Image: Dios Vincoy Jr / ST
Quan Yi Fong, that fiery and straight-talking television host on Channel 8, is the same on and off screen – except to her daughter.
With 16-year-old Eleanor, she is just as hilarious and quick-witted, but her serrated edges are buffed out.
Often during their interview with The Straits Times, she seems more a friend than a parent to her daughter – laughing together, poking fun at each other, fighting to tell funny anecdotes and sharing a video of themselves goofing around in the car during the daily school runs that Quan makes for Eleanor.
But their chumminess ends where Quan’s professional expertise begins.
One rare time she snapped at her daughter was when the girl, who has started acting, messed up her lines on camera.
Quan, 42, recalls: “A Chinese television station had requested a clip of Eleanor saying Chinese New Year greetings. She kept messing it up. That’s when I lost it.”
Eleanor adds: “The more she got mad at me, the more stressed I got and I couldn’t memorise the script.”
Both mother and daughter have since agreed to keep their work and personal lives separate.
They did not visit each other on the set of their projects. Quan is in upcoming Singapore movie Young & Fabulous and Lee is making her acting debut in a Chinese period drama called Tribes And Empires.
“My mother respects me. She did ask if she could visit me. I said no. She just advised me to be respectful and punctual,” says Eleanor, who has taken the surname of her godfather, celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee, instead of her biological father Peter Yu’s.
Quan, a Taiwan-born Singaporean who divorced ex-actor Yu in 2009, interjects: “If my parents were breathing down my neck when I started out in show business, I wouldn’t be able to perform well either.
“My concern for Eleanor may turn into pressure. If I follow her, nag at her, it will give her stress. I’d rather give her the freedom to reach her potential. I trust her.”
While Quan is an acclaimed host who has won two Best Variety Show Host prizes at the annual Star Awards – in 2005 and 2014 – she is not completely immune to the jitters in front of the camera.
She returns to acting for the first time in seven years, playing a mother in the youth dramedy, Young & Fabulous.
“I have no confidence when it comes to acting. I fear I will overact. I’m worried I will sound like I am interviewing someone when I’m saying my lines,” says Quan, who last starred as a workaholic TV executive in Channel 8 Drama The Illusionist (2009).
It does not help that the mother she plays in Young & Fabulous is not the mother she is in real life.
In the movie, for instance, Quan’s character Mei Feng secretly accesses her son’s computer to add herself to his friends’ list on Facebook.
In real life, Quan does not need social media to track her child’s activities. With a hint of glee, she says: “I’m aware of everything my daughter does, what she eats, plays and wears.”
Eleanor says she freely discusses her dreams and even boys with her mother. “I’m the one who created my mum’s Facebook page. We are Facebook friends. Anyway, I have nothing to hide from her,” she adds.
Neither is Quan a kiasu mum like Young & Fabulous’ Mei Feng, who disapproves of her son Royston’s (Aloysius Pang) cosplay hobby and his ambition to become a fashion designer. Believing that good grades and a stable career are a sure route to a good life, the character wants her straight-A student son to be a doctor.
In contrast, Quan says: “My wish for Eleanor is for her to pursue what she loves. She has always loved to draw. I hope she can draw for passion and not to make a living.
“She can travel the world with her art materials and be a street artist. I don’t need her to become someone with status. I hope she can live for her passion.”
While she believes Eleanor should get her basic education, she does not think it is a must to get a bachelor’s degree.
She does not seem overly worried about grades or examinations either. This interview is done in the midst of Eleanor’s examination period at an international school.
Both mother and daughter look relaxed, sharing the same belief that there is only so much help that last-minute studying can do.
Quan’s parenting style towards Eleanor can perhaps be summed up in one sentence: Take responsibility for your actions.
“I’ve always told her she must be in charge of her studies. If she gets sick because she doesn’t cover herself with a blanket, then she deserves it. If she doesn’t score well in examinations, she just has to work harder,” says Quan matter of factly.
After Eleanor completes the International General Certificate of Secondary Education – an internationally recognised qualification equivalent to the O levels – they will discuss whether the girl will further her education here or in China, where Eleanor’s career opportunities lie.
What if Eleanor decides to put her studies on hold to pursue an acting career? Instantly, Quan says: “Then she’d better be good at her job. She’d better be a popular star.”
Eleanor got her foot in the door of show business last year after beating thousands of hopefuls to snag a commercial in China for technology giant Apple.
She has since won an ice-cream commercial job in China and her debut acting role in Tribes And Empires.
Signed to Beijing Shen Yi Entertainment, she already has a fanbase. Her fans call their club Kai Xin Guo, which means delight and is a play on her Chinese name Kai Xin.
They welcome her at airports in China and set up social media accounts plastered with her photos.
It seems that the doe-eyed girl exudes an effortless star appeal.
Quan recounts a travel programme she filmed in China a few years back, before Eleanor’s big break last year.
“My daughter accompanied me when I was filming overseas. I realised that people were secretly taking photos of me. They kept staring at me. I’m used to the attention.
“Later, the passers-by went up to the film crew to ask the identity of the celebrity. They thought my daughter was the celebrity and I was the minder.”
Young & Fabulous opens in cinemas on May 26.
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on May 18, 2016. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.
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