attended a special Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Delhi, India, and was on a week-long tour of several Indian cities on an AIDS Awareness Program. During Glebova's official homecoming to her hometown of Toronto, the Miss Universe was formally offered an apology by the city's mayor David Miller after she was barred from attending a "Tastes of Thailand" festival while wearing her sash and tiara nor being introduced as a beauty titleholder. A 1990 by law, which prevents sexual stereotyping of women in public events, was strictly enforced and largely criticized by Miller and Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart. Shugart called the episode an "insult" to not only Glebova, but to the Thai government who named her an "honorary tourism ambassador". According to Shugart, this was the first time in Miss Universe's history that a titleholder was uninvited from a public event.



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Natalie mentioned that the most fascinating person I’ve met was Archbishop Desmond Tutu when I was visiting South Africa on a goodwill mission. It was interesting to chat to him about the AIDS pandemic in his country, and she learned a lot on that trip about this issue, which was her social cause as Miss Universe. She even took a public test herself to set an example and raise awareness for people to know their status.

Glebova traveled to Africa in July to attend an AIDS Educational Tour with the Global Health Council, Malaysia in late September, the Bahamas and St. Martin. In late March 2006, Glebova visited Russia for the first time since leaving the country and participated in an HIV-AIDS Awareness campaign in Moscow and attended a Russian fashion show as a special guest. She also made numerous trips to Thailand, where she commemorated the anniversary of the tsunami and Canada, her home nation. Glebova was supposed to travel to Indonesia to crown Miss Indonesia Universe 2006 in late July, but because of Canada's travel ban to the Southeast Asian country, Glebova was officially replaced with Puerto Rico's Cynthia Olavarria, the First Runner-Up of Miss Universe 2005. Since the Miss Indonesia pageant's revival in 2000, this was the first time in which Miss Universe was unable to attend the coronation.



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On 23rd July 2006, Glebova crowned Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza of Puerto Rico as her successor in Los Angeles. Post her reign, Glebova continued appearing as a brand ambassador and in public roles. In 2007, after her year as Miss Universe ended, she published her first book, “Healthy Happy Beautiful” and it turned out to be a major best seller.  In 2008, Glebova joined The Amazing Race Asia 3 and she partnered with Pailin Rungratanasunthorn. They represented Thailand and came in 8th place. Glebova also serves as an ambassador for Soi Dog Foundation, a non-profit organization aiding homeless street animals in Thailand. In June 2015, Glebova became an Ambassador for Year of the Gibbon for the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group - Section on Small Apes, to raise awareness for gibbon conservation. Glebova has a passion for wildlife conservation and recently launched a public awareness campaign about the impact of photo-prop tourism on gibbons Year of the Gibbon.

Glebova married Panamanian entrepreneur and founder of ‘Travelbook Inc.’ and Mister Panamá 2001 Dean Kelly in 2016. ‘Travelbook’ is a travel-sharing platform to discover and book experiences. Both are avid travelers and have been to over 100 countries. The couple loves to share experiences with others and encourage them to see more of the world as they believe traveling is the best way to grow, learn, and become a more educated person. They have one daughter together; Maya, and reside in Bangkok, Thailand. Talking about motherhood, she stated, “Maya grows more and more every day! Being a mom has made me more fulfilled and satisfied with my life. I’m much more productive and purposeful now that I’m a mother.”

Former Miss Universe also does freelance writing and blogging for magazines and travel websites. Natalie also decided to learn how to DJ and now one of her favorite jobs is playing at beach clubs and pool parties around South East Asia. She gave a little yet essential advice for the future Miss Universe Canada, “My best advice to give to young women (and men) that have big dreams is – write it down, make a plan, work hard every day on it. No successful business or person has ever happened by accident – it all took vision, planning and hard work. Even if you fail the first time, pick right back up and start again, whether the it’s another goal or the same one. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t! If you can dream it, you can achieve it, and nothing is impossible if you really truly want it! I was told I would never even win Miss Canada because I was an immigrant, and I proved them wrong, and so can you, no matter what obstacles stand in your way.” Natalie on celebrating 15-year crowniversary as Miss Universe 2005 introduced my new pageant training manual, my new book and course ‘Win the Crown!’

Congratulations on completing 15 years as Miss Universe queen.