Belinda Lee: Publishing book was like preparing for wedding

Actress and host launches collection of travel stories after 2 years

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Photos: Teo Sijia, Marshall Cavendish
Video: Teng Siew Eng

To actress and host Belinda Lee, 38, getting her first book published was as time-consuming as preparing for a wedding — and it almost didn’t happen because she didn’t think the idea would fly.

“Two years ago my friends suggested that I should gather the stories I came across in the past 10 years I’ve been hosting and publish them as a book,” Belinda said. “They were my friends and of course they liked my stories, but I thought no publisher would be interested in such a project.”

Yet, despite that initial hesitation, the book was finally born. Entitled Larger Than Life: Celebrating the Human Spirit, the 240-page read features 10 extraordinary people whom Belinda met through her years spent hosting travel programmes, including the award-winning Find Me a Singaporean on Channel U.

The book launch took place at The Arts House last Friday, and celebrity attendees included Zheng Geping, Jacelyn Tay, Zhu Houren, Tracey Lee, Alfred Sim and Tay Kewei.

All royalties will be donated to World Vision, for which Belinda acts as its Singapore ambassador.

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Labour of love
The hardest part of publishing the volume was having too little time, the actress and host said. While preparing material for her book over the two-year period, she was occupied with filming the fourth season of Find Me a Singaporean as well as a new travelogue Somewhere Out There, to debut on Channel U next month.

And having amassed a collection of more than 60,000 photos over nearly a decade on the road made selecting a mere hundred for publication a major headache.

Since Find Me a Singaporean premiered in 2007, Belinda has hosted all its four seasons. “The characters I’ve interviewed shared inspiring stories, and I wanted this book to have variety, so the protagonists featured all hail from different backgrounds,” she said. “Every story offers a learning point, and it has to encourage reflection.”

One of the tales in Larger Than Life is about Belinda’s experience dining with landmine victims in Cambodia last year. The locals planned and prepared the entire feast, from barbecuing to food prep to cleaning. “I just sat there and enjoyed the food; I didn’t do anything else,” Belinda said. “And to think even though they’d lost limbs, they were still more useful than I was.”

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Turning point
Before the travelogue Find Me a Singaporean came calling, Belinda had thought of quitting the entertainment industry — despite having started out as a VJ with regional music channel MTV, the host was plagued with low self-esteem.

“You probably can’t tell, but since young I had little self-confidence,” she said. “And after joining MediaCorp and spending year after year hosting variety programmes and acting in dramas, I felt empty and aimless, and I suspected I wasn’t cut out for the entertainment circle.” And Belinda said she kept those thoughts to herself.

But in 2006 she was invited to join Find Me a Singaporean, and that proved to be a turning point for her career. “For the first time I felt I could be happy being myself on television, without having to suppress my emotions: I could laugh or cry when I felt like it,” she said.

“This programme gave me affirmation from the audience and returned me my self-confidence.”

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Larger Than Life: Celebrating the Human Spirit is out now in all major bookstores.

Somewhere Out There debuts December 3, 9 pm every Thursday on Channel U.

This story is translated by Zara Zhuang.

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