We were lucky to have the privilege of speaking to the stunning Ornella, mere days from being whisked away to representing Sri Lanka at the prestigious Miss Universe 2018 pageant in Bangkok, Thailand. The stunning model who causes heads to turn due to her outstanding beauty is the pageant title holder who was crowned, Miss Universe Sri Lanka 2018 at a gala event held on September 25th. Blessed with beauty, brains and a charming personality, it comes as no surprise that she added the icing on the proverbial cake by winning the Miss Congeniality award, Model of the Year title, Miss Popular award, and Miss Confident special award.
Ornella was born and raised in Colombo. She studied Applied Health at Azusa Pacific University for a short period of time and holds a Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
In 2017, she was made a Peace Ambassador at World Peace and Diplomacy Organization (India.) In 2018, she was recognized for her exemplary volunteer work and received the WPDO’s Highest Public Service Honor Medallion.
She works part time as a Model and as a Director of her family run party wear store in Colombo.
What was your most exhilarating moment in life?
Climbing Sigiriya all the way to the top! I recommend it to anyone. The panoramic view, the climb and knowing you made it to the top – everything about it is exhilarating.
Describe your childhood
I would say that my early childhood was very basic and simple. My parents worked overseas so my grandmother, Elaine brought us up for the majority of our middle childhood years. We were brought up to enjoy the simple pleasures of life; even if it meant being satisfied with a slice of bread with jam. Up to date one of my favourite comfort foods is strawberry flavoured melon jam by MD on some toast.
I studied at Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya until third grade and then at Lyceum International School, Nugegoda until I completed my Cambridge Ordinary Levels.
How did you embark on a career as a model?
It was completely unplanned and not at all an area I ever dreamed of getting into! Kamil Hevawitharana met me when I was fourteen and said I had potential to be a model – I brushed it off because never did I ever imagine such a thing. But I am so grateful that he saw something in me and has always been there for me.
Why do you like modelling?
I model as a hobby as it is a fun way to get an adrenaline rush and meet different and interesting people.
Who is your muse, inspiration?
Oprah Winfrey has always been someone I have both admired and emulated throughout my life.
How are you preparing yourself for the upcoming beauty pageant?
Mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually – all levels are important as pageants (especially the world class pageants) are high pressure, high demanding and highly competitive. The best of the best from 90+ different countries compete for a job role of a lifetime!
What is your perception about modeling as a career and the Miss Universe pageant per se?
Modelling can be an incredible career so long as you keep (not just your heels) but your head and standards high.
The Miss Universe pageant is an amazing platform to reach and influence young people. It can open many doors but is primarily an amazing opportunity to impact social change and make a difference by expressing yourself confidently, thus encouraging and inspiring others to do the same.
What are your other interests apart from modeling?
Modelling and pageantry were all unplanned and came along per chance. My childhood experiences have taught me to be open to new opportunities and face life with a sense of adventure.
My field of study and work is in Hospitality and I have learned that life is unpredictable so as long as I keep being who I am and open to new experiences and challenges then… BRING IT ON!
What are the changes you wish to see in the industry… in Sri Lanka and the world?
Women are not seen nor treated as equal to men. We are seen as weak, vulnerable and as companions – which affects our country in more ways than many people realize. It stems from being taught that women need to be protected, ironically from men themselves. This mindset has to change from our youth and this will cultivate a generation of men who treat women as equals with the respect they want also.
Women in Sri Lanka account for more than half the population and are recorded as being more literate than men, yet over the past few decades only 40% (or less) are in fact part of our workforce. The “traditional” roles afforded to women along with the mindset that women are, by default, the primary care takers and home makers… needs to change.
We are more than happy to be these – however, changes need to be made from the top down to make way for women to have time to explore their own skills and intellect and apply them to our work force. We are more than house wives and the stereotypical expected roles that have been handed down for far too long.
There is value in tradition, however not at the expense of our women and their capabilities. Imagine how much further our country will go with a fully utilized work force, where women are empowered to contribute equally towards our economy.
Who are your greatest supporters?
God has always been there for me and my family. My greatest strength is definitely my family.
What advice can you give to aspiring models?
Be strong and steadfast in your values and be smart about who you work with… Never allow anyone to take advantage of you.
Be yourself and do your best always remembering – “you live and you learn!”
By Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
Model: Ornella Gunesekere
Photography By: Arantha Sirimanne
Hair: Gerald & Nalaka from Chagall Salon
Make-Up: Nilakshi from Chagall Salon
Post Production By: Dilsh (www.dilsh.net)
Location: The Galle Face Hotel