Sep 20, 2006, Straits Time Singapore
I am okay now, thanks
Mavis Hee has put behind her the bizarre hotel incident where she shouted 'Call me God' at two strangers. She's suffering from clinical depression, but is recovering well
By MEDIA REPORTER, Lee Sze Yong
MAVIS Hee does not show any sign of displeasure or surprise when she finds Life! waiting for her at her parents' flat on Monday night.
Instead, she welcomes you to her home with a wide smile, as though she has been expecting a long-lost friend and cannot wait to catch up, although we have never met before.
She stretches her right hand to shake yours tightly and says warmly in a velvety voice: 'Thank you for coming. It is always great to have someone visiting.'
This is not the reaction you expected from the Singaporean singer, not after she has avoided the press for the past five years, and definitely not after her strange outburst in the Ritz Carlton hotel three months ago which made news around the region and led to endless speculation about the state of her mental health.
On June 22, Hee, 31, was arrested for criminal trespass after tailing two guests from the lobby of the hotel in Raffles Avenue to their room and, to their astonishment, screaming: 'Call me God.'
Hotel security staff were called and they found her talking incoherently. The police were summoned and she was admitted to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where she stayed for a month.
The police confirmed yesterday that Hee was given a stern warning on Aug 28. No charges will be pressed against her.
The doctor's diagnosis? 'Depression, lor,' she tells you with almost child-like guile.
Sitting on the sofa in her parents' simply furnished Toa Payoh HDB apartment - two three-room flats joined as one - she reveals that she suffers from clinical depression but is recovering well. She appears relaxed and happy.
Life! had dropped in half an hour earlier. Her parents had said we were welcome to wait for Hee as she was then at the supermarket.
Back from her trip, she would have passed off as any heartlander in her dark blue, oversized T-shirt, floral bermudas and slippers.
But look closer, and you catch glimpses that betray her former star status: Two silver hair clips hold her bangs back revealing a smooth, pretty face that once graced countless magazine covers and music albums.
Light-blue eye-shadow underlines her almond-shaped eyes. A colourful ring adorns her right middle finger. Her nails are painted a dark maroon shade.
She offers you a glass of water. Reading your mind, she says gently: 'I'm okay now. Thank you for your concern. Please send my regards to everyone too.'
Discharged from hospital in late July, she still has to attend therapy sessions with her doctor every month and is on medication.
She hopes to tell others suffering from depression that there is no need to be ashamed of the condition.
'You definitely have to see a doctor. But more importantly, you have to open up and talk to others about your problems.'
Yet, there are things she would rather not discuss now, at least not with the media.
Like what medicine she is taking. 'My science is so poor, I would probably tell you the wrong names anyway,' she deftly deflects the question.
She also declines politely to have her photograph taken. 'I'm not ready yet. Give me some time,' she says.
Neither would she dwell on the 'Call me God' incident, saying that she wants to 'leave the unhappiness behind and move on'.
But at least she can joke about it now.
She says she is a Christian and adds with a laugh: 'I've known God for more than 10 years now, so don't ask me why I told others to 'Call me God'.'
BETWEEN 1996 and 2001, Hee's star power was so great it earned her the title of 'Heavenly Queen' in the Chinese music industry.
She was famous for a soothing, husky voice, and the media dubbed her Singapore's answer to Faye Wong because, like the China-born singer, she dressed quirkily and had a mysterious vibe.
Discovered in a talent search in 1993, she quickly rose to stardom thanks to ballads like Moonlight In The City and Even Though I Know. They became hits, topping charts not only in Singapore but also in Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. They continue to be popular on radio dedication shows and karaoke playlists.
But in 2000, she started fading from the scene when rumours surfaced about a romance between her and her Singaporean music producer, Chen Jiaming.
In 2001, she quietly terminated her recording contract after her Taiwanese label What's Music was absorbed by Universal Music.
She tells Life! on Monday that she had creative differences with her new employer and did not want to compromise her music integrity.
She then disappeared almost completely from the public eye, save for occasional gigs in China and when she signed up as an ambassador with WildAid, an international environmental organisation.
Fans wrote letters and e-mail to the media asking for her return. Reporters tried contacting her, but to no avail.
Then came the bizarre 'Call me God' incident, which was reported as far away as Hong Kong and China.
When you tell her that people have been wondering about her since, she apologises for her long absence from the scene.
'I have always kept a low profile. I know people have been trying to reach me, but I didn't want to actively seek them out. I believe that somehow, some time, we'll finally meet, so I just let things be.'
She reveals that for the past three years, she has been travelling to and from China to perform at gigs there. She was also in Italy for a year between 2003 and 2004 to live alone and 'experience life', spending her time writing and people watching.
She suspects that it was this wanderlust that led to the onset of her clinical depression.
'I missed home a lot,' she says. 'I have always been an emotional person who cries very easily. I remember when I was in Italy, a friend SMSed me that it was Minister Mentor's birthday. I cried, because he was my idol and I suddenly felt touched by the things he had done for Singapore.'
Couple this with how she has never been able to open up to others easily about her troubles, and the depression hit her hard.
She adds: 'I never thought I would have clinical depression as friends have known me to be an optimistic person. I guess it really shows that the problem can hit anyone.'
She dismisses the rife rumours that her condition arose from a failed relationship with her mentor Chen, 42.
The music producer, who is married, wrote the lyrics for many Mandarin hits like Eric Moo's Too Silly and Jeff Chang's Going Overboard.
They met when Hee joined the now-defunct Accord Music Production - where Chen was the music director - in 1993 after the talent search.
Hee says that together with Ms Yu Fei, the general manager of What's Music, they became an inseparable trio as they collaborated on five of Hee's Mandarin albums.
Back to hospital, to help others
She adds that she and Chen are very close and continue to keep in touch, but only in a brother-sister way, and will continue to stay that way.
'We share the same birth date, but I'm 10 years younger than him. Sometimes, he will tease me, calling me jie jie (elder sister in Mandarin) because I think too much for my age.'
The last boyfriend she had was in secondary school. She broke up with him after her O levels when she was 16, she says.
'I do want to get married some day,' she says with a laugh. 'The right guy just hasn't appeared yet.'
Apologetically, she adds: 'I feel very paiseh (embarrassed) that my mentor was pulled into all this after the hotel incident. But he still cares for me, and gave me words of encouragement when I was in hospital.'
Birthday in hospital
NEXT Wednesday, she will celebrate her 32nd birthday in a hospital.
No, she is not going in for more treatment, but will be volunteering at a hospital for the terminally ill and with patients whose family have abandoned them.
She found out about the volunteering stint from the medical staff at IMH when she was recuperating there.
As a recovering patient herself, she hopes that she can bring hope to these strangers.
She also plans to help out at an orphanage here because she feels that 'the poorest children are those without parents but they can also be the bravest'.
Perhaps this empathy for others stems from the care she gets from her family.
She tells you she is very grateful to them for caring for her while she was ill, and for supporting her in her career.
It is clearly a close-knit family. When her 69-year-old mechanic father brings us slices of rock melon from the kitchen, she asks him to join us, then remembering that he is diabetic, gently tells him to stay away from the sweet fruit.
Her mother is the more protective parent, quizzing Life! about the questions we will be asking before the interview began.
Hee says she hopes the media will give her time to recover fully and requests that they not disturb her parents.
'I'll definitely talk to them when I am ready. Who knows, the next time we meet, I might already be back singing.'
Fans may not have to wait that long.
She reveals that a TV station in China has approached her to perform but she has declined, preferring to volunteer at charity concerts first.
She plans to rent out a condominium apartment she owns as a source of income.
Her elder sister - she has an elder brother too - comes by 45 minutes into the interview and, like an attentive minder, asks if we can end soon so that Hee can rest.
'She doesn't know when to stop sometimes when she meets friends to chat,' says the sister.
As you get up to leave, Hee takes your hand and shakes it for the second time that night.
In an almost deja vu moment, she says: 'I'm really glad that you came. It's really nice to talk to friends.'
She sees you to the door and pops her head behind the grille gate to watch you walk safely to the lift.
'Take care,' she calls after you.
You take care, too, Mavis.
'You definitely have to see a doctor.
But more importantly, you have to open up and talk to others about your problems'