Julie Tan is not angry anymore. Neither is she feeling sad. Maybe it’s because she had spent the past few days being furious, crying herself to sleep and wondering what exactly she did wrong. And now she has a lot of things she wants to get off her chest. Which is why, on this breezy Friday night, when most people are out celebrating the end of the work week, I find myself sitting with Julie, in the middle of Bishan Park, chatting about the events that have led up to this moment. Her Hell Week, so to speak.
It all started with a WhatsApp message. That WhatsApp message that Ch 8 actress Hong Huifang had sent out on blast to the friends in her inner circle. The same WhatsApp message that was widely reported to have been received by some 50 people, though Julie tells us that that number was greatly exaggerated. That same WhatsApp message that looked like harmless spam but was actually a semi-automatic that fired words instead of bullets.
Actually, it wasn’t so much of a WhatsApp message as it was a Public Service Announcement, one where Huifang wanted everyone close to her to know that she was cutting fellow Ch 8 actress Pan Lingling out of her life. The tone of the message was scathing and harsh. It was also lucid, like a well-written ‘A’ Levels Chinese essay.
At this point, it kinda feels like we’ve gone through the metrics of the feud so many times that’s they’re starting to sound trivial, even boring. But it is necessary. In the message, Huifang revealed three incidents, which she described poetically as “stabs to her heart”, as the reasons she was renouncing her friendship with her pal of 20 years. The first two ‘stabs’ had to do with Huifang’s husband, Ch 8 actor Zheng Geping and their 22-year-old daughter Tay Ying respectively. The revelations made by Huifang were sensational — Lingling had created “a mess” between Lingling’s husband Huang Shinan and Zheng Geping?! Lingling had said something that hurt Tay Ying till this day?! But they were also scant in detail and left everyone guessing about what actually went on.
Not the third ‘stab’, though. In Huifang’s rant, she raged on about how Lingling’s incessant gossiping about the rumoured relationship between Julie and Huifang’s son Calvert Tay (nope, they are not dating, Julie tells us) was the final nail in the coffin. The message could have ended there but Huifang went on to offer lurid details of what Lingling had babbled about Julie, stuff that frankly would not look out of place on an Internet forum or a public bathroom wall, stuff that was supposed to be kept private between, well those 50 or less people, but was now made public for everyone to pore over.
We’re sure you’re familiar with the whole “STD thing”. Where Lingling had allegedly asked Calvert to go for an STD inoculation jab after bringing up Julie’s dating history, specifically the time the younger actress had dated “a Caucasian” — her ex is actually Turkish, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to in this situation, right? [Side note: We’ve read the full message and trust us when we say that the STD jibe wasn’t even the worst thing Lingling, a long-time family friend of Julie’s, had reportedly said about the younger actress. The veteran also took issue with the age difference — at 18, Calvert’s seven years younger than Julie — but what transpired in the message is too unsavoury for us to reveal.]
That insinuation about Julie’s personal life is the WhatsApp equivalent of a drive-by shooting. And the casualty? The reputation of a young actress, scratch that, young woman. Julie tells us that she found out about the feud between the two veteran actresses the same time as the rest of Singapore. And as more details about the feud surfaced, so did screenshots of that part of the rant that involved Julie. It soon dawned upon the star, as she started receiving more info from those in the know, that she had been inexplicably sucked into the gossip hurricane. She had become collateral damage and worse, her name was getting dragged through the mud.
Suddenly, she was getting comments on her IG, gross, disgusting statements like: “Are you a prostitute?” and “Heard you have STD. Get well soon.”
Never one to take things lying down, Julie posted on Insta Stories a thinly-veiled message directed at Lingling, who she said she had “lost all respect for”. She then capped that shade-throwing with a vulgarity, something that netizens have taken issue with. Not that it bothers Julie.
“Trust me, those words were not the only vulgarities I had in my mind. I was so hurt!” she tells us.
Julie’s mother, Doris, then threated to sue Lingling, who swiftly issued an apology, saying that she didn’t wish harm on anyone, including Julie’s parents, with her words. “But even my mum says that the damage has been done,” sighs Julie. True enough. Scroll through Julie’s IG today and you can still see lewd comments sliding in.
Her anger and frustration also comes from her knowing that there’s little she can do about the situation — the snide remarks people will pass or the assumptions that people will make about her hence forth. “It feels very sucky. Why must I explain my private life to the public? Do they want me to get a medical review to prove that I don’t have an STD? It doesn’t make sense. And I know that even if I prove [the naysayers] wrong, they would still have stuff to say about me, “Eh if she got nothing, why must she go and test ah?” she says.
What she’s been doing is to find humour in the situation. In particular, the memes created by SGAG. “At least they picked nice pics of me. It could have been worse,” she says. She’s even commented on one of them — against the wishes of her management company. The humour website had created a mock TV drama poster with photos of her, Calvert, Huifang and Lingling. The title of the drama? So Noisy. “Remember to watch ah!” Julie wrote on SGAG’s IG.
When I meet her at the shoot, which you should know was cobbled together less than 12 hours ago, she tells us she’s been holed up at home since the scandal blew up earlier in the week. “I’ve been dealing with the aftermath and it’s been an earthquake,” she smirks, as she describes it. She’s as chirpy and vivacious as always, though there’s also an air of defiance about her, not at anyone, but at the situation she’s been shoved into.
After the shoot wraps, we drive around in Julie’s white Porsche convertible, trying to find a nice cozy spot to chat. But with it being a Friday night, our options are as limited as wifi reception in an elevator. We eventually decide on a watering hole in Bishan Park, ’cos of its relative proximity to the 8 DAYS studio, but when we get there, we realise it’s a no-go — the space had been booked for a wedding.
“I think if people see us, they’ll go, “Wah, who is she with now? Another guy?” she jokes as we walk around the park. Too soon? Nah… not for Julie. I tell her that I admire how strong she’s been and she laughs. “What can I do? Be angry? I think if you’re able to laugh at the situation, then maybe it’s not that bad,” she says.
She spots a stone table smack in the middle of the park and suggests we chat there. Would that be convenient? It’s so out in the open, I say to Julie. “We’ve got nothing to hide, what,” she says. So it’s settled then. And over the course of our two hour-long conversation, joggers, people walking their dogs, families on their evening stroll, would pass us by. The same people who probably forwarded stories about the feud and wondered to their friends if any of the allegations about Julie were true. I’m not sure if any of them noticed Julie sitting there. If they did, they didn’t show it.
Only time will tell if her career will be able to survive this character assassination. But what we know for certain is that she definitely will. After all, one thing’s clear: Julie Tan may be the biggest victim of this saga, but she is not a victim.
8 DAYS: How are you feeling now? Angry? Disappointed? Hurt?
JULIE TAN: (Ponders) I think the hurt comes when people write comments like, “Oh do you have STD?”, “Why must you make it such a big deal?”, “It’s nothing what…” When I read stuff like that, I feel a bit... wronged. ’Cos it is something. I don’t understand why people don’t… (Pauses) Maybe ’cos they’re not in it so they don’t feel it.
Some netizens lack a sensitivity chip.
Yeah. Actually for the past week, I have been feeling very down, very angry, very hurt. But I woke up today feeling like, hey, it’s been a week since the whole thing happened and I’m still alive. And I’m coping very well. My family and those who love me are still around me. My girlfriend stayed over last night and we talked about life and everything. And it made me realise that the most important thing at the end of the day is the people who love you. As for those who have wronged or hurt you, that’s something I cannot control.
What do you think of Lingling’s apology?
You know, when I saw it, I was like, okay, that should be [the end of] it. She said sorry, but she did not mention what she’s sorry for. It was more of a ‘I’m going to say sorry in case you send me a lawyer’s letter’. But it’s okay. In life, you don’t get closure for everything. I cannot force her to apologise to me ’cos it doesn’t work like that. So if that’s how the story is going to be, that’s how I am going to accept it.
What was said in that message is very damaging, and not just for an actress.
Yes, anyone would be affected. But there’s nothing I can do about it. The damage is done and there’s no undoing it. No one deserves to go through what I went through. But [what happened] helps me to see a lot of stuff more clearly now. In the future, I’ll teach my kids that words are double edged swords. They can destroy someone or they can build someone up, so be a builder. I’ve also realised that there’s still a lot of bullying going on, that it comes in many forms and we can never stop it.
But there is also a camp of people saying that Huifang’s sending of that message constitutes bullying as well.
Yeah, so it’s a vicious cycle. And if I were to continue going on with this, it will never end. I can let it stop here. I can take the hurt. I’ve read that people who bully are most likely depressed themselves. So why not be the bigger person and show them more care and concern? But that’s not easy if you’re the one being bullied. When I first read the message, I couldn’t be the bigger person. I just couldn’t. I was feeling so many emotions. I was hurt, I was angry, I was sad. How can someone so much older say such things about me? And we’ve been family friends for so long and I have always respected her. So I decided to bring it on social media. I wanted to call her out. And I don’t regret it. Even though people have been saying stuff like, “Oh you’re a celebrity, you shouldn’t use vulgarities”. But come on, we are human too. I don’t see why we cannot express our emotions?
We have to ask: Are you and Calvert dating?
No. We are really, really close friends. But so what if we were dating? Even my mum said, “If you guys really end up together, then okay lor.” But for me now, I don’t want to be in a relationship. I just want to enjoy my single life.
Would you consider dating a guy so much younger?
I have dated much older guys who are really immature. Age doesn’t mean anything. Calvert may be 18 but he is an old soul.
What is he like as a person?
He’s very kind and he’s got a lot of respect for his elders. My mum loves him a lot. Everyone’s mum loves Calvert (laughs). He may be 18 but his level of patience and understanding is way beyond what you would expect of someone his age.
And you guys hang out?
Yeah, me, him, his sister, his cousin, we’re very close. I knew their family before I joined showbiz. I think I was 12, 13? My mum owned a golf store and Huifang-jie and even Lingling-jie would go there ’cos they like to play golf. We would also go to a lot of charity golf events and Tay Ying and Calvert would be there too. But Calvert was very young then so I didn’t talk much to him. We only became close in these past few years.
So you guys aren’t together yet it was your ‘relationship’ that started the whole mess.
Right? That’s why Cal and I… We laugh at what happened.
Was he angry?
He was at first. But he was more hurt than anything. He’s dealing with it well and he is smart to keep silent. He’s in the army, what more do you all want from him?
So how did the rumour about both of you dating start?
There was a gathering and I remember we were playing Fun Run (a multiplayer smartphone game for millennials) and I was sitting between my god brother and him ’cos we were on the same team. Someone took a video of us playing the game, though the screenshot used in that article only showed me and Cal in it. You know, if we had anything to hide, we would be secretive and tell people not to post, right? Also there were like 16 people there that night and we were watching the World Cup. I mean, I went with Tay Ying to watch the finals at Holland Village. How come no one talked about it? I could be lesbian, right? (Laughs)
We noticed that you commented on that post of Huifang’s where she wrote about cutting a hypocritical person out of her life. Did you know then that she was talking about Lingling?
I didn’t. I just felt that what she said was relatable. She was talking about fake people and there are a lot of fake people around.
Did you tell Huifang that if she hadn’t sent the text, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation now?
No, and there’s really no point to that. I read this quote once, “In life, there are no ‘what ifs’, only ‘what happened” and ‘the consequences’.
I looked through your IG and saw the comments that people have been leaving. It must feel terrible to read them.
I was very affected. What hurt most was when people said that if I hadn’t been “loose” in the first place, no one would have the chance to say such things about me. I think this is a very (sighs)... It reminds me of those cases where a girl gets raped and people say, “Why did she wear such a short skirt?”
Yeah. Come on, what century are we in now and why do people still think like that? For a moment, I could understand why rape victims don’t want to come forward sometimes. I’m not saying what I experienced is equivalent to a rape, but it’s similar in the sense that when something happens, people always blame the girl. ’Cos I had three boyfriends before so it gives her reason to talk about me? ’Cos my previous boyfriend was an “angmoh” so that’s reason for her to talk about me? Okay, and then?
Do you think you would still be as open about your next relationship?
You know, I think I would still be. (Laughs). I mean, come on? It’s normal to be in relationships. Unless you want me to be 50 before I go find a boyfriend? Then people would say, “Wah so old haven’t gotten married ah?” People will talk no matter what.
I think people forget that you’re only 25.
I mean, no one is as lucky as Pan Lingling to have only one relationship her whole life. Good for you! But I remember her telling me, when we were filming A Song To Remember together, that I shouldn’t get married too young, and that I should meet more people, to get into a few relationships so I would know what I want and what I don’t want. And now she’s using that against me. I don’t get it. I mean, one of my relationships was abusive, would you rather I continue staying in an abusive relationship?
You mentioned that you’ve had three boyfriends.
Yeah. I was thinking, “What’s wrong with that?!”
Maybe the only difference between you and other 25-year-old girls is that you’re in the public eye and you were open about it.
Yeah but it’s not like I had 20 boyfriends. That’s why I feel like, why? What’s wrong?! There are people my age who have been in many more relationships! And then there are also people who are older and who are still enjoying single life and meeting people. Nothing wrong with that too, right? It’s a whole new level of judgemental (shrugs).
Do you think she has something against you?
I don’t know. You would have to ask her that.
Then why you?
Maybe ’cos I’m close to Calvert? That if you took me out of the equation and it was someone else who was close to him, that person would kena too. But I also think if we take Huifang-jie out of the picture, me and [Lingling] would just be normal.
What’s your relationship with Pan Lingling been like all these years?
We don’t really talk. But we’ve been family friends for a long time. We didn’t work together after Song to Remember. For actors, if you don’t work on the same shows, you won’t talk much ’cos everyone is very busy with their lives.
So you guys were never close?
[We were close] only during that period when she played my mum in Song. And she really did take care of me then. And every now and then she would play golf with my mum and they would go for dinner and all. Sometimes I would only find out that my mum met up with her when she posts photos of the gathering on Facebook.
Is your mum still angry?
To be honest, yes. ’Cos she read the comments online. She has an Instagram account, which she uses to stalk me (laughs).
Have you spoken to Lingling since the incident?
Nope. She called my mum but not me. I would be more than happy to pick up her phone call. I mean the world is round, so you never know what’s going to happen next. But I don’t want to spend my life feeling negative. All this negativity has actually caused a lot of stress on me.
Has it been affecting your health?
Yeah and I think my thyroid is back. My mum mentioned that my throat looks a bit swollen ’cos when I’m stressed, it acts up. So now I’m trying to be more positive and focus on the people who love and care for me. To make the most out of everything.
Your dad has always been very against you joining showbiz. So how’s he taking all this?
He. Is. So. Angry. With. Me. ’Cos to him such things shouldn’t be aired in public. And it’s not something one should be proud of. He has been very firm about me quitting showbiz to work full-time on his business and I would probably come to a decision at the end of the year. For now, I’m trying to convince him that things aren’t that bad. But if he goes onto social media… (exhales) Which parent would like to see their daughter get slammed like that?
You mentioned that your dad’s biz partners have asked him about the scandal?
Yeah, his business partners have called to ask if everything is okay. I’ve been helping him with certain aspects of his business and ’cos of what happened, people will question my credibility based on the allegations. So this is all part of dealing with the aftermath. As if it weren’t already tough enough for a woman in the business world.
Plus, you’re an actress.
Yup no one takes [actors] seriously [in the world of business]. “You just go and film lah, what are you doing here?!”
But you are serious about working on his business?
I’m not there to play around lah.
I think another consequence of this scandal is that now everyone thinks artistes all secretly dislike one another.
I can’t speak for other people, but for me, I’ve always been very clear about who I like and who I don’t like. (Laughs)
For the longest time, we’ve only heard stories about how younger stars are disrespectful of the older ones. Have there been times when you had to swallow your pride when dealing with an older actor because of his seniority?
In the past, you would be able to tell from my face if someone does something I don’t agree with. It was that way until someone talked to me about it. The person said, “As much as you don’t like someone, you should always respect him or her by virtue of the fact that he or she is older than you.” And I asked, “What if he or she doesn’t deserve my respect?” And the person said, “Then you can just walk away”. But for me, I will tell that person how I feel before walking away. That’s the respect that I can give myself. There’s also a difference between fighting and standing up for yourself. And right now, I’m standing up for myself. I have been hurt but I’m dealing with it and I am moving on. I won’t fake it like I’m fine. I’m just a human being trying to deal with this whole thing.
Which veteran star do you respect most?
[Huang] Biren-jie. She’s my mummy lor. [Biren played Julie’s mum in Three Wishes (2014)].
Did she get the message?
(Nods) But when she got it, she didn’t call me, she didn’t even ask me about it.
I guess she didn’t want to be the one to break it to me ’cos it’s really so nasty. So when it happened, I called her and she said, “Girl, when things have happened, just move on and focus on being a better person.”
Have a lot of your former colleagues showed their support for you?
Yeah, everyone’s like. “Hey, are you okay? Be strong.” Some of them also told me not to care about what’s been said and to keep cool. I understand their intentions but to me, if you don’t voice out, you’ll always get bullied. And I’m here to show that I’m not someone you can bully. I may get hurt, and I’ll have setbacks, but at the end of the day, I’ll always come back stronger. Some people who have been victims of such bullying have also come to tell me what they’ve been through. They said that their situation wasn’t as bad as mine ’cos at least it wasn’t made public. They also said they were proud of me for standing up for myself ’cos all they did was to keep quiet.
Do you know if people have been taking sides?
I don’t ask but yeah. There’s no point taking sides now, though. That’s just feeding into all the negativity. Maybe they want to see a show but after a certain point, let’s move on.
Do you think you will distance yourself from social media during this period?
You know, I was asking my PR team [she’s managed by Gushcloud now] if I can comment on the SGAG memes and they told me that I should lay low for now ’cos I’m the victim. I was like, “What victim?!” I’m not here to act ke lian (‘pitiful’ in Mandarin). Just because I’m hurt doesn’t mean I’ll play the victim.
But it’s okay to be the victim.
I just can’t. I bounce back fast. Maybe it’s ’cos I’ve finished crying all my tears. I cried a lot during the first few days. I cried myself to sleep. At night, I would look at my ceiling and my tears would fall. I would say, “Why? Is it ’cos I had boyfriends?”… “Am I cheap?” I started to blame myself and trust me, the things I said were probably even nastier than what netizens have written. But I think it’s ’cos I allowed myself to feel the hurt and that’s why I could heal faster. I don’t like to dwell in negativity. You know when I was 23, I went through a very bad break-up and I was so depressed that I even hurt myself.
I used to cut myself. And I still have the scars. I used to always blame myself whenever bad things happened. But I went through that very bad patch of my life and I’ve learnt how to forgive myself. Now I am able to feel what I’m feeling and be able to curb the urge to hurt myself.
Not many people are willing to admit that about themselves.
In the past, I was also ashamed to admit that I had these thoughts. And the more I tried to fight them, the more I couldn’t control it. When I was in New York (where she enrolled in an acting course), one of my teachers told me that as actors, if we ever feel depressed or emotional, it’s fine. And at that time, I was, like, “Really? It’s okay to feel this way?” She said we needed these emotions for our job. But our emotions are like a dragon, we have to learn how to control it. That’s when I learned that it’s okay to feel this way. That at the end of the day, you don’t hurt yourself but you pick yourself up.
Did you seek help for your depression?
Yes. It was my mentor who realised that I was depressed and that I have anxiety issues. He was very careful when he broached the topic of seeing a psychiatrist. At first I was like, “Why do I want to see a psych? I’m fine.” And he said it’s not about being fine but it’s about speaking to a professional. I was reluctant but when I started, I realised that certain things I felt go back all the way to childhood trauma.
How do you think another person would have reacted in your situation?
If it were me from five years ago, I think I would have fallen into depression again. I would hurt myself. I would look at this thing as such a humiliation, that there’s no point living and I should just end my life. That was me then. I wouldn’t have known how to cope with all these emotions and the feedback from the public. I wouldn’t know how to face my parents. Wow, it could have been very bad.
It’s important for people to know that it’s okay to admit that they’re depressed and to ask for help.
Yes. Some people are afraid how others would view them. Like, “Eh, she siao one”, “Must be keng one”. But you’d be surprised. When I was depressed, I looked okay from the outside but when I was home, I’d start crying. Seeking help is not something to be ashamed about. It’s about dealing with your emotions.
How do you think you will look at this whole incident a year from now?
I think I would be proud of myself if I’m able to walk out of this knowing that I came out a better person. But right now I’m still in the midst of walking out. That’s why I say I’m not a victim. It’s very tiring to be a victim. And I’ve got no time for that.