Dennis Chew: Single, unavailable and very much in love

In this week’s Toggle Talk, the bubbly deejay opens up about his perfect love life, less-than-perfect childhood and how a certain cross-dressing role brought him and his father closer together

Dennis Chew: Single, unavailable and very much in love

Photos: Lee Lay Na

Our two-hour hangout with Dennis Chew was just as we imagined it’d be: full of colourful tales, quick quips (mostly not-so-PG-rated ones) and earth-shaking laughter from the witty Love 97.2FM deejay.

We were seated at the windy Re!Wine Retro Bar at Hotel Re! @ Pearl's Hill, which, until 2001, was the site for Pearl’s Hill Primary School. It was here that alumnus Dennis discovered his flair for speech and storytelling, which eventually developed into a passion for the performing arts. After he graduated and moved on to secondary school, his involvement in the field intensified, and he participated in everything from debates to essay-writing to poetry-reciting.

His early teen years were also when he took on his first acting gigs, most notably in a commercial for Yakult (which subsequently had his schoolmates calling him the name of the probiotic beverage for a while) and TV drama The Future is Mine in 1990. In 1993, he could finally add “radio deejay” to his resume when he kicked off his illustrious 20-year tenure at YES 933, after a stint at 95.8 Capital FM.

Now, that’s about his professional life – before our chat, there wasn’t much that was officially known about Dennis’ personal one, particularly in the area of romance. But as it turns out, there is someone in the 41-year-old’s life right now, and there was another one a long time ago whom Dennis was engaged to briefly. Yes, the famed Aunty Lucy has not been the only woman in his life.

And speaking of the curly-haired, matronly character from Paris and Milan, did you know that “she” had a part to play in bringing Dennis and his father, whom he shared a strained relationship with, closer together?

“I’ve never told any of these things to anyone before ah,” Dennis claimed as he delved into all the details. Read on to find out what we discovered, and watch the videos for a blow-by-blow account of his interview:

WATCH: Dennis gets candid about his rocky childhood

He was almost set to marry an older woman…

At the tender age of 21, Dennis had been seeing an older woman whom he met at work for three years. They were even supposed to register for marriage, but it did not happen.

“I really loved her, but things happened, and now we have our own lives,” he said. “I think it was my mother’s fault: she kept pushing her to propose instead of me, and she might not have liked that. Of course, I didn’t just irresponsibly disappear – we talked about it and I gave her a very good explanation.”

…but he has someone else in his life right now

“Of course I have a partner – it’s just a matter of how often I change them!” joked Dennis, bursting into another one of his glass-shattering chortles before becoming serious again, “Yes, there is someone that I love very much, but we’re like family, and the relationship has deepened to a stage where we no longer need to say ‘I love you’.”

Surprisingly, none of his relatives have been bugging him about tying the knot. “But even if they did, I wouldn’t be annoyed with them, I’ll just say that everything is going well now. Honestly, if I could get married, I definitely would, but I’m also at the age where I’m like, forget it, it’s just a formality.”

He’s even “Daddy” to an 18-year-old boy

Out of his many godchildren, Dennis is especially close to one named Jacob, who is studying film at Temasek Polytechnic. In fact, they are so tight that Dennis even sought permission from Jacob’s real parents for the boy to call him “Daddy” or “Baba”, and he considers him a real son, bringing him on set with him and letting thespian pals like Shaun Chen review his work (oh, the perks of having a relative in the industry you’re pursuing).

He once got a beating for showing affection to his dad

To give you an idea of how stern his father was, here’s a heart-wrenching tale from Dennis himself: “My relationship with my father wasn’t very good because of his drinking problem, plus he is a very traditional man who doesn’t like to express himself.

When I was in primary five or six, I mailed New Year cards to my family, but my dad, instead of being happy, beat me, asking why I’d do such a girly, nauseating thing. I will admit, that affected me a lot, and I never imagined I’d get such a response.”

Dennis also revealed that if he scolded his younger sister Jane, even if she was at fault, Dennis would be the one getting whacked by their father. However, the forgiving son doesn’t hold a grudge against these uncalled-for actions. “I suspect he was touched, but didn’t want me to become too sentimental, so I don’t blame him,” he said, regarding the card incident. “If I get beaten, then I get beaten lor. (laughs)”

And “Aunty Lucy” eventually helped to mend things between them

With such a history, we don’t blame Dennis for not daring to think how his dad would react to his iconic cross-dressing role as Aunty Lucy. However, he was in for a very pleasant surprise.

“One day he called me and told me that he was very proud to be able to say that he is Aunty Lucy’s father – I was so touched, I cried!” he said, adding that he gave his dad a stack of autographed Aunty Lucy pictures to distribute to his friends.

Dennis observed his dad’s approval of the role again during a visit to the hospital, where his dad had been admitted to for a stroke. “He noticed how the doctors and nurses would recognise me, and I think that made him very happy. I knew from that moment that he had finally begun to accept me.”

More evidence of their softened ties popped up over one Chinese New Year dinner, when, out of the blue, Dennis’ father asked him to take care of his funeral arrangements and scatter his ashes into the sea. Although it was a morbid and random conversation, Dennis took it as a sign of trust and love from his father, and was so moved that he feigned a stomach ache, locked himself in the bathroom, and sobbed his eyes out.

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