If you grew up watching My Fair Princess (Huan Zhu Ge Ge), you’ll definitely remember Vicki Zhao Wei for her role as the annoying but endearingly bubbly Xiao Yan Zi (Little Swallow). But what else do you know about Vicki Zhao Wei, besides the fact that she has really deep set eyes and perfect features? The incredibly wealthy and highly-sought after actress turns 43 on today. Read on to get a snapshot of her life in less than five minutes.
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She’s a billionaire
Vicki was once dubbed the ‘world’s wealthiest working actress’ by Forbes magazine in 2015. According to Forbes, Vicki has such keen investing acumen that she’s been nicknamed “China’s show-business Buffett” by her country’s media. Her biggest windfall came when she and her husband purchased a 9.18 per cent stake in Alibaba Pictures. After a frenzied rise in Hong Kong stock prices, Alibaba Pictures’ market cap soared, leaving the couple with gains in tens of millions of dollars.
Vicki has also been prolific in the entertainment industry — she has acted in many box-office hits for both film and TV during her 20-over years in the scene, and she is a singer as well, with seven studio albums. She has also directed two films so far; her directorial debut, So Young, opened in April 2013 to 141 million yuan during its first weekend, making her the first female director whose debut film broke 100 million yuan in China. The film earned her the Golden Rooster Award for Best Directorial Debut, the Hundred Flowers Award for Best Director and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan. Oh, she has also bagged multiple lucrative endorsement deals.
She was once a kindergarten teacher
The doe-eyed baby face actress apparently never had any acting aspirations. “I thought actresses had to be beautiful, and I thought I was ordinary,” she once said. Born in Anhui province, Zhao was a kindergarten teacher at the age of 17 when a film director—for the 1994 movie A Soul Haunted by Painting starring Gong Li—came into her town looking for extras. She was selected and the experience changed her life. She quit her job and made her way to Shanghai to enroll in a new film arts academy founded by legendary director Xie Jin. Then, at the age of 20, she earned the highest score in the entrance exam to enroll at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy. Her big break came, as we all know, when she starred in the smash hit TV drama My Fair Princess (1998–1999).
She owns a vineyard in south-west France
Surprise, surprise, Vicki owns the luxurious Chateau Monlot located in the region of Bordeaux. According to news reports, she and her husband Huang Youlong reportedly spent some €4 million ($6.1 million) on the seven-hectare Southern France property back in 2011, which houses a 17th-century castle built on land that once belonged to King Louis XIII. Vicki proceeded to launch wines under the Monlot label in 2015, offering both high-end and affordable choices. In a recent article, she was quoted as saying she wanted to “make Chateau Monlot a grand wine, emblematic of the Bordeaux vineyards”. She joins the ranks of other celebrities who are also in the wine industry, including former basketball player Yao Ming and film star Carina Lau.
She’s really good pals with Shu Qi
The leggy Taiwan-born actress—who appeared in So Close (2002) and Love (2012) with Vicki— is a regular feature in Vicki’s Instagram page. Selfies of the two usually portray them looking really casual, like they were just hangin’ out for a HTHT (heart-to-heart-talk). One photo was even accompanied by the caption: “Love you deeply.” Incidentally, both of them hit the headlines last year for not-so-positive news. They were paid a reported 50 million yuan (S$10 million) for appearing on the second season of reality show Chinese Restaurant, according to Taiwanese media, but were ordered by authorities to return 40 million yuan, after new regulations implemented by the state said that artistes on TV programmes cannot be paid more than 10 million yuan (S$2 million) per season.
She’s super comfortable with herself
Most celebrities have a carefully curated social media account, preferring to hide flaws from the public world to maintain their pristine image. Not Vicki. She regularly posts photos of herself—up-close too, mind you—with little or no make-up and sporting bed-hair. Good news, she still looks completely recognisable. In this snap, she said it feels so good to not be wearing any make-up, but added dryly that “the real reason is because I don’t really know how to put it on”. Keeping it real!
She and her husband are Permanent Residents in Singapore
She and husband Youlong, who are both Singapore PRs, married here in Singapore, and their daughter, April Huang, was also born here at Gleneagles Hospital in 2010. Vicki said this was due to the lack of paparazzi in Singapore. They join other famous celebrities who are PRs or citizens here, such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Gong Li. Other stars who have made Singapore their home include Cecilia Cheung, Vivian Hsu and Eduardo Saverin.
She is not a Tiger Mum
Vicki is a loving mother to her daughter April (also known as Huang Xin). The fiercely private star rarely posts her daughter’s photo on social media, preferring to show just her back view. The little girl, now eight, is the splitting image of her mother, sporting similar her doe-eyes and sharp chin. In a 2015 press conference at Resorts World Sentosa for the show Tiger Mom, Vicki revealed that her daughter was the one who called the shots at home. “My daughter’s position in our household is definitely higher than mine,” she joked in Mandarin then. “I listen to her a lot. I guess you can say that’s my parenting style. Whenever we plan for an outing, she’s the one who decides on the places to go.” Vicki also said she wanted to devote more time to her family. “My dream at this point is to spend more time with my daughter. I want to have that balance between work and family.”
She’s a philanthropist
Vicki is known for her charitable works, and is actively involved in humanitarian efforts. She participates actively in fundraising drives and has personally donated to organisations such as the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, China Youth Foundation’s “Hope Project” and China Red Cross. She also donated to several Governments to support relief efforts for disasters such as the Sichuan Yaan Earthquake, Hunan flooding and Yunnan drought. She was named the ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund in 2005. In 2011, she received the China Charity Billboard Award for her contributions to others in need. In 2014, she launched the V-Love Foundation for childhood leukemia (which recently released a documentary, Light of Love, showcasing the life and treatment of three patients over the course of two years). Two years later, the United Nations Development Programme appointed her as its National Goodwill Ambassador.
Uh oh, she’s not allowed to helm companies (for a while)
The Shanghai Stock Exchange announced in November 2018 that Vicki was barred from taking on key positions at listed companies for five years. This was in relation to a failed takeover bid by Tibet Longwei, a company controlled by her and her husband. Tibet Longwei had attempted to buy a 29.1 per cent stake in a little-known animation studio Zhejiang Wanjia (now known as Zhejiang Sunriver Culture) in 2016.
The Exchange said due to “the celebrity effect”, the company had “severely misled the market and its investors”, and the move has “seriously disrupted normal market operations and order”. The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) had previously punished the pair with a fine and a five-year ban from trading on the Shanghai market for the same offence. It found that the company had violated disclosure rules by announcing and playing up merger and acquisition intentions at a time when they lacked sufficient resources, or support from financial institutions, for such a deal.
In 2017, Vicki and her husband were slapped with a class action suit from hundreds of retail investors who suffered heavy losses after investing in Zhejiang Sunriver Culture.