Hey, you look familiar

Yip Wai Yee & Gwendolyn Ng profile 10 of yesteryear's TV stars and find out what they have been up to

Looking better than ever

1. Benedict Goh, 45, chief client officer of interior design firm Fide Living and supplier of customised skincare for clinics


Benedict Goh, who was the face of The Pyramid Game (left) in the 1990s, is now a supplier of skincare products. PHOTOS: FILE PHOTO, LIM SIN THAI

Best known for: Hosting TV game show The Pyramid Game (1995 - 1997)

Benedict Goh has clearly found the elixir of youth because this guy does not age.

At 45, he can easily pass for someone a decade younger - his boyish good looks reminiscent of that same TV host who charmed audiences on game show The Pyramid Game all those years ago.

He is immediately shy when you point this out.

"No lah, no lah, I've definitely gotten older," he says while frantically waving his hands, before finally conceding that it helps to keep to a regular workout routine.

"I'm no couch potato - or maybe I just have a high metabolic rate," he adds with a flash of his famous dimpled smile.

He is currently single, but was married to an air stewardess for six years before they split in 2009. He declines to divulge more information, but says he has no regrets in his life.

For the past 10 years, he has been representing various Swiss skincare brands and customising them for doctors and plastic surgeons to use at their practices here.

At the same time, the busy bee is chief client officer of interior design firm Fide Living, where he makes pitches of design jobs for homes, offices and retail spaces. He is also an emcee at various charity gigs and private functions on the side.

He quit show business in 1998 when his three-year contract with then Television Corporation of Singapore ended, feeling overworked.

Besides hosting programmes, he also played a number of major roles on Channel 8 dramas - and that was what he found tough to handle.

"Memorising all those lines in Mandarin - that was really hard for me. The hours were also crazy and you really had no time for anything else.

"If you had a lead role, you were the first to be on set and the last to leave. It was exhausting and I'm pretty sure I brought down every shoot with my poor command of the language," says the former star, who appeared in dramas such as Rising Expectations (1997), alongside Li Nanxing and Zoe Tay.

After he left the industry as a full-time artist, he continued to take on the occasional acting gig.

"I never burnt my bridges with the television station and I didn't mind doing some projects here and there. It's fun to go back and work with old friends," he says.

"I'm not a multi-millionaire, but I'm enjoying my life. I travel quite a bit and I see my friends. I can't complain."


Too busy to act

2. Zack Zainal, 48, divisional vice-president of group security at Emirates Airlines


Former television hunk Zack Zainal, who was a police officer in Triple Nine (left), still has a heart for acting.  PHOTOS: ST FILE, COURTESY OF ZACK ZAINAL

Best known for: Hosting Malay Talentime for six seasons (1989 - 1995) and for acting in dramas such as Channel 5's Triple Nine (1996) and Dreamers (1998)

Zack Zainal still gets love from female fans - but only those of a certain age group. He says with a chuckle: "My youngest son asks me why only middle-aged women stop to talk to me and ask to take photos. He says it would be nice if some younger women do the same. I laughed and told him the younger ones probably don't know who I am since I left show business in 2003."

At the height of his popularity in the 1990s, the former Manhunt 1989 champion was active on the acting and hosting fronts, winning fans with his wholesome good looks and easy charisma.

Effectively bilingual in Malay and English, he was also one of a handful of Malay stars at the time who made headway as a crossover star into Channel 5.

On top of that, he had a day job as a police officer, joining the force after graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in history and geography. "The Commissioner of Police gave me a special dispensation to continue my involvement in the performing arts in my free time," he recalls.

Since 2003, he has been working for Emirates Airlines in Dubai, where he is now the divisional vice-president of group security.

He says: "I'd have liked to pursue show business full time, but a friend reminded me that actors' success is inversely related to age. If one is in management, one's value gets higher with time. I took his advice."

Married with four children, aged 14 to 22, the only entertainment-related projects he gets involved in these days are school projects.

"Sometimes, I'd help my kids with their school productions. I wouldn't mind doing some acting again, but that can happen only in my free time, which, these days, is very scarce."


TV teacher now homeschool mum

3. Evelyn Tan, 40, host and homeschool teacher to her four children


Evelyn Tan, who played the lead in Beauty World (left) with Darren Lim. He is now her husband and they live on a boat where she homeschools their four children. PHOTOS: MEDIACORP, TED CHEN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Best known for: Her bubbly teacher roles on drama A Place To Call Home (1997) and sitcom Tuition Fever (1998). She took on the lead role of small-town girl Ivy Chan in the television version of Dick Lee's musical Beauty World (1998).

Fresh-faced at 40, she looks every bit the nation's sweetheart that she was in the 1990s.

Schoolchildren wrote her fan mail wanting to be her friend as they could relate to her friendly teacher roles on television.

"I wasn't extra talented and I wouldn't say I'm a person of great beauty.

"At that point of time, they needed a girl-next-door who was approachable," says Tan, who was dubbed Channel 8's Wu Jie, or "fifth sister" in Mandarin, ranking behind Zoe Tay, Fann Wong, Ann Kok and Phyllis Quek.

The TV darling made the "career switch" to full-time mother on the first day of 2005 when she welcomed eldest daughter Kristen with her actorhusband Darren Lim, 42.

She was then a celebrity newscaster at now-defunct TV station MediaWorks, but was not offered a new contract after the media merger in 2004.

Now 10, Kristen has three younger brothers - Jairus, eight, Way, five, and Elliott, one.

The family of six live in a $700,000 yacht docked at the ONE°15 Marina Club at Sentosa Cove Marina.

Tan has gone from reel to real teacher, homeschooling her children.

She is in charge of academics, while her husband is in charge of outdoor activities.

The world is their classroom. Next year, the adventurous brood plan to set sail to the Japanese island of Okinawa.

They will make stops en route, such as in Taiwan, so as to immerse the children in a Mandarin-speaking environment.

Tan, who takes on event and programme hosting jobs occasionally, says: "I have my hair-pulling moments when my kids don't listen. But being a mother is so much more fulfilling and satisfying."


Er Gu the tour guide

4. Cai Pingkai, 69, tour guide


Even as a tour guide, Cai Pingkai is called Er Gu (left) all the time, after a character from a Channel 8 series that has become synonymous with her. PHOTOS: ZAOBAO FILE, ALPHONSUS CHERN

Best known for: Playing coffee shop owner Er Gu in the long-running Singapore Broadcasting Corporation series Neighbours (1986 to 1988)

Till this day, tour guide Cai Pingkai gets called Er Gu. The endearing epithet is a reference to her iconic character Er Gu (which means second aunt in Mandarin) in the popular 1980s sitcom Neighbours.

The well-meaning "kaypoh" (Hokkien for busybody) character was such a standout in the 510episode drama that the name became synonymous to being a nag or nosy parker.

Cai, who is divorced with a 31- year-old computer engineer son, has embraced all aspects of her most famous role.

She has incorporated the name Er Gu into her e-mail address and for her role in the current Channel 8 drama 118, the producer granted her request for her character to be called Er Gu.

The retired midwife character she plays in the drama is nowhere as "gossipy" as the original Er Gu, though, she says in her signature high-pitched voice.

Before joining the television station full time in 1986, she took up dance and piano lessons, joined a drama society and was a voice actor for children radio dramas.

She left Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in 1990, shortly after Neighbours ended, to take on other jobs while continuing as a part- time actress.

She has been a tour guide for more than a decade, taking groups to countries such as the United States, China and Japan. Her other gigs are emceeing jobs at getai and grassroot events at community clubs. She also conducts acting and hosting classes.

With age catching up, she plans to retire in a few years and travel the world on her own terms.

She says: "I've made friends all over the world, from New York to Malaysia. They often tell me, 'Er Gu, give us a call when you're in town and we will prepare a room for you.'"


More than just a coffee boy

5. Tuen Wai Meng, 55, chauffeur


Tuen Wai Meng made his acting debut as coffee boy Ah Cai in Neighbours (left). PHOTOS: MEDIACORP, MIKE LEE FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Best known for: Playing coffee shop assistant Ah Cai in the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation's Channel 8 series Neighbours (1986 to 1988)

Television's favourite kopiboy Tuen Wai Meng's colourful life could easily rival the plot of a Taiwanese soap opera.

In the iconic TV series Neighbours, he made his acting debut playing an earnest coffee boy called Ah Cai, who was voted the drama's most popular character in an audience poll then.

Before he was an actor, he was a plumber. After he retired from acting, he took on all sorts of odd jobs, including being a lorry driver, a delivery man and a getai host.

In the 1990s, he did construction work in Taiwan, tried behind-the- scenes work as a TV crew member in Hong Kong and acted in dramas in Malaysia.

In the meantime, he also divorced the same woman twice. They have a daughter, 28, and a son, eight.

Now, he is a driver to a "gao fu shuai" (which means "tall, rich and handsome" in Chinese) businessman.

Being an actor is his most relaxing job, says Tuen in Mandarin, as well as his most high-profile one.

"People would ask me for my autograph. Even Indian and Malay people knew who Ah Cai was. It was such a good feeling," he says, adding that older viewers still call him Ah Cai on the streets.

His show business career peaked in the late 1980s, with him starring in dramas such as Pickpockets (1987) and On the Fringe (1988).

He left the station in 1990, he says, for a host of reasons. Singapore Broadcasting Corporation reportedly did not renew his artist contract because he flouted the law when he opened a karaoke lounge without an entertainment licence.

On why he started his sideline then, he says: "I was earning only about $900 a month as an actor. I had to find other means to support my family. I was already married then."

To eke out a living over the past three decades, he took on all sorts of odd jobs.

He occasionally returns to his acting roots. He was last seen as an unrepentant prisoner in Channel 8 drama Tiger Mum (2015).

His heartlander image has scored him roles in short films by award- winning Singapore director Anthony Chen, such as the title role in Karang Guni (2012).

Down to earth about his life choices, Tuen is similarly matter- of-fact when it comes to discussing his acting.

"Honestly, I don't know acting theories," he says. "I understand what the director and the audience are looking for in the role. Then I just portray the character."


Nicholas Lee is still Ronnie

6. Nicholas Lee, 49, managing director of production company XXX Studios


Nicholas Lee, who runs his own production firm now, still gets called Ronnie (left), his character on Under One Roof. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER FILE, DANIEL NEO FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Best known for: Playing Ronnie on TV sitcom Under One Roof (1995 - 2001; 2003)

Strangers on the street are still calling him Ronnie.

"I get recognised a lot, but people don't remember my real name. They definitely remember the name Ronnie, though," says Nicholas Lee, who played the skirtchasing character in iconic sitcom Under One Roof over seven seasons.

"I can't say that I'm surprised. Back then, everyone watched free- to-air TV and the fact that the show ran for as long as it did, it definitely made some sort of impact on people's lives," he reasons.

He stopped acting full time when his acting contract with the TV station, which was then known as Television Corporation of Singapore, ended in 2000. His contract was not renewed.

And so he went behind the scenes instead, partnering his friend Bernard Oh in 2002 to start the production company XXX Studios. The company produces original programmes for various platforms and also has visual effects and event management arms.

Lee says his company's name has nothing to do with pornographic films.

"When I started this, I submitted more than 200 names to my partner, but he rejected them all. So I said, 'If we don't come up with a name soon, we're just going to have to go with XXX'. And that's how we went with this name.

"But yes, several of my clients have stumbled upon porn sites while Googling the company," he says with a laugh.

He takes on the occasional acting gig when he has time, most recently doing guest role spots on shows such as crime drama Code Of Law and period drama Mata Mata.

The proud father of two girls, aged three and 11/2, with his 32- year-old producer wife, Lee gamely shows off his daughters' photographs on his smartphone.

"Sometimes, there are reruns of Under One Roof on TV and I'll point myself out to them, but they're not interested at all. They just want to watch the Pocoyo cartoon."


I not fat anymore

7. Eric Huang, 24, master's in business administration graduate


Eric Huang, who played chubby Terry Khoo (left) in the I Not Stupid series, maintains his trim body by cutting out unhealthy foods and exercising. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ERIC HUANG

Best known for: Playing Terry Khoo in I Not Stupid (2003), the serialised television version of Jack Neo's hit 2002 movie of the same name I not stupid. Or fat.

More than a decade after playing the naive and chubby schoolboy Terry in the I Not Stupid franchise, Eric Huang has morphed into a hunk.

"Once you've been fat, you don't ever want to go back," quips the 1.75m-tall Huang on the telephone from his home in Taipei.

The once rotund boy now hits the gym regularly and diets to maintain his lean 70kg physique.

He started shedding his baby fat when he hit puberty, but it was not until last year that he started using the treadmill seriously, playing basketball and watching his food intake - cutting out fried food and most sugary items.

"I just want to stay healthier. A lot of people who see me in recent years tell me that they cannot recognise me at all," he says, sounding amused.

And while Terry struggled with his studies, Huang has done better.

After high school at United World College here, he left for his native Taiwan to pursue a bachelor's degree in risk management at the National Chengchi University.

He also has a master's in business administration from the same school and is now waiting to enlist for mandatory military service in Taiwan.

"Director Neo contacted me a few years ago to ask me to play a role in Ah Boys To Men, but I turned it down because I was in the middle of college exams.

"Acting was really fun, but it's more important to have professional qualifications. I'll most likely end up working in the corporate world," says the bachelor, who was discovered at open auditions for I Not Stupid (2002).

The elder of two children born to a housewife and a furniture company manager, he appeared in a few more films after his debut, such as Homerun (2003) and Colour Of Hope (2007), but never wanted to be a full-time actor, he says.

"My friends will watch I Not Stupid and see my name on the credits. They'll joke that Terry in the movie is me and when I tell them that it actually is me, they don't really believe me."


Wushu workaholic

8. Vincent Ng, 39, founder of martial arts school Wufang Singapore


Vincent Ng best known for playing Monkey King Sun Wukong in period drama Legend Of The Eight Immortals (left). PHOTOS: SHIN MIN, CHEW SENG KIM

Best known for: Playing Monkey King Sun Wukong in period drama Legend Of The Eight Immortals (1998) and cop Ricky Soh in the crime-busting Channel 5 series Heartlanders (2002- 2005)

Martial arts champion Vincent Ng is learning new moves these days - on a yoga mat. He has been perfecting his poses in a 200-hour yoga teacher's course over the past month or so.

But do not count on signing up for classes with this ripped bachelor. The wushu coach is not planning on a career switch. The yoga lessons are part of his journey of self-discovery as he hits 40 this year. He is contemplating penning another fitness book, picking up cooking and making an action movie.

Recounting his past workaholic lifestyle, he says: "I was coaching seven days a week. I felt bad for not having time for my family and friends. I would forget to attend weddings and birthday celebrations."

When he started Martial Arts School Wufang Singapore in 2004, it had about 200 students. Now it has more than 1,000.

Classes are held at the Civil Service Club in Balestier and at community centres.

He has five Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes trophies from the Star Awards - all of which are on display at his sleek bachelor pad in Sentosa Cove.

Despite leaving MediaCorp after his contract ended in 2007, his healthy sportsman image still gets him endorsement deals. He can be seen downing a bottle of chrysanthemum tea in a new Yeo's drink advertisement.

No wonder that passers-by on the streets of Singapore, Malaysia and China still recognise him.

He says: "An auntie asked me recently what drama I was filming. She feels that she still sees me around and has the impression that I'm still an actor."


Kid monk turns hunk

9. Cao Jun, 27, actor


Cao Jun, who played the kid monk (left) on Channel 8’s The Royal Monk series, is pursuing a full-time career in acting in China. PHOTOS: MEDIACORP, BEIJING STORM ACTION MEDIA

Best known for: Playing child monk Kai Xin in the Channel 8 period drama The Royal Monk (1997) and its sequel The Return Of The Royal Monk (1998)

Chinese actor Cao Jun can heave a sigh of relief that his days of being bald are over.

At the age of eight, he shaved his head for his debut television role as the martial arts-wielding monk Kai Xin and was teased by schoolmates and endured multiple mosquito bites on his head during filming.

"I couldn't grow out my hair for a few years because we were filming The Royal Monk and its sequel. My schoolmates loved to snatch the cap that I wore to school. It really made me mad," he says over the telephone from Beijing, where he is based.

The Royal Monk was the most- watched TV series here in 1997. A sequel aired the following year, making Cao one of the biggest child stars of the 1990s.

All grown up now, the baby- faced actor sports a full head of hair, a buff physique and the same charming smile.

An acting major graduate from the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, he is a full-time actor in China. He has starred in 25 drama serials and three films.

He recently played a civilian soldier in war drama Min Bing Kang Bao (2015). He also plays a nimble thief in a yet-to-be aired period drama The Youngster.

The bachelor calls Kai Xin his "gateway to acting", though rarely anyone calls him by that name now. "Without that opportunity, I don't know what I would be doing now," says Cao, the only child of parents who own a dry-cleaning shop in Shanghai.

He is confident about the future. He says: "I'll take on new dramas and I just have to work hard at being convincing in my new roles."


TV show host goes behind the scenes

10. Lauretta Alabons, 45, co-owner of concert promoter LAMC Productions and founder of comedy events company LA Comedy Live


Lauretta Alabons, once the face of Rollin’ Good Times (left) on Channel 5, now brings major music acts to Singapore. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER FILE, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Best known for: Hosting Channel 5's music variety show Rollin' Good Times and entertainment news programme Showbuzz

As co-owner of LAMC Productions, which she founded with her American husband Ross Knudson in 2001, she is one of Singapore's most prominent concert promoters. Lauretta Alabons has brought in some of the world's biggest music acts over the years, such as Metallica, Deep Purple, Muse and Snow Patrol.

Last Thursday, the company brought in the legendary singer- songwriter Johnny Marr of The Smiths and, in the coming months, will promote concerts for Def Leppard and bassist Nathan East.

Alabons also founded LA Comedy Live in 2012, which has since staged sold-out shows here by top comedians such as Russell Peters, John Cleese and Chris Tucker.

For each and every event, she is "absolutely hands-on", adding that there is "none of that 'I am the boss' nonsense" among her 10 staff.

Her passion for her work keeps her going - something that was perhaps lacking during her television hosting days.

"It's not that I didn't enjoy TV hosting - I did. But it got to the point where I felt tired with it all and needed a break. You were also at the mercy of television producers, which wasn't necessarily the best thing."

Outside of work, the multi-racial beauty of Filipino, Eurasian and Indian descent is a doting mother to her 14-year-old son, George.

"Naturally, I hope to be able to pass on the business to my son. So I'll tell him things like, 'Hey, George, we're bringing in Russell Peters soon. Why don't you study his comedy a bit and find out what he's all about?'"

She adds: "I love what I do every single day and I even get to work closely with my husband, who is always so charming and wonderful. What more can I ask for?"

Other iconic TV faces: Then and now

DARRYL DAVID, 44, Temasek Polytechnic's School of Design's deputy director


Darryl David was best known for hosting Channel 5 game show The Pyramid Game in the 1990s. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER FILE, LAU FOOK KONG

Best known for: Hosting Channel 5 game show The Pyramid Game in the 1990s

He was once the host who looked on as contestants vied for the top prize on The Pyramid Game.Now it is his turn to be in the hot seat. Spotted mingling with residents alongside politicians, the bets are on that he is a potential contender in the impending general election. When contacted, he declined to comment on speculation that he is entering politics.

The eloquent David was a sportscaster on television and an events emcee. Of Indian and Chinese heritage, he had a Mandarin-speaking role on Channel 8 sitcom Don't Worry, Be Happy! (1996) and also starred in Channel 5 sitcom, Happy Belly (1996).

After bidding goodbye to television, he earned a business degree and became a polytechnic lecturer. He has been at Temasek Polytechnic for about 14 years, and is now deputy director of its School of Design.

He is married to a lawyer, 41, and they have two children - a son, seven, and a daughter, four.

NORLEENA SALIM, 41, taking a break in Whitsundays, Australia


Norleena Salim played the tubby neighbour Rosnah (left) in iconic TV sitcom Under One Roof. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER FILE, DESMOND FOO

Best known for: Playing Rosnah in Channel 5 TV sitcom Under One Roof (1994 - 2001, 2003)

Looking at Norleena Salim now - or Leena, as she prefers to be called - it is hard to believe she played the tubby neighbour Rosnah in iconic TV sitcom Under One Roof. After all, she has reportedly lost about half of her body weight since leaving the show, going from her peak at more than 100kg during her Rosnah days to about 60-plus kg now.

Much of the weight dropped when she was a singer on board the Holland America Line cruise ship for four years from 2006 to 2010, which required her to work seven days a week.

She then returned to Singapore to work on various musical and theatre projects, before relocating to Yangon, Myanmar, to work as the managing editor of media and publishing firm Myanmore.

She now lives in Whitsundays, Australia, with her Australian partner, where she plans to take a break from work for a while.

JAMES LYE, 46, believed to be in banking


James Lye famously played inspector Mike Chin in Channel 5's Triple Nine. PHOTOS: HANDOUT, BT CORPORATE GOLF LEAGUE

Best known for: Playing inspector Mike Chin in Channel 5's Triple Nine (1995 - 1999) and the titular superhero role of VR Man (1998)

Anyone who watched television in the 1990s would remember the hunky James Lye, whose manly charisma won over the hearts of many female fans.

The model-turned-actor is perhaps best known for playing the suave inspector Mike Chin on Channel 5's police procedural drama Triple Nine alongside actress Wong Li Lin, whom many viewers at the time had hoped would get together with him in real life.

That never happened, but he did tie the knot with another celebrity, TV host Diana Ser, in 2004. The couple have three children, aged five to nine.

He declined to be interviewed, but is believed to be working in the banking industry. Perhaps he did not want to dig up memories of having once been the star of VR Man, the widely panned Channel 5 superhero drama.

XIE SHAOGUANG, 54, last spotted as a monk in Malaysia


Xie Shaoguang was known to breathe life into his characters. One of his iconic roles was the madcap monk character Jigong in the period drama The Legends Of Jigong. PHOTOS: MEDIACORP, THE NEW PAPER FILE

Best known for: Being a versatile, skilled actor behind iconic roles such as the monk Jigong in Channel 8's The Legends Of Jigong (1996)

Acclaimed actor Xie Shaoguang was known to breathe life into his characters. One of his iconic roles was the madcap monk character Jigong in the period drama The Legends Of Jigong.

Now, it is a case of real life imitating reel life. He reportedly became an ordained monk in Johor, Malaysia, two years ago.

Retiring from show business in 2005, he moved to Johor where he ran an animal shelter.

He left behind an illustrious acting career, which earned both critical and popular acclaim at the annual Star Awards.

During his time, he bagged five Best Actor and two Best Supporting Actor Star Awards trophies.

He also snagged the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste award consecutively for 10 years from 1995 to 2004.

He was given the All-Time Favourite Artiste award in 2005.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Hey, you look familiar'. Print Edition | Subscribe