It has been a decade since former MediaWorks actress Ann Poh, who was best known for her 34F assets, left showbiz. But when her old friend Ben Yeo approached her last year to play the role of an abused wife for his #SaveMummy campaign video, the 40-year-old did not think twice before accepting. This was despite the subject matter hitting close to home.
In 2006, her separation from her Singaporean husband of eight years made headlines after both sides alleged spousal abuse. The couple, who have two daughters, were divorced that year, said Poh. Referring to the video shoot, the Penang native told The New Paper over the phone: “At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable looking at myself when I saw the fake bruises on my face. Some of the old memories went through my head for a short while. “But after that, I was okay. It’s all in the past.”
“All in the past” is a phrase Poh kept repeating throughout this interview. She said she does not harbour any grudges and is now on cordial terms with her ex-husband. “Any decision that involves our (girls), we will discuss it together,” said Poh, an administrative officer at a real estate company.
Poh said her two daughters, aged 16 and 17, are her top priority as she continues to “rebuild (her) life from scratch”.
Her acting career took off in 2001 when she signed on with the now-defunct MediaWorks. She was discovered after winning a biggest bosom contest on Channel U variety show Snap. But in 2004, Poh was retrenched when MediaWorks merged with Mediacorp.
The initial years of her divorce were the hardest for her, she said. For 18 months, she lived in Guangzhou, China, selling silver jewellery online to earn a living. Job opportunities in Singapore were few, following her highly publicised split. “Nobody wanted to hire me. They knew all about my life,” she said. “I knew then I had to upgrade myself and be better for myself and my children.” Her ex-husband and her mother-in-law cared for her daughters during that time. Poh and her ex-husband share joint custody of their daughters.
“(When I was in Guangzhou) I missed my children a lot and had to hold back tears so that they would not know that I was sad,” she said. “My daughters, especially the younger one, would cry. But I had to be strong.”
When she moved back to Singapore in 2008, Poh lived in fear that people would continue to ask about her failed marriage.
In 2009, she got a diploma in tourism from the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore while juggling a part-time administrative job. She later worked as a tour group leader before settling into her current job.
Compared to her past glitzy celebrity life, Poh’s life is very different now, but she does not mind. “Frankly speaking, I do miss acting because it is fun. But acting is my hobby.” “Making ends meet and supporting my children is are top priorities right now.” “I am comfortable with my normal life,” she said.
In recent years, she has made several guest appearances in Channel 8 dramas and is open to opportunities if they fit her schedule. Her children still live with her mother-in-law although she hopes to have them live with her in the future.
The main thing she has learnt after her failed marriage? “I have to be stronger, fight harder and be better for myself and my children,” she said. “You must stay positive and love yourself.” “Everything will be okay when you put your heart into it.” And would she be open to dating again soon? “To be honest, I haven’t had time to think about it,” was her candid reply.
He takes the plunge for video
In his 38 years, there have been two instances when local actor and host Ben Yeo nearly drowned. The first time was when he was about six years old and was swimming in a public pool with his older brother. He slipped through the ring float and struggled for a while until his brother realised what had happened. The second incident took place about 12 years ago when he played a navy recruit in Channel U drama Be Somebody.
BEHIND THE SCENES: (Above) Ben Yeo giving Ann Poh pointers on how to use the diving equipment.
Despite these close shaves and his inability to swim well, Yeo literally took the plunge when he directed and filmed an underwater video as part of the #SaveMummy campaign. The campaign aims to highlight the problem of domestic abuse. It was launched in February by Yeo and four other partners when they founded non-profit social enterprise Big Big Heart. The video for the #SaveMummy campaign, titled Used and Abused, was filmed at Queenstown Swimming Complex about three months ago. It was released on March 26 on YouTube.
Yeo – together with the video’s main star, former MediaWorks actress Ann Poh, six other actors, the camera crew and three safety divers – had to dive to a depth of 4.5m and remain mostly underwater during the seven-hour-long night shoot. Yeo told The New Paper last week: “The deepest I have been underwater was 4m for the Channel U drama, so I thought, ‘What’s another 0.5m?'” “I was okay at a depth of 1.2m to 1.8m before there was a sudden steep plunge. At night, it seemed even deeper. I chickened out and swam up to a depth of about 2m.”
He was not the only one having a hard time. Poh wore a heavy white wedding gown, as well as weights around her waist to weigh her down. Her face was also made up to look like she was badly bruised. While filming underwater, she had to keep her eyes open to portray the helplessness of an abused woman. By the end of the shoot, she was so tired she could barely open her eyes.
Similar to a shark that is thrown back to sea after being hunted, the video attempts to convey how an abused wife is left to fend for herself when her marriage sours and she is forced to escape.
Yeo first learnt about the problem of abused women here through a business contact, a volunteer who manages a shelter that protects women and children in such situations. The shelter houses about 60 families. Saddened by their plight, he started Big Big Heart. “I’ve always wanted to champion a good cause for society, but I didn’t know where to start. I saw this as a good launch pad.” “I think it’s also important to think of how the children suffer in these marriages,” he said.
Every second Sunday of the month, Yeo and other Big Big Heart volunteers go to the shelter and celebrate the birthdays of the families staying there. “Once, the pastor (at the shelter) told us that one of the families liked pizza and the children hadn’t had pizza in five years.” “I think of my two children who are so used to eating pizza. And these boys, aged 12 and 18, think of a simple food like that as a luxury,” said Yeo, whose sons are four and seven.
As a host of many reality TV programmes, Yeo has also encountered abused women. In 2014, while filming Channel 8’s The Joy Truck, he met a woman whose drug-addict husband once threatened her at knifepoint. Yeo said: “Her eight-year-old son told me he wanted to be a policeman when he grew up… But I teared when I asked him why and he replied that it was because he wanted to catch his father. It was heartbreaking.”
In the next few months, Big Big Heart will release more videos to raise awareness about this issue.
Next month, it will hold a social initiative event called Commit To Love Week to campaign against abuse in marriages.