THE LIFE! INTERVIEW WITH LIN PEIFEN

The shy girl who became a talkative DJ

Lin hosting TV series, Secret Singapore, and holidaying in Macau (above) in 2011 with her dad, mum and fiance Lie Wei Xiang. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
Lin hosting TV series, Secret Singapore, and holidaying in Macau (above) in 2011 with her dad, mum and fiance Lie Wei Xiang. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
Lin hosting TV series, Secret Singapore (above), and holidaying in Macau in 2011 with her dad, mum and fiance Lie Wei Xiang. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Lin hosting TV series, Secret Singapore (above), and holidaying in Macau in 2011 with her dad, mum and fiance Lie Wei Xiang. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Lin Peifen at age six and in 2005 with Taiwan rock band Mayday (above), whom she interviewed for radio. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
Lin Peifen at age six and in 2005 with Taiwan rock band Mayday (above), whom she interviewed for radio. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
Lin Peifen at age six (above) and in 2005 with Taiwan rock band Mayday, whom she interviewed for radio. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
Lin Peifen at age six (above) and in 2005 with Taiwan rock band Mayday, whom she interviewed for radio. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIN PEIFEN
DJ Lin Peifen wants to start a family after getting married but she says she will not give up radio completely. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
DJ Lin Peifen wants to start a family after getting married but she says she will not give up radio completely. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Lin Peifen is one of the few bilingual radio DJs who has made a successful crossover to TV as well as host events

While waiting for the photographer to set up equipment for her photo shoot, radio DJ and TV host Lin Peifen suddenly starts whispering to this reporter.

"Did you notice how cute all the service staff are here?" the 31-year-old says with a cheeky grin, referring to the wait staff working in the lobby lounge at the InterContinental Singapore, where this interview is being held.

She giggles girlishly and says: "They look Middle Eastern or Mediterranean or something, all so handsome. But don't tell my fiance I said this."

Lin, who is tying the knot with boyfriend Lie Wei Xiang, a 32-year-old computer engineer, at the same hotel this week, then jokes about how she picked Greece as their honeymoon destination because "the men are all so beautiful there but my fiance thinks we're just enjoying the scenery".

She had met this reporter only for the past one hour but already, she talks to you as if you were a close friend. It is a sign of how personable she is - a characteristic that has contributed to her popularity in a radio and, more recently, TV career of 14 years.

At the MediaCorp Radio Awards last year, she won the Most Popular Radio Personality Award (Y.E.S. 93.3FM), a prize decided through public fan voting. On Mandarin radio station Y.E.S. 93.3FM, she and DJ Xie Jiafa co-host Morning Fanatics, the No. 1 morning radio show in Singapore, according to a listenership survey conducted by AC Nielsen.

At the Star Awards last year, which celebrates the best and most popular stars on local TV, she was nominated for Best Info-ed Programme Host for her work on the talk show Let's Talk Season 3. She lost to Belinda Lee for Find Me A Singaporean Season 3.

For the past four editions of the Star Awards (from 2011 to this year), she was shortlisted for the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes award, an indicator of the most well-liked names working at the TV station.

She is a regular fixture at public roadshows and media events, hosting star-studded movie press conferences and glitzy red-carpet events to product brand launches and other promotional events.

MediaCorp Radio's assistant vice-president of Chinese programming, Ms Rebecca Yap, says Lin is the company's "yao qian shu", meaning "money tree" in Mandarin.

Says Ms Yap, 40, who has been colleagues and friends with Lin for the past six years: "Clients really love Peifen. She's the rare species who is very confident as a bilingual host, so she can engage a wide audience. She looks pleasant and is very approachable and friendly - people love that about her."

And this is about someone who says she was "a rather shy kid" growing up.

Lin, who attended CHIJ Our Lady Of Good Counsel and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, adds: "I was never good at chatting with anybody. I was always terrified of doing presentations in front of the class.

"I liked to talk, but only if I was with my close friends. Whenever I'm with them, as soon as I start talking, I can't stop."

Which is why she felt that a career in radio would be "perfect". She says: "In radio, I can talk and have conversations with other people, but it's in the privacy of the recording studio. I can still be myself, without any pressures of stage fright."

Radio played an important part in her growing-up years. She says: "I remember listening to a lot of radio, especially Capital 95.8FM. Back then, TV was not broadcast all day, but radio had longer hours."

She recalls standing in front of the bathroom mirror as a child and imitating the way radio DJs speak. "I would pretend to read the news the way they did it. It was just something fun I did," she says sheepishly.

When she was 15, she joined a radio DJ contest organised by English-language radio station 987FM, but did not make it past the first round of auditions.

Three years later, during her second year at Hwa Chong Junior College, she joined - and won - a radio DJ contest organised by Y.E.S. 93.3FM.

The win led to a part-time DJ contract for the then 18-year-old to host various weekend time slots for the station, where she has been working since.

It was in the last year of her communication studies at Nanyang Technological University for a bachelor's degree that she was offered a full-time DJ contract to host the night-time show from 8 to 11pm, five nights a week.

She says: "That was a crazy year as I worked on my final-year project in the day and then rushed from Jurong to the station to do the show at night.

"It was exhausting but I had so much fun then. I wouldn't have managed it if I didn't have the passion for the radio."

Her parents did not understand her career choice at first. Her 65-year-old father works in sales for an engineering firm and her 63-year-old mother is a housewife.

Lin, the younger of two daughters, says: "They thought it would be a very unstable line of work. But after they listened to my shows and heard positive feedback from relatives, they realised this is something that I would be pretty good at."

These days, talking on the radio has become almost second nature to her. Her show, which she has been doing for the past two years, runs from 6 to 10am on weekdays.

"Sometimes, I leave the house only after 5.30am and that's cutting it really close. But it's so difficult to get out of bed. Usually, all I can do after waking up is brush my teeth, change my clothes and I'm off," says Lin, who drives from her condominium in the north-east to Caldecott Hill.

Being able to remain as dishevelled as she wants is another reason she thinks doing radio is "great".

She says: "I don't have to care about what I wear or how I look. The success of a good radio show depends only on my voice and what I say."

When she does put in the effort, she cleans up well, which is probably why this radio DJ has managed to successfully crossover to the TV screen.

Going against the stereotype of having a "face for radio" - the idea that someone has broadcasting talent but is limited to radio because of his plain features - she has won a number of fans taken with her fresh-faced look.

Her Instagram account (@limpeifen) has more than 19,900 followers and fans write comments on how "pretty" and "gorgeous" she looks in pictures.

Some fans treat her like a star, sending her handmade gifts, screaming for her and waving banners with her name at public events. She says: "It's really quite embarrassing. I'm not used to the idol treatment."

Lin landed her first TV gig in 2004, a year after doing full-time radio, although not as a host.

Instead, she was seen on TV game show PSC Nite as the pretty face in charge of opening mystery boxes. The mystery-box segment is a part of the show where she reveals the hidden prizes in boxes.

With a laugh, she says: "The great thing about that was I got a lot of free manicures because my hands were featured so much in the show.

"I was quite nervous about it at first, even though it was just opening a few boxes. I never imagined that I would be asked to appear on TV at all, but since I was given the chance, I thought, why not?"

She lent her gift of the gab to the goggle box when she co-hosted variety show Where In Singapore (2005) with veteran actor Chew Chor Meng. In the series, she and Chew trekked through Singapore and completed various tasks along the way.

But it is the talk show Let's Talk, which she co-hosts with Lee Teng, where she really got to show off her TV hosting skills. Now into the fourth season, the show discusses issues that Singaporean youth are concerned about, ranging from pre- marital sex to surviving school.

It is a show that she feels "very proud of". She says: "When we first did it, there were concerns about whether the students on the show would be talkative enough because, you know, Singaporeans are known to take quite a while to warm up before they share their opinions. But Lee Teng and I have a certain chemistry and I think these students are comfortable enough to talk to us about their issues. It's just been a great experience."

She adds with a chuckle: "Doing that show also makes me feel younger. I know what young people like and I learn the slang that they use."

Last year, she made headway into Channel 5 when she was asked to host English-language travelogue series Secret Singapore, where she is seen exploring lesser-known places around the country.

She has been offered the occasional acting gig too.

She has had supporting roles on Channel 8 dramas such as thriller Breakout (2011), as the feisty ex-girlfriend of Christopher Lee's character; romance drama 96°C Cafe (2013), where she played a radio DJ; and Gonna Make It (2013), where she played a hairstylist.

While filming Breakout, she was all nerves as she was required to slap Lee. "I kept asking him whether it was really okay to slap him and he was like, 'Just do it'. I mean, that's Christopher Lee, you know? It's a very scary thing, having to slap him," she recalls, grinning.

Filming 96°C Cafe brought on another bout of anxiety as she had to get romantic with veteran actor Tay Ping Hui. "We had to hug and hold hands, but I was so awkward because I didn't know what to do. Luckily, he was so gracious and made me feel less awkward."

She will take on more acting roles should the opportunity arise, but radio is still her priority.

She says: "It's where I feel the most comfortable. When I'm talking to listeners in the studio, it really feels like I'm having a casual conversation with friends."

She is clearly riding high in her career but she says she may take on less work when she gets married.

"Of course, I hope to be in this line for a long time but I want to start a family too, so I'll have to find a good balance. I know I'll want to spend as much time as possible with the baby.

"But I won't quit radio completely. In this line, if you stop for too long, it's very hard to get back into it."

She knew her boyfriend from junior college, but they started dating only in the final year of university.

The differences in their personalities complement each other, she says. "I'm quite an impatient person but he is always very calm. I tend to get quite flustered easily but he's always so patient."

Several companies have come on board to sponsor different aspects of their wedding. "I'm okay with having sponsors as long as they follow my vision for the wedding," she says breezily.

The garrulous DJ is at a loss for words only at one point during the two-hour interview. Asked why she thinks she strikes a chord with the public, she is suddenly shy.

After much consideration, she says: "I guess I'm very real. What you hear on air and what you see on TV, it's all me. What you see is what you get."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

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