Why stars hide their marriage

Asian stars do it to maintain appeal but Singapore celebrities buck the trend

Marriage news from singers such as (from far right) S.H.E.'s Ella Chen and Selina Jen, seen here with their third member Hebe Tien, was received warmly perhaps because their fans had grown up with them and were of marriageable ages themselves.
Marriage news from singers such as (from far right) S.H.E.'s Ella Chen and Selina Jen, seen here with their third member Hebe Tien, was received warmly perhaps because their fans had grown up with them and were of marriageable ages themselves. PHOTO: HIM INTERNATIONAL MUSIC

To be a popular Asian idol in show business, one has to have the looks, a certain X factor... and also remain single.

As frivolous as it sounds (not to mention ridiculous), appearing to be single and available does seem to have an effect on the image and popularity of certain celebrities. Or at least, that is what certain Asian stars and their management believe.

Apparently, once a celebrity gets married, he is instantly less desirable - the fantasy collapses like a house of cards. Otherwise, why would so many stars go out of their way to hide their marriages?

Last week, American Mandopop singer Anthony Neely, 28, revealed that he has been married for the past four years and is a father to a three-year-old girl.

He confessed it in a video clip posted on his Facebook page, saying amid tears he decided to finally tell the truth "out of love" for his family.

His wife, whose identity he did not reveal, had "suffered" in silence over the years, he said, while his daughter kept asking him why he never took her to outdoor playgrounds to play.

Fans were shocked by the admission, but were generally supportive of it.

Not all stars, however, have been as fortunate.

When Japanese singer-actor Jin Akanishi, 30, formerly of boyband Kat-tun, was discovered by the media in 2012 to be secretly married to actress Meisa Kuroki, his agency Johnny's Entertainment was reportedly so angry, it penalised him by cancelling his entire concert tour and making him pay the venue cancellation fees out of his own pocket.

Reportedly, the company's president Johnny Kitagawa told reporters Akanishi should have considered the consequences that marriage would have on his career.

An official statement from the agency said the heart-throb "deviated from the rules of etiquette as an adult member of society" by not informing the company of the marriage and asking for permission first.

Who said marriage is something between only two people?

Certainly not Jackie Chan, who claimed he hid his marriage to actress Lin Feng-jiao for more than 10 years out of fear that his fans would commit suicide.

He might not have been entirely delusional in his belief.

Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun, whose research interests include popular culture, believes certain stars find it crucial to appear single as marriage "represents the end of youthful innocence, which would be difficult for younger fans to accept because they are precisely attracted to these traits of the young celebrities".

He adds that being single for those stars "signifies total devotion to their fans".

This may be why artist contracts for many South Korean pop groups and idols have a strict "no dating" rule - having a partner would distract them; fans should be their No. 1 priority, it would seem.

Silly? Think again.

When Taiwan-based singer-actor Wu Chun finally confirmed news of his secret marriage and fatherhood last year after years of denial, guest relations executive Elisa Chua, 23, lost all interest in him.

She says: "I thought Wu Chun was just really good-looking. He cannot sing or act well, so as soon as he got married, he lost many fans who could no longer fantasise about being with him, which was all they really cared about."

However, she still supports Neely "because he can actually sing".

The trend of hiding marriages, however, appears to be more prevalent among Asian celebrities - particularly East Asian ones - as opposed to those in the West.

University student Huang Shanshan, 21, believes it is because there is a general belief that "in Hollywood, marriages often don't last".

Professing to be a big fan of actor Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, 2011), she said she was not at all upset when he got married to actress Scarlett Johansson in 2008.

"They broke up a few years later and he got married to actress Blake Lively so quickly afterwards. Hollywood stars get in and out of marriages all the time, so as a fan, you don't really take their relationships seriously," she says.

So, when can celebrities announce their marriages? They are, after all, only human and would eventually want to settle down.

Prof Liew argues that fans are probably more accepting when their favourite stars get older and reach typical marriage ages.

He cites the example of Taiwanese girl group S.H.E., whose members Selina Jen and Ella Chen publicly announced in 2011 and 2012 their marriages when they tied the knot at the respective ages of 30 and 31.

He says of the group, which were formed in 2001: "The fans are happy for them because these fans have grown up with the group and are at marriageable ages themselves, or even already married."

In Singapore, celebrities tend to be quite open about their relationships and marriages. It is almost unheard of here that a local star would feel the need to hide a marriage in order to protect his image.

Ms Ivy Low, head of the Artiste Management Unit at MediaCorp, says: "Dating, marriage and starting a family are all important events in our lives and ought to be celebrated.

"Besides, in today's digital world, social media has made it impossible to mask news or mystify an artist like an idol. We encourage artists to be true to who they are, embrace the fame that comes with their craft and to seek the support of fans through their work performances."

Ms Chua presumes fans do not mind local stars dating and getting married because, ironically, they are "a lot more accessible".

She says: "It is not surprising if you knew a Singapore star somehow. For example, he or she could have been your classmate or your sister's classmate.

"It takes away that fantasy that many Singaporean fans have for, say, a K-pop idol because it's so much harder to get to know them - except in your own head."

Still, it is important to remember that fans' infatuation with their idols is not always so rational.

For instance, Ms Huang was not pleased Taiwanese-American singer Wang Leehom, 38, tied the knot with Columbia University graduate student Li Jinglei, 28, last year.

Referring to rumours that Wang is gay, she says:"I'd rather him be gay because then no woman can have him."


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Secret unions

Anthony Neely, 28

Who: American Mandopop singer known for his signature husky vocals and best-selling 2012 album, Wake Up

Marriage kept secret for: Four years

What happened: Last week, he admitted amid tears in an online video clip posted on his Facebook page that he has been married for four years and also has a three-year-old daughter.

He decided to confess the truth out of love for his family, he said.

"I love my wife, I don't want my wife to keep suffering because of my decision to keep this a secret. I love my daughter and I don't want to keep explaining to her why I can never take her out to the park and play," he said.

Consequences: The Facebook post was "liked" by almost 13,500 people and the comments were overwhelmingly supportive.

A Facebook user by the name of Tina Square wrote: "What we love is you, your songs and your performances. Hope you, your wife and lovely daughter can be happy forever."

Meanwhile, netizen Alyssa Liu wrote in Chinese: "Your good music won't be influenced by your marital status. Will continue to support you and also wish you and your family lots of happiness."

Looks like Neely has emerged unscathed by his confession. But maybe that is because the former One Million Star contestant can actually sing and has his music to fall back on.

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Andy Lau, 53

Who: One of Hong Kong's most famous and prolific singer- actors known as one of the four Heavenly Kings

Relationship kept secret for: 23 years

Marriage kept secret for: One year and two months

What happened: Lau and former Malaysian beauty queen Carol Choo reportedly fell in love in 1986 when he was 24 and she, 18.

Over the next two decades, they kept their relationship a secret, with Lau referring to her as a "friend" whenever asked.

In June 2008, the two tied the knot secretly in Las Vegas, but it was only a year later that the marriage was exposed when the Chinese media found their marriage certificate online.

Lau subsequently admitted in an online blog post that the rumours were true.

Consequences: Fans were infuriated because they felt he had "cheated" them. Lau had said earlier he promised to come clean about his marriage should he ever tie the knot.

For not keeping his promise, he was labelled "lying Heavenly King".

Eventually, he made a public apology, telling reporters amid tears: "As a public figure, I wish to apologise for lying and for disappointing many people. I hope they will forgive me. I openly say here that I am married."

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Jackie Chan, 60

Who: Hong Kong action film star known globally for his many action-comedies

Marriage kept secret for: 16 years

What happened: Chan married Taiwanese actress Lin Feng-jiao in 1982 and also had son Jaycee with her, but he kept both wife and child secret for the next 16 years.

Rumours kept surfacing that he was married with a son, but he always denied it.

Chan went public with their identities only in 1998, when he referred to them as "daughter-in-law" and "grandson" in an obituary of his godfather, film producer Leonard Ho.

Consequences: Allegedly, a Japanese fan committed suicide upon hearing news of his romance in the 1980s while another fan attempted suicide outside his home, but was saved.

Chan was quoted as saying: "The suicides had a huge effect on me, so I was even more scared of revealing my wife's pregnancy to the public."

Not to make light of the alleged suicides, but is the famous playboy using this as an excuse to stay away from his family and fool around?

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Charlene Choi, 31, and Ronald Cheng, 42

Who: Choi, of duo Twins with Gillian Chung, is a singer-turned- actress known for her bubbly charm. Cheng is a singer-actor known for his comedic flair.

Marriage kept secret for: Four years

What happened: The two wed in secret in 2006 in Los Angeles and the marriage was not exposed until reporters uncovered their marriage certificate in 2010. Amid rumours, the couple held a press conference confirming the news, then announced tearfully they were in the midst of a divorce.

Consequences: While reports of their secret marriage and subsequent divorce were shocking, it did not appear to have much of a negative effect on either of them, contrary to what Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat had believed. He said: "I understand why Charlene would have done it. She probably kept it secret because she was worried she would lose many fans."

Perhaps Choi is also lucky that her singing partner Chung was involved in an even bigger scandal when she was found in 2008 to be one of the women whose naked photos were taken by singer Edison Chen and leaked.

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Seo Tai Ji, 42, and Lee Ji Ah, 36

Who: Known as the "president of culture", singer Seo is one of the original South Korean pop icons and was once part of popular boyband Seo Taiji & Boys. Actress Lee is known for her TV dramas such as Athena: Goddess Of War (2011).

Marriage kept secret for: 14 years

What happened: In 2011, Korean news reports ran the shocking story that Seo was secretly married to Lee for nine years, from 1997 to 2006 while they were living in the United States. They uncovered the story when court papers surfaced, indicating that Lee had filed a lawsuit against Seo asking for, among other things, 500 million won (S$595,180) in divorce settlement.

Consequences: The news rocked Korean show business and it soon became juicy "he said, she said" fodder as both Lee and Seo shared details of their former relationship. She said she kept it secret because he wanted to and that she had to sacrifice seeing her own family for seven years. Seo refuted the claims, saying her parents were aware of their relationship and travelled to the US to visit her. The ex-couple reached an out-of-court settlement with a non-disclosure agreement.

Lee reportedly dated actor Jung Woo Sung following her divorce, but they have allegedly broken up. Seo married actress Lee Eun Sung last year and had a daughter in August.

Career-wise, both appear to be doing fine. Seo is releasing a new album this year. Lee has a three-picture screenwriting contract with Hollywood's Maybach Film Productions.

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Wu Chun, 34

Who: Brunei-born Taiwan-based heart-throb, actor and singer and ex-member of Taiwanese boyband Fahrenheit

Relationship kept secret for: 18 years

Marriage kept secret for: Six years

What happened: In 2011, Hong Kong tabloids reported Wu is married with a daughter, even publishing an alleged family photo. But he denied the allegations. Two years later, while promoting his autobiography Ignite Courage, he posted the truth online and announced at a press conference he was married and has a three-year-old daughter. He tied the knot in 2009, adding in subsequent interviews that his wife Lin Li Ying is his first love, whom he had known since he was 16.

Consequences: When people questioned if his announcement was a publicity stunt as he was promoting his book, Wu denied the allegations and pledged to donate royalties from the book to charity. He also said he had never cared about how his marriage announcement would affect his career. He added: "My wife wants to keep a low profile and I respect her decision. I lied to the press in order to protect our relationship."

In April this year, Wu and his daughter Xinyi appeared on Chinese reality TV show Dad Is Back (2014). He has remained off the radar, doing the occasional role in film and TV.

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Jin Akanishi, 30

Who: Heart-throb, singer and actor and former member of boyband Kat-tun

Marriage kept secret for: 11/2 months

What happened: Akanishi tied the knot with actress Meisa Kuroki in February 2012 in secret until the Japanese media leaked the news a month later. Reportedly, the bride was also pregnant with their child.

Consequences: His agency Johnny's Entertainment was furious to find out about his marriage only in the news and penalised him by cancelling his concert tour. Akanishi was then asked to pay the bill for the cancellation fines out of his own pocket, allegedly costing a few million yen.

In an official statement, the company said he "deviated from the rules of etiquette as an adult member of society" for not first informing and asking for permission from the company about his intentions to get married.

Reportedly, Akanishi was also dropped from playing the lead on TV in a remake of hit drama series GTO.

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