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Tue, Jan 13, 2009
The New Paper
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Local celebs have gone topless too
by Germaine Lim and Tan Su Vien

FAME is a double-edged sword.

To be seen or not to be seen, that is the age-old dilemma celebrities have had to grapple with.

Like it or not, popularity almost invariably comes with a public and media thirst for details of the stars' private lives.

But where do you draw the line between what can be public and what should remain private?

This issue came to light earlier this week when Chinese star Zhang Ziyi was photographed sunbathing in a skimpy bikini with her Israeli fiance Vivi Nevo on the Caribbean island of St Bart's.

Some of the pictures showed the 30-year-old Memoirs Of A Geisha star lying down topless, and Mr Nevo caressing her buttocks.

While some netizens sympathised with Ziyi's embarrassing plight, others criticised her for baring so much in public.

What of our local celebrities? Do they tend to be more careful when they are on vacation or out in public?

The New Paper posed these questions to 10 local stars and they felt that discretion in public is important because of their status.

But they have learnt how to handle themselves whenever outdoors - in Singapore or overseas.

Target of gossip

ESPN host Jamie Yeo said she once found herself a target for gossip while overseas on holiday.

Last November, Jamie, 31, and her husband, radio DJ Glenn Ong, 38, were at a restaurant in Hong Kong when they overheard some diners nearby speaking with a Singaporean accent.

Jamie said: 'I told Glenn to lower our voices so we wouldn't be recognised. The next thing I knew, when I came back, one of them had blogged about bumping into us overseas.

'She wrote on her blog: 'I met Jamie Yeo and Glenn Ong in Hong Kong... they think they are so big'.

'But that was just one experience. Generally, I like meeting Singaporeans overseas.'

Jamie added that she does sunbathe topless, but only in the privacy of an exclusive compound.

She has 'unstrapped the back of my bikini for an even tan' while holidaying in the Maldives two years ago and staying at a private Banyan Tree villa.

She said: 'This is the furthest I've gone and will go.

'I think if I were to go to one of the Brazilian beaches where lying on the beach with a bikini top is the norm, I wouldn't go topless but I wouldn't mind unstrapping the back of my bikini for an even tan.

'I've never (gone topless) in Singapore. I feel conscious here not because of my celebrity status but I just know that there will be people who recognise me.

'(Nevertheless) I won't like it if pictures of me picking my butt are distributed. But if they are just pictures of me lying on the beach with my dog, I wouldn't mind.'

Jazz singer and radio DJ Claressa Monteiro, 39, has also dropped her bikini top when sunbathing overseas.

But she would never do the same in Singapore.

'(Sunbathing) topless in Singapore would just be silly... I've gone topless at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Almost everyone else was doing it so I felt comfortable.

'I have seen pictures of me that were obviously taken when I wasn't aware. I lead my life as I'd like to and hope that at some level that's respected. In Zhang Ziyi's case, that was obviously not so.'

Star Sports' presenter Georgina Chang, 36, agreed. She said she used to sunbathe topless 'years ago on a beach in Thailand and many people were topless'.

'But I wouldn't do it in Singapore because there is a sensitivity to local culture.'


It's not just about sunbathing topless on holidays.

Local celebrities say that even simple everyday tasks can sometimes be misconstrued because of their celebrity status.

Singer Maia Lee, a single mother of two - son Tyrese, 7, and four-month old daughter Julka - said she was once accused on an Internet forum of neglecting Tyrese.

She said: 'One netizen once wrote that I'm irresponsible because I didn't take my son to and from his childcare centre.'

This was because the person had noticed that Maia did not always pick Tyrese from his school at the time, Sasco Childcare centre at Bedok North.

Maia said sometimes she would take time off from work to do it and occasionally, her father would.

She wrote about the incident on Stomp's online column Star Blog: 'It really is no one's business when I picked my son up... It (made) me seem like a bad/absent/irresponsible parent.'

Maia also lamented in her column: 'I wish I could just be back to being a nobody, so no one would bother us... But I have to take it all in my stride.'

Maia admitted that she used to be more careful with her behaviour. Now, she no longer worries about the public perception.

The Singapore Idol finalist, who is known for her bad girl image, said: 'I don't even have a good reputation (to begin with). People know me as the bad person so there is no reputation to live up to.

'I still swear a lot in public but I make sure not to litter. When I am (involved in) a squabble, I will make sure other people don't whip out their cameras.

'I won't be affected if they have a bad impression of me. I can't be bothered.'

Likewise, actress Fiona Xie, 27, has learnt to take the attention in her stride.

She said: 'It is always going to be a challenge and not always easy to have that let-go attitude.

'But I've become used to it. It is part and parcel of the job. If you want to be uptight about (receiving criticism), you should question whether you should even be in the media industry.'

The Amazing Race Asia host Allan Wu said he and his wife, fellow celebrity Wong Li Lin, 'avoid crowded areas' and don't go with 'tour groups overseas' where Singaporeans can recognise them and 'gawk and point'.

He added: 'At the back of my mind, I'm always wary that someone may take photos.'

Yet, he accepts it because 'we chose to be in this industry'.

But he draws the line when the spotlight is on his kids - aged two and three. 'My kids didn't choose to be in the public eye. So we try to shield them. Luckily Singapore is quite tame,' he said.

True enough.

One reason why local celebrities appear blase about being recognised in public is probably that Singaporeans are not really fanatical about local celebrities.

The New Paper asked several Singaporeans what they would do if they spotted a celebrity on the street, and most said they would care only if it was a foreign star.

Fresh graduate Loh Ye Hao, 25, said: 'You see local celebs like Fann Wong on a drama series and you know she will star in another soon.

'For Western celebrities, you may catch them in movies and only get the chance to see them again if they star in (another) movie the year after.

'(If I see a local celebrity in Singapore), I will maybe take a glance at them and walk past. But if I see a Hollywood star, I will take some photos because you seldom see them holidaying in Singapore.'

Student Debbie Yap, 20, said celebrities should also take a more positive attitude towards paparazzi pictures because 'any publicity is good publicity'.

Ziyi's holiday photos stir controversy - and sympathy

WHAT was meant to be a romantic getaway turned out to be a nightmare for Zhang Ziyi.

The Chinese actress, 29, was holidaying on the exclusive Caribbean island of St Bart's with her Israeli fiance Vivi Nevo, 43, during the New Year holiday period when paparazzi snapped revealing photos of her.

Mr Nevo is a multi-millionaire businessman and venture capitalist.

More than 80 photos were taken, showing Ziyi sunbathing topless and Mr Nevo caressing her.

The couple were apparently at Mr Nevo's private beach, reported Xinhua news agency.

While some Netizens made harsh comments about her body, many also sympathised with her for the intrusion on her privacy.

According to Lianhe Wanbao last Wednesday, the photos are now selling at $600 each.

This is reportedly five times more than what regular paparazzi shots fetch.

Mr Nevo, who is said to be media-shy, is rarely photographed.

Ironically, the couple were not the original target.

Lianhe Wanbao reported that paparazzi had hoped to photograph other stars like actors Richard Gere and Daniel Craig, singers Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, and married couple R&B singer Beyonce and rapper Jay-Z.

St Bart's is a popular holiday destination for the rich and famous.

Xinhua added that the actress is now taking legal measures to remove the photos from the Internet.

Mr Nevo is also rumoured to be considering filing a lawsuit, reported Lianhe Wanbao.

According to news website China Daily, Ziyi is in Tianjin, China filming romantic comedy Sophie's Revenge.

It is the actress' first attempt at producing a movie and is slated for release at the end of this year.

- Germaine Lim

This article was first published in The New Paper on Jan 11, 2009.

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