Even though Aileen Tan (pictured above) is one of the most recognisable and prolific stars in Singapore entertainment, there is no taint of scandal nor hint of gossip surrounding her name.
Despite chalking up nearly three decades in show business, the veteran actress has kept a very low profile off-screen.
It is as though her quota of notoriety was used up even before she became a full-time actress.
On the night before the finals of the inaugural edition of the television talent show Star Search in 1988 – in which she was a participant – she suddenly found herself thrust into the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons.
Tan, then 21, had been dating a man 18 years her senior, who was in the middle of a divorce. A Lianhe Wanbao journalist broke the story and a juicy headline was splashed in the evening newspaper that day, with the man’s ex-wife calling Tan the mistress.
Speaking in a mix of English and Mandarin during the interview, she says: “A reporter came to my flat and started asking me all these questions about my relationship.
“When I started dating my boyfriend, he had already broken up with his wife. So I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I felt so stressed about it when I saw the news that I wanted to quit Star Search. I didn’t want to go through with the finals anymore.”
She ended up staying on with the support of her friends and also her then-boyfriend’s family.
“I remember his mum was especially kind to me and told me that I should just go through with the show,” she says. “But that incident stayed with me for a long time. I realise that you pay a price when you become a public figure.”
It is a good thing that she stuck it out because she ended up placing second at the competition, after television queen Zoe Tay. Tan also won the award for Most Photogenic that year.
One might have expected that early brush with infamy to rein her in, but it has not toned down her personality in any way. Unlike other celebrities who tend to be cautious around reporters, she comes across as being extremely frank.
Asked about her nomination in the Best Evergreen Artiste category at next month’s Star Awards, she dramatically scratches her head and says: “I think it’s bad that I’m included in this category. I just don’t get it. I think it should be given to somebody who is at least 65 years old.
“It makes me feel so old. Is this a hint for me to retire?”
The award, which was started last year, is handed out to those aged 50 and above who have performed for at least 25 years. Other nominees in the category this year include Chen Shucheng, Hong Huifang, Rayson Tan and Xiang Yun.
At the Star Awards, Tan, 50, is also up for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a cleaner in the Dakota Crescent-set drama Hero (2016).
Next page: Aileen Tan spent her childhood washing dishes at getai shows