One of your first high profile roles was as Miss World Australia. What did you take from that experience that shapes your life and work today?
The title definitely taught me a lot and complemented the work that I had already started. Miss World Australia is an ambassadorial role – I took it on for Australia and it gave me the opportunity to raise awareness about issues that I felt passionately about, from charity work to discussing social issues and politics. I was involved in charity work in the years prior, so it allowed me to continue this work on a more international platform. I travelled for 40 days during Miss World with 116 girls from around the globe, and I think it was that experience that opened my eyes and heart most. We all come from different backgrounds and our stories differ in so many ways, so for me, it taught me how to be even more empathetic. I treasure that experience.
You’re a model and presenter, so being constantly in the public eye, do you have any tips and tricks for always staying camera-ready?
Always smile! I think that’s the biggest accessory and make-up tip a woman can hold 24/7. I don’t always have my hair and make-up done, and sometimes I’ll be in my gym clothes running around the mall and people will stop me and ask if I’m Miss Australia. I just flash a big smile and say ‘yes!’
With such a varied and dynamic career, you must be constantly on the move. What’s a regular day in the life of Jessica Kahawaty like?
I don’t have a typical schedule I stick to what makes everyday a new experience! I shoot my two web shows, omg! NOW and omg! NUJOOM for Yahoo! Maktoob on Mondays and Wednesdays. The rest of the days I’m usually having meetings about different projects, doing photoshoots and interviews with magazines or just enjoying Dubai.
Do you have a favourite old-Hollywood style icon that you took inspiration from on the VIVA shoot?
Grace Kelly would be at the top of my list of those glamorous old-Hollywood icons. She just seems like such a humble and elegant person, despite her beauty and her royal status later in her life. I admire women who are talented, but stay down-to-earth and care most about family.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style changes depending on my mood! Sometimes I like to wear tailored and geometric pieces, some days I feel like vibrant colours, but I like to always try to keep it effortless and chic.
What do you do to feel super-glamorous on a big night out?
It really depends on the occasion. I think a great blow dry completes any outfit and I like to keep the make-up fresh if I’m wearing a statement piece. Lately, I’ve been wearing a lot of long, figure-hugging dresses in bold colours and I found that they do the trick to feeling super-glamorous! They are absolutely comfortable but make a statement, so I just tie my hair up in a ponytail or bun and voila!
Your background in pageants must have helped you remain confident and poised. How do you stay calm under pressure?
My father always taught me it’s mind over matter. I’ve had a lot of great advice from my parents but I think that one really stuck! Pageants can be a lot of pressure – long hours, little sleep and a lot of travelling – but I kept that advice in my head to get me through, I must admit. I think of the final goal, the rewards and that light at the end of the tunnel, instead of the process. I find that helps a lot!
While you were born in Australia, you have Lebanese heritage. How does your cultural background shape who you are?
My parents made sure that they instilled the Lebanese culture and traditions in my brother and me. It shapes me in a big way and I travel to Lebanon every year to visit my family and stay in touch with my culture.
Away from the spotlight, what are your personal passions or indulgences?
I’m actually starting to learn how to cook! My mother is a wonderful cook so I’ve taken some of her recipes to learn in Dubai. It’s been really fun so far and quite therapeutic!
You’re actively involved in charity work, What particular organisations do you work with and is there a specific cause that is close to your heart?
I have been involved in various charities lately – the Lilla community, an Indigenous community in Australia, has been very close to my heart and I’ve raised money for the children so they can go to school and have basic necessities. Another wonderful charity I collaborated with for my birthday last September is charity: water, a completely non-profit organisation which raises money in order to provide safe, drinking water in developing countries. Anyone can go online at www.charitywater.org and pledge their birthday, for example, by asking for donations instead of gifts.
You moved to Dubai recently. What do you love most about the city and is there anything in particular you love to do here?
I adore Dubai! There’s so much you can do here, from the beach, to shopping centres, restaurants and even the desert! I’m a big foodie and luckily Dubai is a gourmet hub, so I love to try out new restaurants.
What’s next on the horizon for Jessica Kahawaty – any exciting projects that you can tell us about?
There is really so much happening. I can’t reveal much yet, but I’ve only been here for two months and my shows’ success on Yahoo has been rewarding. I’m also working on a few other top-secret collaborations... all will be revealed after Ramadan.