BB Gandanghari (variants: BeBe Gandanghari, Bb Gandanghari) is the alter ego of the movie star formerly known as Rustom Padilla. Although Bb Gandahghari was publicly launched on 1 October 2008 when she made her debut as a Best Actor presentor at the Urian Awards, her public persona did not receive massive media attention until she returned to the Philippines on 15 January 2009 after a 3-month stint in the United States.
BB's name is derived from her motto, “Be all that you can be.” It is also short for Binibining Gandanghari, a Tagalog phrase which literally translates into “maiden with the beauty of a king.”
The public debut of Bb was the result of long-thought out deliberations of Rustom Padilla, who struggled with gender and identity issues in his previous public life. In the late 1980's and early 1990s Rustom was best remembered as a romantic matinee idol teamed with his then girlfriend Carmina Villaroel. Later he starred in memorable action films such as Mistah together with his "bad-boy" brothers Robin Padilla and Rommel Padilla. As a very Rustom, he was traumatized by the violent reactions of his family when he experimented cross-dressing.
BB made her first appearance during the 31st Gawad Urian on October 1, 2008, as simply “Gandanghari.” Rustom Padilla and Mark Gil were set to present Best Actor Awards to Jason Abalos for his performance in Endo and Sid Lucero for his role in Selda, but instead of Rustom, Gandanghari walked out of the wings wearing a pink, lavender and purple Criselda Lontok blouse and black pants.
Reactions to Gandanghari were generally mixed, with some praising her courage and beauty while others decried her choice of clothes and were puzzled by her motives.
After a three-month hiatus in the United States, BB came back from the United States of America on January 16, 2009. She made her official debut as BB Gandanghari at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, when she declared that “Rustom is dead.” Her announcement caused an uproar in the local showbiz scene.
The Continuing Saga of BB
On 23 January 2009, BB traveled to Hong Kong to record a webcast video interview and speak out for gender and gay rights on behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission, thus inaugurating the initial advocacy of BB Gandanghari. First part interview. Interviewing BB was Fr. Roberto Reyes, the activist priest who works for the Kong Kong-based non-governmental organization that monitors and lobbies human rights issues in Asia. The In an accompanying press release AHRC explained that: "Listening to one gay person, allowing her to speak, to come to voice is fundamental to understanding gay rights. Fr. Robert Reyes, explains that his previous judgmental and homophobic attitude towards gay was only corrected, perhaps somehow cured through actual and particular encounters with gays. Avoidance, ignoring, rejection simply promotes the prejudice and the unwillingness to understand, accept and ultimately respect gays as persons with rights like everyone else."
In the interview BB referred to Rustom in the third person and revealed that "he did not fall from God's grace as he moved closer to his identity as BB. Rather, he walked into it. Having endured “bad” and “traumatic” experiences in his 41 years of living, Rustom turned to God for meaning and direction, and his search ultimately found fruit in BB.... “He sought God and God proved to be faithful,” BB says of Rustom. “He drew close to God and God drew close to him. And God brought him to the realization that when you see God and you believe in God... God sees you in the heart.”
With this, BB says that she, more than anything else, is a “God-fearing, loving lady.” Soon after coming out, she assured her mother who asked that she not do anything offensive to God that she would be “a very good girl.”
“[Maybe my mother feels that] when you're in this kind of life you tend to be promiscuous,” BB explained. “You tend to be sexually active. That's not the case. I value relationships and I value the connection [between people]. And I don't think it's bad.”
With blogger Sassyqarla calling BB the hottest media celebrity, BB plunged into a whirlwind of talk show appearances, fashion pictorials, and print interviews. On 27 Jan 2009 BB undertook a fashion shoot for YES! Magazine, aided by stylist Eric Maningat, photographer Ronnie Salvacion. On 28 Jan 2009 BB posed for photographer Nicollo Cosme for S Magazine in a glamour shoot session. On January 30 BB undertook iconic women of Hollywood for StarStudio Magazine with the husband-and-wife team of renowned photographer Tom Epperson and stylist Jenni Epperson, channeling enduring enduring fashion divas: Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's), Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider), Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction), and Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow, The Royal Tenenbaums).
On 15 Feb 2009 BB was interviewed by Bayani San Diego, Jr. for Philippine Daily Inquirer's Sunday entertainment section. The candid and light-hearted 3-page article revealed that Rustom grew up in a homophobic environment and that Rustom had reached a dead end.
In March 1 ,2009 BB appeared in StarStudio Magazine in an interview entitled "A Whole New Me" featuring her as as 4 iconic Hollywood movie stars: Audrey Hepburn, Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft and Uma Thurman. The interview shed light on her struggles and her decision "to kill Rustom."
In Her Own Words
- On critical reactions to her transformation: "I just wish people can be happy for me too".
- "Sometimes you have to break out of your comfort zone to be truly happy." March 2009 StarStudio Magazine interview
- On his pet dog Iman not noticing the change of Rustom's physical self to BB after a 3-month essence: "Ang mga aso, hindi sila tumitingin sa physical lang. What they tuni in to is the person's essence. That's what we are missing as people. Dapat nga mas sensitive tayo, di ba?" Ppersonal interview given to Bayani San Diego, Jr. on 15 Feb 2009 Philippine Daily Inquirer
- On men in her life: "Karagdagan lang ang lalaki sa kaligayahan ko. They make me happy lang; they don't complete me."
Reactions to BB Gandanghari
BB has stirred a wide range of reactions ever since she arrived in the Philippines. Here are what family members and fellow celebrities have said about her:
- Robin Padilla, BB's brother: "Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Masaya ako para sa iyo at napakaganda mo.' Hangga't maganda ang pakiramdam niya, at sa palagay niya na iyon ang sinisigaw ng puso niya, well, go ahead. Kami nandito lang ('Not really, bro,' [she answered.] I told her, 'I'm happy for you and you're beautiful.' As long as she feels great, and she thinks she's doing what in her heart she wants to do, well, go ahead. We're just here for her).”
- Rommel Padilla, BB's brother, on BB's choice to stop using the surname Padilla: "Siguro nagkamali lang ng pagkakabitaw ng salita, mali lang iyong term na nagamit. Sa tingin ko, dapat [palitan] dahil 'di nga maganda pakinggan, na namatay. Parang bad vibe kaagad, e. So siguro mas maganda kung sinabi niyang si Rustom, iyong pangalang Rustom erase na lang natin, then ipasok na lang natin iyong BB, na gusto niyang mangyari ngayon (Maybe BB made a mistake, and used the wrong words. I think she should have changed her statement because it gives out a bad vibe. It would have been better if she said we should erase the name 'Rustom' then insert BB, like what she wants to happen now)."
- Carmina Villaroel, Rustom Padilla's ex-wife: “Siya na mismo ang nagsabi na patay na iyong 'Rustom,' and iyong bagong siya ay si BB. So sana, sa kanya na mismo nanggaling, let's just respect him and since patay na nga si Rustom, e 'di ibaon na natin ng bonggang-bongga (She was the one who said that 'Rustom is dead,' and that the new her is BB... So I hope we'd just respect her wishes and since Rustom is dead, let's bury him already).”
- Fr. Roberto Reyes, in his reflection about BB: "BB was interested in how I overcame my own homophobia. I had to explain that it is still in process. God keeps sending me gay friends to tell me something very important and fundamental. Gays are persons. There is nothing special and different about them. They are as human as you and me. They are equally to be respected and appreciated as the so-called "straight."
- Ricky Reyes, celebrity stylist: “Ang pagbababae ng isang bading ay dapat sa sarili lamang niya. Ayoko ng bawat bading dito sa Pilipinas ay gawing parang matsing sa hawla na pinaglalaruan at pinagtatawanan (A gay man should only unleash his feminine side to himself. I don't want every gay man in the Philippines to be treated like a monkey in a cage that is played with and laughed at).”
- Rajo Laurel, noted fashion designer, after arriving in Manila and learning about BB: "One of the best things about Manila is that we have one of the most SURREAL showbiz personalities in the whole world!"
- Bryanboy, celebrity fashion blogger: "In fairness to Rustom ang ganda ng fez... tumambling ako ng todo. Juice ko dayyyyyyyyyyyyy (In fairness to Rustom, she had me do cartwheels! My God)!!!"
- Pops Fernandez, a close friend of the former Rustom Padilla, who still has to catch up with Bebe: "Kung anuman ang pinaplano and dreams niya, sana ma-achieve niya at wish ko is for him or her to be happy pa rin and to pray kung anuman ang next step niya As a friend, respeto sa desisyon niya ang maibibigay ko sa kanya." Chuvachienes blog on Pops Fernandez accessed 12 Feb 2009
- Celebrity and showbiz blogger Chuvachienes: "In fairness.. sumisikat si Lucretia! Grabe ang mga dumarating na endorsements ni chorva! Wala akong masabi, gumagana ang gimmick niya!"
- Bong Austero, Manila Standard columnist: " Here was a former matinee idol, from a relatively prominent political and showbiz family, with brothers renowned for the kind of, uh, mischief associated with alpha males of the animal kingdom. Here was a really good-looking guy, the object of the sexual fantasies of many women and yes, gay men, and who married one of the prettiest actresses of her generation. And then one day, he decided he’s had more than enough of the duplicity and decided to out himself in a grand way. He joined the celebrity edition of the local franchise of the television show Big Brother and in a rather lugubrious turn, confirmed what has apparently been whispered about in show business circles for so long: He was gay. It was soap opera material. I just wish that people do not lose sight of the important issues in this particular soap opera. This is not just about the way she behaves or dresses up now that she has decided to be who she is. It is sad that many people are stuck with the gross exteriors of her make up, or the clothes she is wearing, or the way she flicks her wrists or pouts her lips. It is first of all a story of personal liberation and of the painful and often brave personal choices and decisions we make in our lives." Full article accessed on 14 Feb 2009
- Stylist and Inquirer columnist Jenni Epperson: "In a way, Bebe is a true artist who is using her celebrity status as a platform for her art and her style. And her style! It’s all her own. Coming out dressed in a babushka? All guts and all glory! Bebe Gandanghari is definitely the jolt this industry needs to try and start being more daring and just having fun....I like Bebe more than Rustom. There are so many more styling possibilities! When Bebe debuted, many makeup artists and designers told me they wanted to work with the future style icon. ... But how does one style a dramatic actor-turned-gorgeous woman? Some might say that this whole exercise is nothing but a freak show, but I see it differently. Bebe is a character that “people are going to watch and that I’m going to portray,” Padilla said. And that is the key. We shouldn’t focus on what has transpired but what is now available to us.'" Feb 5 2009 article accessed 15 Feb 2009
- Sister Rema Padilla-Ohno: "I consider her an artist and the epitome of art." Interview of Salve Asis on 17 February 2009 in Pilipino Star Ngayon.
Since her arrival from America, BB has been appearing in local talks shows on television, as well as in newspaper features.
She has been interviewed by Ruffa Gutierrez and Kris Aquino on ABS-CBN entertainment show The Buzz and by Lolit Solis, Butch Francisco, Ricky Lo and Joey de Leon on GMA Network's showbiz segment StarTalk.
- PEP.ph article on Bb's birth (Accessed on February 12, 2009)
- Let Rustom rest in peace, BeBe's here to stay. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Be adored, be abhorred—be BB!. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Versatile BB in demand. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Gandang Hari steals show at Urian. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Not Rustom—The return of BeBe Gandanghari. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- 'Padilla pa rin si utol'--Robin and Rommel. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Child of God. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2008)
- Bebe? Rustom comes home a lady. The Philippine Online Chronicles. (Accessed on February 13, 2009)
- Rajo Laurel's blog entry on Bebe Gandanghari. Stylebible.ph. (Accessed on February 14, 2009)
- Asian Human Rights Commission call for gender rights accessed on 15 February 2009.
- Philippine Online Chronicles 26 January 2009 article on BB as naked before God accessed 15 Feb 2009
- Philippine Daily Inquirer interview by Bayani San Diego Jr accessed on 19 Feb 2009
- Noemi Lardizabal-Dado's interview on Filipinaimages.com] accessed on 19 Feb 2009
- Noemi Lardizabal-Dado's blog entry on BB for her Filipina Mom blog accessed on 19 Feb 2009