Multi-hyphenate (model-host-actress-radio DJ) Daiana Menezes shows her refreshing combination of smarts, sass, striking good looks, and a fiery Brazilian spirit
Oh my god, I know. I’m so sorry!”
All eyes turned towards Daiana Menezes, subject of today’s cover shoot, as she walked into the hotel suite past the prescribed call time. With her striking deep-set eyes and Brazilian features, plus a slim and trim figure, she definitely stands out amidst the country’s celebrity set. She immediately greeted each and every one in the shoot location with a bright smile and handshake, apologizing all the while for her tardiness.
“It’s not professional, and I hate it when it happens. I’m almost never late,” she declared later on during the interview. Years of being a model, first in her native Brazil and then past its shores, had honed a work ethic of taking pride in all the details of her projects—including her punctuality. But all of this is getting ahead of her story, which started during her school days.
“I was working with my dad in his shoe business,” she shared. “I was also taking up fashion design. I was pretty advanced—I entered college at 16. My dad was happy, because he intended for me to take over his business as I’m the eldest. The sooner I could finish school, the better it would be for him.”
“In school, whenever my classmates would have a presentation, they would need a model, so I would model for our designs. Of course I did it all out of fun, and for our studies. I had a lot of gay friends, and they were the ones who joked about me trying out modeling [out of school]. So they sent my photos everywhere! Kung saan-saan!”
It turned out that among the myriad of agencies her friends had contacted, quite a few were indeed interested. “By a crazy miracle, or maybe destiny, an agency in Thailand got me for a shampoo commercial. They offered to fly me in.” This was in 2006, and Daiana knew only how to speak in her native Portuguese and with her university studies, Spanish. Nothing else. “It was hard. I didn’t know how to speak Thai or English, and I flew to Thailand with no approval from my dad. He was very mad with me.”
That shampoo assignment led to more opportunities within Thailand, Hong Kong, and all around Asia. “I think I lived in about eight countries over the course of seven years. Buhay model talaga after school.” She was casted in another shampoo commercial, and then more offers came pouring in—here. “I made so many friends in the Philippines! Filipinos are warm and friendly just like Brazilians.”
Even with the numerous opportunities coming her way from all around Asia, interspersed with visits back home in Brazil, Daiana found herself returning again and again to the Philippines to visit her friends—and inevitably, more castings would come her way, leading to extended stays. “I thought, ‘There’s nothing to lose with work—I can get more experience, expand my network, and sometimes get paid a lot of money.’” She also found another lasting, convenient bonus to these stays. “Out of nowhere, I just started speaking more Tagalog. I think it took about six months for me to be fluent.” However, “fluent” doesn’t describe Daiana’s grasp of the language no—more than properly stringing together phrases and sentences, she had everyone involved in the shoot laughing with her Filipino “gayspeak” and snarky one-liners.
Eventually, she was cast to be part of Eat Bulaga. While thrilled with the chance, she had no clue of the noontime show’s longevity, reputation, or even its vast audience. “I didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t really give a sh---. To me, they weren’t famous, not in my eyes.” She became part of the show for five years before moving on. “I am very grateful to the show. They taught me how to dance, to host, to act.” This eventually led to films and TV show guestings. “My first film was with Dolphy in Dobol Trobol: Lets Get Redi 2 Rambol! Then Yaya and Angelina: The Spoiled Brat Movie and my last film was My Amiga Girl.”
“I think I’ve gone through around 14 TV shows here, which includes Bubble Gang and My Darling Aswang, where I was Vic Sotto’s leading lady for three years.”
Other media opportunities sprung up as well. “I was part of a radio show (in 92.3 FM) for TV5 sometime last year. It’s funny, because I’m not Pinay, but they liked me because I was fluent in Filipino.” With radio itself having a large demographic, the show was also broadcasted on cable and online, which brought Daiana closer to another type of audience as well. “We would get a lot of calls; that would lead me to interact with more people. It’s different than when you’re just on TV, only following a script. [With calls], people really appreciate that. They get to know you better, they can ask their questions and for advice. I loved it! I miss radio; I do some podcasts with Mo Twister, which is similar, but I miss radio.”
All of these activities didn’t initially please her father, who expected her to come back to Brazil to pick up where she left off. Before her modeling had brought her to the attention of other media, Daiana’s father believed it wouldn’t last. But Daiana had her own dreams and the drive to fulfill them, and she wanted to see how far she could go. That, and the commitment to make her own name for herself. “In Brazil, my family is pretty well-known. Here [in the Philippines], nobody knew me.”
That isn’t the case anymore, and Daiana has found that fame comes with its own headaches, especially throughout social media. “Yes, I get a lot of comments,” she said with a rueful smile. “Sometimes even down to the kinds of endorsements I have. And I think to myself, ‘Ano ba, wala na ba kayong paraan sa pag-hate ninyo?’ Sometimes, it’s my being a foreigner. They wonder why me, and not a Filipino.
“I say, ‘Why not? I’m here and I love this country and I’m open-minded. I chose this place as my second home. I’m so dedicated to this country, so yes, it affects me when I get comments like ‘Ah, siguro andito lang yan dahil kailangan magtrabaho.’”
The good far outweigh the bad, though, and even her father has come to terms with her hard-earned success. “I think the fact that I was on a TV show that broadcasted 365 days a year, for five years, showed him how serious I was,” she recalled, laughing.
At the moment, Daiana is hard at work on a new TV show for ANC. “It’s a traveling show called Choose Philippines. It’s us traveling all around the Philippines and showing the world that it’s worth it to come here.” Her co-host, Rafael, is Spanish and learning how to speak Filipino. The entire concept of foreigners heartily recommending where to go in the Philippines may seem odd, but Daiana believes in its brilliance. “If it were a Filipino hosting a Philippine travel show, of course you’re going to think he’s biased. But the two of us can give a better picture of what tourists will get when they visit. The show is bringing in foreigners who can promote the Philippines from their perspective. If we’re fed something we don’t like, we will be very honest about it.”
Daiana also has stints with morning shows Umagang Kay Ganda and Unang Hirit, and is in the initial filming stages of a Hollywood movie. “It’s slated to come out in October this year. It’s a drama with a religious theme.” From the looks of it, Daiana seems to be one of those individuals who truly find joy in her work.
One of the major things that bring her happiness, however, is her relationship with Cagayan de Oro Representative Jose Benjamin “Benjo” Benaldo, whom she is engaged to marry. The two had met during relief operations for Typhoon Sendong, and eventually dated for about a year. Last year, Daiana had been traveling and visiting friends abroad when he surprised her by flying into Paris to be with her. Then he proposed, underneath the Eiffel Tower. After that, it was a simple plane ride to Brazil to formally announce the betrothal to Daiana’s parents.
Following Brazilian tradition, Daiana’s father willbe in charge of the wedding preparations. While the couple doesn’t have a set date yet, the event will likely take place middle of this year. Daiana isn’t stressing about it. “We have other priorities, and we are so sure of each other,” she said simply. In the meantime, she wants to work. She finds it necessary to assure her fans (and critics) about the belief that just because a woman has a love life, or a family, that “mawawala na yung career niya”—which for Daiana isn't necessarily true. The way she sees it, it’s all about how committed one is to one’s choices. In her case: “What matters the most is to be where you are happy.” And she is.