When Priscilla Meirelles opens the door of her condominium for the YES! team, she is stressed out, because she has been fixing her Christmas tree. But the 24-year-old Brazilian model still looks great. Three years after she won the Miss Earth title, she is still every inch a beauty queen.
As a youngster in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, Priscilla wasn't much of a beauty. She was a tomboy. Her everyday look consisted of a ponytail and a huge T-shirt, big enough to fit three people. Though she got her fair share of attention from the boys, she was quick to let them know they would never get to first base with her.
"I do remember," she says, in her quaintly accented English, "that there was some crush, some friends, but they even try to approach me and every touch-me-kiss-me, it's fight."
The tomboy phase came to an end when a talent scout saw her hanging out in a mall with her mother, Marcia. The talent scout encouraged Priscilla to join a tournament called Peladao.
The tournament is part beauty pageant, part soccer game. "Each soccer team needs to have a beauty queen," Priscilla explains. "While the soccer teams are playing, the beauty queens are competing, too. In the end there is one winner beauty queen and one winner of the soccer team."
What lured her to join, though, was not the glamour attached to the competition. She was then 18 years old, and the grand prize of the Peladao was every independent-minded teenager's dream. "The prize for the competition was a car," Priscilla recalls.
The talent scout was very encouraging, telling Priscilla she had a 99-percent chance of winning. He turned out to be 100-percent right.
"It was my first car. So I make it."
Winning the Peladao marked Priscilla's foray into major beauty pageants. By the time she joined Miss Earth in the Philippines in 2004, she was ready to retire from the beauty-contest circuit. A medicine student, she was finding it hard to juggle the demands of studying and joining contests.
"I was kinda tired already. I didn't want join competitions anymore. I was pretty happy in joining beauty pageants as long as they don't, like, block my medical school, as long they don't interfere with my studies. But I was going to the point that it was very hard for me to concentrate on both things."
What she didn't foresee was winning Miss Earth. After winning, she stayed for a month in the Philippines, doing the responsibilities expected of her as the new Miss Earth 2004. It was at around this time that she met the 33-year-old actor and former model named John Estrada.
MEET & GREET. They first met in a restaurant in the Eastwood City complex, in Libis, Quezon City. She can't remember the name of the restaurant, but the event was the resto's anniversary party. As expected, the place was teeming with celebrities.
"There's a senator at that time, an actor," Priscilla recalls. "Then him [John]. 'He's an actor here, blah, blah, blah.' 'Oh, nice to meet you, nice to meet you.' That's all. That was it."
John made a strong first impression with Priscilla. "I looked at him, so guwapo." But there was one major hitch. John was sporting a longish haircut. "I'm not really into guys with long hair. If he had short hair, he'd be cuter."
Another problem was that Priscilla, at that time, still had a hard time conversing with people in her basic English. So that first meeting was uneventful.
The second meeting was better. It happened around February or March
2007. Priscilla's beauty-queen days were over, but she found herself busy with various commercial endorsements and fashion shows within the country and all over Asia, and she had made the Philippines her home base.
As for John, his relationship with former MTB co-host Vanessa del Bianco was over, and he was unattached again.
This second meeting was in a bar in Greenbelt 3, Makati. As Priscilla tells it, she was with friends, and John approached her group. His opening line was a question. Actually, two questions.
JOHN: Are you Priscilla Meirelles? Do you remember me?
PRISCILLA: I'm sorry, but I don't.
JOHN: I met you a long time ago. I used to have long hair.
PRISCILLA: Oh, you're the actor, that. Yes!
"It was like that," Priscilla recalls. "Pretty awkward and funny."
The awkward and funny meeting turned out to be the start of a courtship. John was persistent. Priscilla was hesitant, and for good reason. "Because I just got out of a relationship. And I was heartbroken. He was, like, he's the type he'd really go for it. He'd go, 'I'm interested in you.' Very forward."
Priscilla says she told John: "Wait! You know what, I don't want a relationship right now. Where I come from—very conservative family. My background is totally different, I'm not a showbiz person. I'm not ready right now, but friends are always welcome."
Instead of feeling hurt, John was amused. "He laughed and he said, You're very smart and cute for a gorgeous lady.'"
TRYING HARD. John was really crazy about Priscilla. And she never got tired of telling him where she stood. "I was, like, really cutting him. I said, 'You know, don't take me wrong, you seem to be a nice guy, very. I like the way you present yourself. I think you have sex appeal and everything, but I'm not ready to have anything with anyone. I just want to be myself. But if you want, we can be friends, and eventually, who knows?"
John was undaunted. "He was courting me for a while. Like, really trying hard. Really, super hard. To the point that, you know, he followed me around. If he knew that I was in a place—he'd kill me after this— he'd text me, 'Where are you?'"
And in a few minutes, he would be where she was. That's how persistent he was.
"He's really, like, 'You know, I like you. Give me a chance. I want you to be my girlfriend. I want you to be my girlfriend. Give me a chance, give me a chance.'"
Aside from her broken heart, Priscilla had other reasons for resisting John's advances. She was aware of his past—that he was previously married to Janice de Belen and that, during the marriage, he was rumored to be having an affair with Vanessa del Bianco.
The marriage to Janice had ended in an annulment, and he had broken up with Vanessa, but his love life—even during the time when he seemed to have none—was a favorite topic of the tabloids.
"People say that you have a past too heavy," Priscilla told John. "This is not what I'm looking for."
Nevertheless, the rumors Priscilla heard from friends also made her curious about the real John Estrada. "I felt, like, challenged to get to know him better, and know whether it was true or not."
In the process, she ended up falling for him. '"Cause once I got to know him better, I found out he was a great guy, and he can be nice, really nice. He's been very nice to me."
The bad-boy image, she learned, was just that—an image. "When you cross that bad-boy image, he's not bad boy at all. He can be bad boy if he wants to. When you cross the bad-boy board, wow. When you cross the board, it's just good boy here."
Falling for John, a previously married man with four kids (Inah, Moira, Kyla, and Yuan), wasn't what you'd call Priscilla's ideal scenario.
"It was never in my plans. Somebody that has kids—those were the things that I told him: You know what, I think for me it's kinda hard. This is not what I'm looking for.' I wanted just someone simple as me. I don't want any headaches. You know, a single guy that has no other commitments. Basically that. But I think love doesn't really have manual, rules. Things happen."
Strangely enough, John's kids eventually became a factor for Priscilla to like John. She dotes on them, treating them like younger siblings. She describes them as "amazing."
She and the kids hang out often, playing bowling and talking about school. With the three girls, she also talks about boys.
Priscilla met the kids even before she and John officially became a couple. "When I met them, I really see how special his kids are. And I guess a bad apple cannot come from a bad tree. Good apples come from a good tree. There's something there. He has great kids. He might be, at least, a great dad to raise kids like that."
Laughing, Priscilla concludes: "So that was how I fell for him. Through the kids!"
FAMILY & FRIEND. Besides being a boyfriend, John is also, Priscilla says, her "family" in the Philippines. He takes care of her. Just a week before her YES! shoot, Priscilla was downed by the flu. He nursed her during her sickness.
"He's so cute! He's like a nurse. He's a full-time nurse. He checked the temperature, gave the medicine, put the food in my mouth. Whatever. He's very cute. He's like a big dad when I was sick. 'Oh, thank you. I miss my dad!' If anything happen, he's the one that I go, that I ask. If I'm sick, he's the one taking care of me, everything. If I had a problem, he's the one to take me out, give me advice."
When she was sick, John assured her mother, Marcia, that he'd take care of Priscilla. "He always say that even to my brother. 'Don't worry, I'll take care of her. I'll take care of her.' My family is relieved that he's taking care of me."
They're so comfortable with each other they even talk about John's crushes that they see on TV. "Me and John, we'd have comments about girls he has crush on. We talk about those things. 'Oh, my God, baby, she's so hot. Oh, my God! She's really hot!'"
She is not in any way threatened by the attention John gets from the ladies. "I actually feel proud. That's my boyfriend. Whenever he's, like, dressing up, I'm always, like, encouraging him to work out."
She even gives him beauty tips: "Baby, you know you'd be so good you'd be sexier. Go and work out. Do this. Baby, it's nice if your hair is that way."
But John draws the line as far as his skin is concerned. Priscilla insists on slathering his face with creams, which he hates. "He's very macho-macho. He's like, he doesn't care. He's, 'No, no, no, no! I don't wanna look oily.'"
Priscilla believes couples should help each other.
"If he's looking better, I'd be looking better. Because I'm beside him. If he carries himself in a better way, that's something positive because I'd be looking better, too.
"It's a totally different situation if I'm with him, and he's hitting on a girl." That's the time when the jealous Priscilla appears. "Ah, baby, you stop. You're crossing the border. It's okay to look, it's okay to comment, but no touching. I don't mind you look, but that's it. No touching, and please don't talk. Just look!"
John, she says, isn't a jealous person at all.
"I guess also because it's the way I handle myself. He trust a lot of me. He's very comfortable. Even he said, 'If it was an ex-girlfriend of mine, for sure I'd be, like, [angry]. But it's you, I trust you.'
"I hope he's jealous. It means he loves me, he cares about me, right? But not the way that is extreme. I think it's a healthy way, too. But it's the way I carry myself. Sometimes I even wish he's not so comfortable with himself," she jokes. "It's, like, damn! I wish he were a little bit insecure about me!"
FLOWERS, BUTTERFLY. So is she ready to settle down with John? For the first time in the interview, Priscilla is speechless. After she regains her composure, she says: "Wow! Can we jump that part? It's a new relationship. Five months. New relationship, so no rush."
Not that the fiercely independent Brazilian doesn't want to get married. "I still dream about it. Even though I'm very independent, I have this side of me I want to get married, I want to be a wife. Flowers, flowers, butterfly, everything! If the right guy comes along. I don't know. Time is the best answer of everything."
John, she adds, has the potential to be the right guy.
"If he didn't, I won't be with him, he's wasting my time. Everybody that I get involve with has potential. I don't get involve with someone that has no potential. I don't joke with feelings. I give myself completely. When I'm giving myself to someone, someone has potential of giving back."