True, Isabelle Daza totally ran with the boys as a child; curly hair and big glasses, braces and a penchant for playing rough. Horseback-riding—she trained for a short time as an equestrienne—tennis, football, basketball and team sports defined her high school years at the Assumption College in San Lorenzo. Especially football, where she always made the varsity team.
But consider: Her mother is the benchmark of local beauty queens, 1969 Miss Universe Gloria Diaz. Her grandmother is the famed Nora Daza, who taught everyone—including your tattooed brother—how to whip up a five-minute meal in the most humble of kitchens with swagger and lip-smacking goodness.
She’s carved her own path to fame, enduring long, sleepless hours, the time away from athletics, and the naysayers who either looked down on her or didn’t think she could put in the work required of her.
As a young girl, expectations in the looks department were high for her, what with being the daughter of a Miss Universe. Even if she didn’t have the conventional features that people expected from a beauty titlist’s progeny, her muscle memory and ability to swiftly learn things were on a different level of intelligent design.
Even her life goals are tied to athletic and sporting accomplishments. For example, her bucket list includes finishing a 42K marathon and a full Iron Man competition.
She explains, “My learning curve [with sports] is pretty good but only if I really want to excel in something. With watersports, I had more of a difficult time, but snowboarding I learned pretty quick.”
The tomboy image all changed with her first modelling job for Human. “I never thought that I’d do commercials. That was all more of my older cousin Georgina [Wilson],” She says. So when Bench’s head honcho Ben Chan asked her to model, her first reaction was, “Why me?”
She laughs at the memory: “‘Are you sure that they want me?!’ I [didn’t] get it. I didn’t see that in myself.”
Her time in the limelight
Still, it was something too good to pass up, even if she’d already been doing cameos in her mom’s movies. This time, it was her mother who stood on the side lines to cheer her on. She’s been with the Bench family ever since, and hasn’t looked back. Taking the fashion world by storm, she’s been on the cover of several fashionista print titles and even ranked high in a men‘s mag’s poll of 100 Sexiest Women of 2011.
Not too shabby for the football-playing, five-foot seven inches tall, high school tomboy, hey?
Becoming an inspiration for sporty girls who want to transform into glamorous butterflies has never been her ambition. But she’s now the unofficial spokesperson for an active lifestyle that leads to a career of glitz.
“When it comes to health, if you’re not happy with your body, then just change it,” she declares. “Anything you’re not happy with, you should change. I think that’s something that a lot of people need to be told, na parang you complain about this or that, but when it comes to doing something about it, you cop out. What’s one hour of your day?”
She’s since parlayed those catwalk, TVC, and glamor appearances into a show business career, co-hosting with Manny Pacquiao in his show, and in Eat Bulaga, appearing in GMA-7’s Party Pilipinas with the rest of the pretty belles, taking a shot at comedy with Bubble Gang and horror with Spooky Nights. All these landed her as a contract star for a major network and a movie she’s just finished wrapping up.
Instead of non-stop days on the arena grass, she’s swapped her cross-trainers for high heels and makeup chairs.
Yearning for action
The klieg lights and couture clothes haven’t changed her desire for physicality, though.
She confesses, “When I look in the mirror, I say I want to train today, I want to run. I’m still sporty up to now, and when I walk into a room, I really don’t see myself as the most glamorous person there.”
Isabelle gave the non-showbiz route a decent shot after graduating from De La Salle University with a degree in education. She worked as a preschool teacher and then took up a pre-Med course. She was gung-ho. The adrenaline of saving lives and intensity of calls for “stat!” was what drove her. The discovery of the time such a lifestyle choice would devour has since sobered her.
“I always wanted to be a doctor,” she shrugs. “It was one of my dreams. I guess I was thinking more of what you see on TV rather than the actual lifestyle and [the] work of being one? I finished education and I was teaching for a bit, then I said `Why don’t I go for it?’ since I always wanted to. So I studied for two years in Biology but it was so difficult! I passed but [it was] difficult because I wasn’t allowed to have anything else.”
Does she mean she wanted to practice medicine part-time? She nods: “I couldn’t model, couldn’t do commercials, had to stop even sports. I realized it wasn’t for me. See, I want to work out and I still like being in the fashion industry.”
Plenty celebrities seem lost in their own worlds in conversation during interviews, a trick of both memory and that trained cerebral procedural that goes through celebrity heads when they want to answer politely and succinctly but can’t answer too truthfully; a practiced subterfuge that gets switched on for the media and the paparazzi. Isabelle, up close, seems to have none of those filters.
She speaks without hesitation or forethought, stopping only to clarify if she understood that you’re asking what you’re really asking. No awkward laughs. No fidgeting fingers. No ticks or tells. She also never loses eye contact. It’s a refreshing change of gears. Plus, her almond eyes regard you with the intensity of a tri-athlete on the last legs of the race.
Which is what she’s in training for now, actually, with three different coaches—one for swim, one for the track, and another for gym conditioning.
“I’m training for a triathlon and [it’s] very demanding!” she exclaims. “Sometimes you just want to sleep in the middle of the day. Right now, I do one hour of swim, one hour of bike. In a week, I’d maybe have one rest day. Rest day’s very important so your body can recover. Later on in the year, [I’ll] do the heavier stuff, like maybe do it two to three hours straight with more difficult intervals and higher level exercises.”