A whole generation has grown up watching her on national television, but after three decades in the industry, Zoe Tay still looks radiant, timeless and beautiful. Who would guess that she’s already past the big 5-0? The reigning Queen of Caldecott celebrates her 51st birthday on Jan 10, and we’d like to celebrate with seven reasons why Ah Jie is still so well-loved.
Text: Joy Fang
Additional text: Zoe Zeng
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1. She came from humble beginnings
Who would have thought that a girl raised in a pig farm in Lim Chu Kang would one day be the Queen of Caldecott? We’re sure Zoe didn’t either. The youngest of six children, Zoe was hit by tragedy at a young age of three when she lost her mother to an accident. Her father later remarried and had another daughter. While the former model, who won Star Search back in 1988, went on to nab the Best Actress Award at the Star Awards for Golden Pillow in 1996, she mentioned in an interview with The Straits Times that her early showbiz years were tough, and she didn’t know if she even liked acting. A self-professed unambitious and simple girl, Zoe sometimes reflects on how far she has come. She came from a kampung and an ordinary family, she said in another interview, and yet she somehow managed to survive in showbiz for so many years. Respect.
Image: The Straits Times
2. She still looks fabulous
Age is just a number, and Zoe is the perfect example for this adage. Still a highly bankable star, the poised and classy actress was named L’Oreal’s Age Perfect anti-ageing skincare ambassador in 2017, joining the ranks of A-listers Julianne Moore and Li Bing Bing. And it’s no wonder why she was chosen—Zoe is incredibly well-maintained for her age, boasting a glowing complexion. At the press conference that announced her ambassadorship, Zoe said she’s proud of her age and believes a woman exudes different types of charm at different stages of her life. Wise words. She’s also a veritable style icon, often seen looking like a beguiling goddess in awards shows and events. Psst, she has never had work done on her face!
3. Her career is still going strong
Who can forget the moment when, after 21 years from her first Best Actress win, Zoe finally snagged her second Best Actress trophy in 2017 for her role as a a cancer-stricken nurse in You Can Be an Angel 2? Everyone cheered, from her colleagues to the media—a clear indication of Zoe’s star power. Onstage, Zoe quipped, “Long time no see. I’ve already given birth to three kids.” Jokes aside, although she admits that she’s no longer at the peak of her career, the veteran still acts regularly, albeit limiting herself to one or two shows a year to ensure that she’s spending more time with her family. She said in an interview that she’s happy with the slower pace as it keeps her balanced.
Photo: Lianhe Zaobao
4. She’s very likeable
Scroll through her Instagram feed and you can see that Zoe is not afraid to goof around and poke fun at herself. She even posts make up-free snaps—but still looks fresh and natural in those shots (envious much!). She’s known in the industry to be a warm and nurturing person who is encouraging and kind to her juniors. In fact, she describes herself as a bit of a “ding dong” in real life, contrary to her glamorous persona onscreen. You can see her “real self” on social media, she revealed.
5. She’s very happily married
In the celebrity world, marriages can often be short-lived. But Zoe gives us hope that romance is not dead. Since getting married to her pilot husband Philip Chionh in 2001 (they were engaged in 1995), their relationship has been solid as a rock. While she avoids posting photos of him on her Instagram account, she talks about him often during interviews, sometimes joking that he’s not a very romantic person or lamenting that her sons prefer him over her. Recently, she posted his Christmas gift for them—a pair of matching watches. Philip is often described as her anchor—apparently he reads through her Instagram photos if they involve the family—and he used to reply her fan mail for her when she was too busy. Down-to-earth, steady and sweet—everything one wants in a partner.
Photo: The Straits Times
6. She’s a great mum
It’s clear Zoe adores her three sons Brayden, Ashton and Nathan, who are between eight and 13 years old. When she is not filming, she does everyday tasks such as driving the boys to tuition classes and doing housework, and tries to spend time with them. They are a constant feature on her Instagram page (although their faces are not shown), and she often describes them with affection, coupled with amusement and a touch of dry humour. Snaps of her recent family trip to Japan showed her happily skiing with her sons (she joked in her captions that she can’t keep up with them), making snow angels and eating a 14-cm high ice cream cone (which she embarrassingly dropped). Another video on her Instagram showed her expressing disbelief and pride at her eldest son’s first attempt to make dinner for his brothers while she and her hubby went out for a date. “Could it be true? When did you learn to cook this?” read the Mandarin caption that accompanied a photo of a piece of fried chicken drumlet. “Looks like the two of us can go out without worrying. I feel so moved, you have really grown up,” she added. Aww.
7. She fights for causes
To mark her 30th anniversary in show business, Zoe initiated a campaign in June to raise awareness for women’s issues such as domestic violence, workplace sexual harassment and date rape, as well as a series of videos on those topics. She revealed during an interview that she was moved after visiting a centre for victims of human trafficking in Cambodia and wanted to do something meaningful to cast light on issues that are not commonly acknowledged. Her team, with the help of Mediacorp and The Celebrity Agency, embarked on this project voluntarily. Beautiful and with a heart of gold. ‘Nuff said.