Photos: Lee Lay Na
Much has been said and documented about Pan Lingling’s inspiring battle with breast cancer, so of course, when we met up with the bubbly and outspoken veteran actress at a posh St. Regis suite for our Toggle Talk chat, there were other topics of discussion on our agenda.
That’s not to say we shied away from updates on her condition, of course. Since becoming cancer-free after a tumour removal and months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Lingling is as good as new – with a few cautious new habits inducted into her routine.
“I used to simply eat whatever I wanted, but now, I make sure to include fruits and vegetables in me and my family’s daily diet,” said the mother-of-two, who has sons Beckham, 16, and Kynaston, 13, with former actor husband Huang Shinan. “I also drink alkaline water because my body acidity levels are very high, which contributed to the quick growth of cancer cells.”
All this talk of food – and the sight of the scrumptious high tea spread in front of her – reminded Lingling of the weight struggle during her sickness, albeit not in a bitter way. “At one point I was so huge, I looked like a big ball!” she exclaimed with a mixture of amusement and disgust. “My face was bouncy and all my clothes couldn’t fit. And once my lashes started dropping, I looked like nothing but a big goldfish.”
Those days are clearly far behind her. The 44-year-old is back to her svelte, glowing self (she says it’s the makeup, but the radiance she’s exuding is something no foundation or concealer can emulate). She’s also back on set with a major role on Channel 8’s long-form drama 118 (she had just come from filming when we met up), after taking on her first English-speaking character on Channel 5’s Mata Mata 2 last year.
Yup, cancer did nothing to slow this feisty warrior down.
In today’s edition of Toggle Talk, we delve deeper into her past to unearth juicy details such as how she and Shinan got together, if she regrets giving up a potential career in Hong Kong, and the time she got into a rather violent fight with her oldest kid:
WATCH: Lingling gets candid about physical fights with her eldest son
She thinks getting sick was a good thing.
Even though she was the one enduring the physical suffering, Lingling says that one of the hardest things was watching her family, particularly her eldest son, go through it with her.
“I feel that (Beckham) matured from all this and showed a side that I couldn’t see before,” she said, “The other day, I saw him crying, which made me realise how much he actually really cares and worries about me, despite saying things that hurt me in the past. So, in a way, this sickness was good. (laughs)”
Lingling also gushed about Shinan treating her “like a queen” during her cancer battle. “He was 10 times more affectionate towards me and would always give me whatever I needed. But now, life is back to normal and he doesn’t even want to accompany me to see the doctor!”
Her disciplinary methods are nothing short of terrifying.
Acknowledging that her temper worsened after becoming a mother, Lingling let us in on the brutal (if we’re being honest) ways she used to keep her boys in check when they were younger.
“I would even pull them out of bed to punish them, and the more they tried to run away, the more I would beat them,” said the ferocious mama. “Once, I locked them in a room and spanked them until my mother was screaming at me from outside the door!”
Lingling also dished on the time she got into such a big brawl with Beckham, who was being impish and provoking his little brother, she not only whacked him, but also gave him one swift kick. “He even tried to hold me and tell me to calm down, which I did for a while, but when I saw him walk away I ran up to him and my foot just flew out,” she said, sounding exasperated as she recounted the memory.
“I never thought that I would ever fight with my son (but) as a mother, I can’t stand there and pretend that some things never happen. I rarely lose it like that but what he did was wrong and I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
In case you’re wondering, Shinan doesn’t dare to interfere when the tiger mum is on the loose, or else “he’s dead”. However, at the end of the day, he is the one who speaks sense into the kids and gets them to realise the error of their ways.
She doesn’t trust her husband with their sons’ sex education.
While Shinan may do a good job in verbally enlightening his boys, there is one area in which Lingling doubts his abilities: the oh-so-sensitive subject of sex.
“At first I thought I’d leave it to him since he’s the man, but I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do it, so I took matters into my own hands,” she said. “Shinan is more Chinese educated and believes such a thing should be left to schools and society, but to me, by the time they learn from them, it will be too late, so I teach them the right way to treat girls and what they shouldn’t do.”
She added, “My husband thinks I should take it slow but I’m worried (my sons) will affect themselves as well as others – it’s still too early for me to be a grandmother. (smiles)”
Shinan insists that Lingling pursued him first.
How Lingling and Shinan’s 27-year-long romance came to be sounds like it came right out of a teen rom-com. The couple first crossed paths at the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (when Lingling was still a trainee and Shinan was already a budding young actor), all thanks to a prank gone wrong.
“When I was young, I liked to disturb people. [Ed note: now we know where Beckham’s naughty streak comes from!] One day in acting class, I decided to pop out and give my friend a scare, but I ended up startling Huang Shinan instead. I felt so bad I would say sorry whenever I saw him.”
Apologies eventually turned into invitations to watch her plays (which Shinan insisted he only accepted because Lingling asked), and finally, they exchanged digits. “Because I was the one who gave him my number first, he insists that I was the one who pursued him,” said Lingling indignantly. “But he called me first, and I think I started to have a bit of feeling towards him then.”
Before long, they officially became each other’s first loves. “He says he’s never had a girlfriend before me, but I can’t find any gossip to debunk his claim!” Lingling joked.
At first, the nine-year age gap between the pair, plus the fact that Lingling was only 16 going on 17 at the time, did not sit well with her father, but in the end he conceded and told her, “As long as you think you think it’s okay, do what you think is right and don’t regret marrying the wrong person in the end.”
Nine years of courting and nearly 18 years of marriage later, it’s safe to say that Lingling indeed knew what she was doing.
WATCH: Lingling takes us back to the days when her and Shinan's love story unfolded
Be the first to apologise to her husband? Never.
After nearly three decades together, we had to wonder out loud if there had been times when Lingling felt like throwing in the towel on their relationship.
“No… no,” was her reply after a considerable amount of time spent thinking it over. “We do have big fights, but those are good for resolving issues and understanding each other better. Sometimes I’ll joke, ‘If you don’t like it then we can just break up lah’, but it’s all just words.”
A possible secret to their success: “Perhaps it’s because he gives in to me a lot – I’m so stubborn that even when I find out he’s right after an argument, I will convince myself of a reason why I was right all along.” Also: “Shinan always apologises first, and writes cards and poetry for me – I will not say sorry.”
She has no regrets not expanding her career overseas.
In 1993, Lingling became one of the first local artistes to participate in a Hong Kong production, alongside Jackie Chan in Crime Story (where she famously refused a kissing scene with him, leading to her scenes being omitted from the final cut).
When asked if she ever regrets not staying to establish a career there (something even her husband has questioned before), Lingling gave us plenty of reasons why she does not.
She would be alone: “I realised I made the right choice to come back to Singapore when I got sick. If it had happened in Hong Kong, there wouldn’t be anyone to help me and I probably wouldn’t have been able to get proper treatment. Here, I felt a lot of support, which makes me think that it was all right to miss whatever opportunities I may have had.”
She wouldn’t have her family: “If I had made it, I’d probably marry late – if at all – because I would have been too busy. Although I’m not as successful as Zoe Tay or Fann Wong, at least my kids are big now. (laughs)”
She might not have survived: “Reporters have told me I’m not suitable for Hong Kong because I’m too pure and trusting. Navigating the industry isn’t easy because there are a lot of rules, and the Singapore entertainment scene is... cleaner.” (That said, she claimed that she did not witness any immoral acts, nor received any indecent proposals of her own.)
Success is not guaranteed: “I’ve been asked, ‘But what if you had made it big?’ and I always say, ‘What if I really flopped?’ If you want to look at the best case scenario, you also have to consider the worst case scenario.”
She misses the good ol’ days of Top 5 popularity polls.
Remember the days of the Star Awards’ Top 5 Most Popular Male and Top 5 Most Popular Female Artistes (instead of 10 for each category, like it is now), and when the results were decided based on just telephone and text voting (without any online option)?
Lingling candidly admitted to missing those times. “The older generation doesn’t know how to vote online! I’ve had aunties tell me that they only know how to call, so it’s very hard for them (to get us to win). They don’t find it fair, and it really isn’t.”
At least Lingling, who has received the most number of nominations (eighteen, including four wins) since the accolade was introduced in 1994, has the honour of being in the very first batch of winners, along with Zoe Tay, Chen Liping, Aileen Tan and former actress Chen Xiuhuan.
“It’s nice to win every year, but the feeling (of winning the first time and receiving the trophy from Chow Yun Fat) is really unforgettable,” she mused.
WATCH: Lingling has no qualms about losing out in popularity to "Ah Jies" Fann Wong and Zoe Tay
Special thanks to The St. Regis Singapore.
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