If we made it sound like Evelyn Tan was a cane-wielding Tiger Mum, we apologise. The 41-year-old erstwhile actress and bilingual host mostly only uses the cane as a threat when she’s reached the end of her tether with her four kids, Kristen, 12, Jairus, 10, Way, 8, and Elliott, 3. And from her soft-spoken and measured answers to our questions, we’re guessing her tether is rather long. After all, it must take a very, very patient person to home-school her four kids and live in a very confined space for months at a time. Evelyn and her husband, actor Darren Lim, are famed for their sea-faring exploits, and for living on a boat with their brood. They’re currently firmly anchored in Singapore, where Evelyn has just landed (pardon the pun) an ambassadorship (omg, another sailing pun) with frei öl, a new-to-town German skincare brand known for its skincare oil. And while the baby-faced supermum looks like she has aged nary a day since her acting days, and that her demanding job as full-time mama to three boys and a girl, and wife to a man who loves to haul his family on daring sea-ventures has not taken a toll on her looks or her skin, she tells us, “Sometimes, I feel like I live in a zoo.” A floating, rocking, rollicking zoo, we reckon.
8 DAYS: Congrats on becoming the new ambassador for frei öl! If you were stranded on a desert island, which product from the range would you want in your survival kit?
EVELYN TAN: If the island was shady, I won’t have to worry about sun protection, but I’d still have to protect myself from the drying effects of the sun, so it’d have to be the Intensive Cream.
As a busy mum, it’s about keeping your skincare as simple and fuss-free as possible. Some women have 10-step skincare routines. How many steps is yours?
My skincare routine is quite simple — I cleanse, tone and moisturise, and at night, I’d add on the ‘frills’, which would be to give my skin a boost with the frei öl Intensive Cream and Facial Oil, so I can wake up rested, with my skin having absorbed the nourishment from the night before. I also apply the Shaping Oil to my thigh area — it’s purported to help with cellulite. I’ve been using it for a month now, and I think the cellulite in that area seems to have diminished in appearance. I hope it’s not a placebo effect!
You’ve been out of the limelight for a while. Why represent a beauty and skincare brand now?
I’ve been away [from the public eye] for two years, and I did sense my own absence! (Laughs) I was happily surprised to have been approached by the brand. There are two reasons I’ve been absent — for one year, we were sailing, and for the second year, I was busy with my oldest daughter Kristen’s PSLE. Before that, I did appear on TV, but not so often, ’cos of commitments with my family.
Ah, the sailing. Are you guys done with the sailing for now?
The sailing is done for now. But there’s definitely going to be a Part 2 and 3. Right now, the boat is out for charter, so we’re not going to be able to use it for a long trip. And because of the other kids’ PSLE, I see myself being bound to Singapore for at least the next six years. (Laughs)
Tell us more about your big sailing expedition last year.
We spent half a year on the expedition, but we did not actually float on the sea for half a year. It includes time for preparation. When we first started sailing [a few years ago], we started on a very small boat, and also, Darren needed time to pick up all his sailing skills. We didn’t make any big trips in the beginning, we just lived on a boat to see if it was for the children. When we realised that yes, it was for us, we bought a bigger boat, which took time to be built. The big trip involved us going to Phuket and back down again, then up to Koh Samui. In between, there was downtime, unloading, and reflecting on what we did right and wrong. Also, we had to wait for the seasons to change. Ours is a sailboat, which means we had to wait for the winds. The idea was to sail; to harness the forces of nature.
Would you ever come back to showbiz?
For now, I don’t have any projects in the works, but I been approached by other companies to do representation work. I’d be selective ’cos my priority lies with my family.
You guys are also famous for home-schooling your kids. Home-schooling seems to be gaining in popularity.
It has gained some attention and people are now aware these is such a thing, and it’s become an option. But the kids still have to take their PSLE! Yes, it’s sometimes [overwhelming to home-school the kids] and find enough time to do everything, and I sometimes feel like I live in a zoo, but being able to go through all the processes of growing up with them helps you see your child better and know them better. For me, I have to be conscious about making time for myself to do things I want to do. We have to be quite regimented about certain things, like by 8 or 9pm, the kids cannot come and kah cheow (disturb) mama, ’cos that’s my me time. I also get my husband and my family’s help to balance things out. Yes, we have a helper — cleaning the house and preparing meals alone can take up the whole day!
Darren seems like a hands-on dad.
Yes, he helps with things like getting them into bed — he gets them to move faster. Those years that he takes on more [acting] jobs, we have to be more flexible. This year, he will be more hands-on. When he’s not around, then I have to take the cane out lor! (Laughs) Of course! Sometimes, the cane works more as a threat than anything else. I think children naturally want to please their parents — they actually do try. The cane is our way of telling them: Mama has hit explosion point, so please watch out, and move along so we can get things sorted out.
Does having so many kids make life crazy?
Can you imagine that Darren wanted six kids! Oh my gosh! I’m glad we didn’t follow that plan! Three is a crowd, but with four, we divide them and we have two each. Two is a manageable number, and as long as dad is hands-on, we can get by. As kids grow older, the time they desire to spend with their parents gets less — they have other distractions in life. I’m glad I had Elliott at 38 — he makes me feel like a young woman. Because of him, I cannot afford to grow old! Kids keep you young. If you have a kid, and you don’t follow on [with other kids], then you just grow older with the first kid! (Laughs) But no, no more kids for us!
Is it hard to find time to spend with each kid individually?
From Day 1, we wanted a big family, so it’s how you manage your time, and work creatively around the situation. It’s important to spend alone time with them. At 7 years old, each of our kids gets to go on a one on one trip with us — it can be a staycation or to somewhere nearby. It’s to tell him or her that he or she is not just part of the crowd — we know you and make time to have special moments with you.
With your not working in showbiz anymore and Darren only taking on part-time jobs, is money ever an issue?
I find it’s always sufficient, but the parents will always have worries. It’s a test of our faith, but I always feel that things will be provided. I find that our children are never compromised [in terms of having things and going for classes]. If you think about the living standards in Singapore, you wouldn’t want to have kids! But we shouldn’t think about things that way. It’s about making the best use of what you have. Like, you don’t have to send your kids for piano lessons, especially if they have no inclinations in that direction. Right now, our kids are in a tin whistle group. It’s similar to a recorder, but the instrument is made of tin. They play in class once a week, and practise at home. It’s still music and the child learns right and left hand coordination, and we can learn on our own time. We have to use the money we have wisely.
You and your family travel a lot. What’s in your make-up bag when you travel?
I can’t live without sun protection, mascara and a dab of lipstick. That should cover it. Maybe a bit of powder. I don’t put on make-up on home, the kids will say, “Mama, you don’t look like our mummy! Can you take that off?” I don’t usually wear make-up. Being accepted by my kids is more important!
Frei öl is available at Guardian stores, Amazon Prime Now, Lazada and RedMart.