Stanley Ho's daughter Josie, the 'rebellious' heiress

She is known for her individuality, disinterest in her family's business empire, and for being an indie rock musician. Sylvester Ng meets the unpredictable Josie Ho, daughter of late Macau gambling king Stanley Ho

Those who do not know her may be misled by her cool appearance and think she is an heiress on a pedestal. But the first time I met Josie Ho at a Cannes Film Festival party, we bonded immediately and I realised she is a forthright and loyal person.

This photo shoot was rescheduled several times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and her casino magnate father's death at the end of May. Though I thought it would never materialise, she did the shoot and interview like a true professional once she had time to grieve.

One night at around 3am, she sent me a text and cheekily suggested that perhaps for this fashion shoot, the styling team can depart from her cool, edgy image and give her a softer, more feminine look.

It may be difficult to imagine, but beneath her rocker appearance lies a delicate, beating heart.

Father's Day this year is the first her family spent without their patriarch, Stanley Ho. Josie posted her wedding photos on social media in a tribute to her father. The pictures are from her 2003 marriage in Australia to actor and producer Conroy Chan, where her father walked her down the aisle.

She shared details of the day, with her words revealing the sense of loss her father's death left her.

Josie is the youngest daughter Stanley Ho had with his second wife Lucina Lam. He had 17 children with his four wives. The "gambling king", as he was often called, showered extra attention on Josie in his lifetime, saying she reminded him of his younger self.

She is the only member of the Ho clan working in entertainment.

In her interview with Icon, she says of her father: "It's just his passion for life and how he chooses to work very hard and play hard as well. So, I choose to work in a high-pressure industry; at the same time, I enjoy being 'in the moment'."

The 45-year-old says her attitude towards work has been deeply influenced by her father - to not be afraid of falling and to pick herself up when she falls and start anew. She has held on to this belief in her years in entertainment - that even when falling, fall with a smile.

But her personality as a child is a far cry from who she is now.

I'm very lucky. Whenever my career is at a low, I'll meet someone who comes and gives me guidance and friendship and encourages me to go forward and fight for the career I love. My life's greatest accomplishment is having so many mentors I respect.

ACTRESS-SINGER JOSIE HO

She says: "I was a very introverted and shy kid, I liked being in my own shell and didn't really step out of my comfort zone."

Her interest in entertainment was sparked by her older sister Pansy, who had a group of Asian superstar friends. Now one of the richest businesswomen in Asia and the group executive chairman and managing director of Shun Tak Holdings, Pansy had worked on the 1981 TVB drama Break Through with the late Danny Chan Pakkeung. She was also close to late actor-singers Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung.

Josie often followed her sister on outings and was in and out of film sets and the backstage area of concerts in her teenage years. She knew then that she wanted to work in entertainment and often asked questions about the industry, with celebrity friends giving her advice.

EVERY FAILURE WAS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

Josie did not have a smooth career. She signed on to Rock Records as a singer at 18 in 1993, but had a hard time going mainstream and was even mocked by the public, who thought she was not suited to be a singer. She later left the label.

She says: "I think there were two major turning points in my music career. One was having my contract with my label terminated, and the other was when I decided to independently do rock music."

When one door closes, another opens.

She says: "Mainstream labels felt that my music was too eccentric, so they gave up on me. I had no other choice then, so I changed focus and went into acting. That's how I started starring in movies."

As a newbie, she was mainly relegated to supporting roles but, to her, these were precious learning experiences.

"Though I was without a music label then, I still continued my singing lessons with my mentor, who gave me good advice about finding the distinctive quality in my own voice, instead of imitating how others sing. That is probably the most important lesson I've learnt as a singer," she says.

She got to know the indie band LMF. "We began playing together and everyone hung out with everyone - we're like a family now. LMF later encouraged me to start my own rock band, Josie & The Uni Boys."

The band, formed in 2010, is made up of Josie, Kevin Lee, Dee Lam, Don Cruz and Chan Siu-kei. They have released eight albums in 10 years.

She says: "I'm very lucky. Whenever my career is at a low, I'll meet someone who comes and gives me guidance and friendship and encourages me to go forward and fight for the career I love. My life's greatest accomplishment is having so many mentors I respect."

NEW MOVIE PROJECTS

While Covid-19 has led studios worldwide to postpone production and delay new releases, Josie has announced several big projects.

In August, entertainment trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter ran a story about 852 Films, the production firm founded in 2009 by Josie and her husband, collaborating with French director and producer Luc Besson. In 2011, he produced The Lady - a biographical film starring Michelle Yeoh as Myanmarese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Josie got to know Besson because of their mutual acquaintance, Yeoh.

852 Films will work with Besson on two action features and both will star Josie as the leading lady. The first is slated to start shooting at the end of next year.

She is also working with English director Tony Kaye on a music-themed movie about her relationship with Hong Kong.

There is also a movie project with American screenwriter Bruce Wagner (Maps To The Stars, 2014) titled Marvel Universe (no connection to the comics) at the end of this year.

Right before the pandemic hit, Josie finished work on two films - Rajah and Habit - which are in post-production. She told Icon that she invited Golden Globe-winning Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors, 2007 to 2010) to film Rajah with her in Sarawak, Malaysia.

The film is executive produced by her husband and the story is based on Sir James Brooke, a British adventurer and the first White Rajah of Sarawak from 1841 until his death in 1868, and his exploitation of the locals in Sarawak.

"This is my first time taking on a part in a movie set in colonial times. While the story is set in the 1840s, the issues of racism, social justice, violence and environmental damage brought up in the film are still relevant today."

Earlier this year, streaming service Netflix introduced 106 Singaporean films and series to its catalogue. In The Room (2015), an erotic drama directed by Eric Khoo and starring Josie, was among the titles. The story is set in a guest room in a hotel between the 1940s and 1990s and the love and relationships that change alongside it.

Recalling her experiences, she says: "I learnt a lot from Eric and producer Shi Nan-sun. Before the shoot, the team had four days of rehearsals. This is almost unbelievable for a Hong Kong producer - to get all the artists to come and just take part in rehearsals - it's a luxury.

"But after those rehearsals, filming did go more smoothly and every actor had a better understanding of the subtleties of every scene. The experiencehelped me a lot and will be useful in my future making movies, be it acting or producing."

Josie, at 45, has had 27 years of experience in show business, but retains the curiosity and humble attitude of a rookie. She is continuously learning in hopes that one day, she will achieve a seminal breakthrough.


•Translated by Jan Lee

•This article first appeared in Icon Singapore magazine. Go to www.iconsingapore.com and follow @IconSingapore on Instagram and Icon Magazine Singapore on Facebook. The October issue is out at selected bookshops. The digital edition is available at subscribe.sphmagazines.com.sg/icon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2020, with the headline 'The 'rebellious' heiress'. Print Edition | Subscribe