Legendary Hong Kong singer Frances Yip on her long lasting music career and the secret to her svelte figure.
At 8:30pm sharp, the lights dimmed, and Frances Yip’s lilting vocals filled the packed hall. As the veteran Hong Kong diva emerged onto the stage, the spotlight lit up the stars on her sparkling dress like a Chinese Wonder Woman.
As she sang and danced through the night with the crowd moving as one with her, it was hard to believe that Yip is currently celebrating her 45th anniversary in showbiz. How is that possible, when she hardly looks a day past 45?
“I’ve been singing for 45 years already. Doesn’t look like it, right?” Yip quipped during her concert at the Genting International Convention Centre, Resorts World Genting a few weeks ago.
Even if you’ve never heard of the name Frances Yip (or Yip Lai Yee in Cantonese), chances are you would have heard her voice on the theme song of classic 1980s Cantonese drama The Bund. You know, the one that goes “Lo-ong bun! Lo-ong lau!”
That song (titled Seung Hoi Tan, or Shanghai Beach) may have catapulted Yip to international stardom, but she was already singing for more than a decade before that song was even released.
With more than 80 albums under her belt, and having performed in more than 30 countries in five continents, the multi-lingual Yip is one of Asia’s most endearing and enduring entertainers.
Born in 1947 in a rural area in Hong Kong, Yip recalls being a mischievous tomboy who used to run around barefoot in the paddy fields, and daydream about singing in foreign lands one day.
She eventually took her first step towards that goal in 1969, when she won a talent contest on Hong Kong television. It was then that she met famed composer Joseph Koo, who roped her in to sing some jingles for commercials. From there, Yip’s career started to take off, beginning with her very first record – Bu Liao Qing (Love Without End) in 1969.
It was even once rumoured that she was actually born in Malaysia, not Hong Kong. When queried, she puts it down to incorrect information online. “I don’t know who puts this stuff online. People have said I was born in Penang, but I’m not – I was born in Hong Kong,” she clarified.
Once, she was even linked to a late Singaporean singer whom people said was her mother, who had given her away as a child. “I got tracked down all the way to Australia by Hong Kong paparazzi, and I had to tell them that I had a Hong Kong birth certificate!” said Yip indignantly.
Speaking during an exclusive interview backstage after the first of her two-day Genting gig, the singer said she was grateful that the years have been kind to her and her career.
“I don’t feel old at all. I’m still doing the things I used to do when I was 40 years old. I do a lot of sports, I play golf three times a week, I cycle in the park, and I do yoga. I’ve been very lucky because for 25 years, my weight and measurements have been the same.
“I can still get into my cheongsam that I’ve had for 25 years without much trouble!” she said with a laugh. “I try to stay healthy by eating fresh food, nothing processed. In Australia, I can do that easily because the produce is so good.”
Yip, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 but managed to beat the disease in 2002, is happy to take each day as it comes.
“I’m at a very good point in my life now. I love what I do – I’m not singing because I have to work. In October, I will be 67 years old, but I don’t feel 67 at all. What I hope to do is to carry on singing, as long as people want me to,” said the singer, who now spends most of her time in Sydney because that’s where her grandchildren are.
“When I’m not working, I’m really just a housewife. I cook, I clean, and I look after the grandkids. When I’m not with them, we Skype so often that ‘they actually think grandma lives in the computer’!”