Julie Tan is woke. Over lunch with her one sunny afternoon at her new cafe, Botany by Dazzling Cafe, she tells us all about the virtues of using bamboo straws, in between forkfuls of otah chips. She’s passionate about saving the environment: Julie’s voice turns forceful and her eyes flash fire when she recalls spotting some rubbish in the ocean on a Tioman diving trip. “I was diving and looking at turtles and, suddenly, there was this [expletive] Colgate toothpaste tube floating beside a sea cucumber. It shouldn’t be there!” She also tells us that she had been watching environmental documentaries, eloquently expounding on the trash situation that’s clogging Singapore’s drainage system, which she had learnt about after volunteering in a local waterway cleanup project.

One could argue that Julie, 26, had grown up a lot over the past two years. In 2017, she made the difficult decision to leave Mediacorp after four years as an artiste there. In 2018, she became unwittingly embroiled in one of local showbiz’s biggest sagas: the Pan Lingling VS Hong Huifang spat that hogged headlines for days.

For the uninitiated, the saga started when Hong Huifang had sent a WhatsApp message to a handful of her celeb friends to announce the end of her friendship with Pan Lingling. The trigger? Lingling had apparently made some unflattering remarks about Julie’s dating history and her close relationship with Huifang’s son, Calvert Tay. The ensuing social media hooha dogged Julie like haze from a neighbouring country’s forest fire. Trolls left nasty comments on her Instagram posts. “There were nights when I was crying a lot. I really felt hurt. [What happened] was very damaging to any girl’s reputation,” shares Julie solemnly.

She reckons that some people, when faced with a situation like this, would start plotting their K-drama-worthy revenge. But Julie, post-Saga, is not about nursing petty grudges or curling into a victimised ball. In fact, the incident has made her a better and wiser person. She avers, “It’s for the best. If I’m given a choice to not let this saga happen, I’d still let it happen. It’s going through certain things that makes people see who you really are.”

In a bittersweet turn, it was really the late actor Aloysius Pang’s death that helped dispelled the lingering awkwardness between Julie and Lingling. “I gave Lingling-jie a hug at Aloysius Pang’s funeral, and everything was good,” says Julie. And for the record, Julie and Calvert are not dating. “Calvert and [his sister] Tay Ying went on the Tioman diving trip with me and [our common friends] too. What people don’t know is that I’m very ‘bro’. My guy friends like Shane [Pow] and Ian [Fang] would come over to my house and we’d drink tea and talk.” 

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