Cheryl Wee: from self-starved starlet to empowered entrepreneur

The ‘Mata Mata’ actress tells us about her tough few months in the Taiwan showbiz scene and plans to launch a business with her mother Jean Yip; plus, Daren Tan reveals when he intends to tie the knot

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Text and Photos: Tammi Tan, reporting from Penang
Video: Teng Siew Eng

After missing out on season two of Mata Mata due to commitments in Taiwan (more on that in a bit), local actress Cheryl Wee is back in the third instalment of the Channel 5 period drama, titled A New Generation. The series, which is set in the 1980s, also stars Desmond Tan, Oon Shu An, Daren Tan and Alaric Tay.

This time, she plays the daughter of her previous character ASP Elizabeth Lee, Joyce Goh, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps to join the police force. “She’s a little bit of an awkward geek,” Cheryl explained to Toggle during our interview on set in Penang, adding that “it feels like home” to be back on the show again.

We don’t think she’s speaking just figuratively. From April to December last year, the Music and Movement artiste, 28, was living on her own in Taipei, where she signed with Gin Star Entertainment (which manages stars like Amber An, Anthony Neely and Chen Han Dian). There, she underwent training in dance and acting, and made appearances on several variety programmes.

Although she enjoyed her time and learned many things there, Cheryl admitted to feeling homesick because she did not travel back to Singapore often. Fortunately for her, fellow local talents Nat Ho and Dawn Yeoh lived just two train stops from her, and the trio would hang out regularly, checking out eating places and frequenting supermarkets together.

Something not as easily dealt with were the high standards of beauty there. “A lot of focus is placed on weight and being light-skinned, and I’m not exactly ideal when it comes to that,” she candidly shared. “People would say to me, ‘Maybe you can be fairer, thinner and make your face smaller?’”

Because of this, Cheryl, believing it was “what she should be doing” because of her profession, embarked on a variety of diets, from cutting out carbohydrates to consuming only vegetables at night. Her most extreme one involved drinking just three cups of oatmeal (with one fruit thrown in occasionally) a day, which fuelled her with a meagre 400 calories – just one-fifth of the recommended daily calorie intake for women. She would also work out like crazy, clocking in hours upon hours of gym time, yoga, spinning and body pumps.


Unsurprisingly, her methods, while effective for a time (“If you don’t eat, of course you’re going to lose weight”), took a toll on her wellbeing. “I never fainted but I knew my health wasn’t so good,” she said. “After starving myself, I would end up overeating with lots of bread and chocolate, which is bad because it’s not a balanced diet.”

Thankfully, Cheryl has put her unsound kilo-shedding ways behind her, and places more importance on being happy and healthy. “Don’t torture yourself – if you ill-treat your body, it’s going to ill-treat you right back,” she warned. “There’s no point in not allowing yourself to eat anything [and being skinny] but you’re so miserable right? You have to enjoy yourself, but of course, don’t overeat because that’s not healthy either.”

In fact, the ambitious and enterprising lass is turning her philosophy into an entire business: she revealed that she is working on launching a “sister label” with her mother, hair and beauty mogul Jean Yip.

“I can’t reveal too much, but it’s going to be something that combines what I’ve learned about health and nutrition with my mum’s expertise in beauty and wellness,” she said. “I don’t necessarily want to take over the company, but I do want to learn from her. It’s not going to be easy because I have to manage my time between that and [my activities in] Taiwan, but I’m still young and I think it’ll be a wonderful experience.”

When we tried to dig for more info about her new business venture, all she cheekily divulged was, “[Let me] keep you in suspense lah!” Oh well, guess we’ll have to wait for the updates she promised.

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Daren Tan hopes to get married in three years?

Like Cheryl, Daren is making his return to Mata Mata as undercover officer Lim Kiat, the offspring of his character from previous seasons Lim Seng Hock.

Unlike Cheryl, he has no plans to expand his career in Taiwan, or anywhere else outside of Singapore.

“Frankly, if I wanted to do that, I would have done it seven years ago,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m perfectly fine with what I’m doing here. I’m a person who is quite risk averse so I don’t like going to a country and not knowing whether I’ll succeed or not. I would rather play safe.”

Since winning the second season of singing reality contest Project SuperStar in 2007, Daren has dabbled more in acting than in music. However, fans of Daren the singer can look forward to a few upcoming collaborations with friends like ShiGGa Shay, as well as live performances at a few SG50 events.

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Daren and Nadia (couple picture from Daren's Instagram)

(Picture of Daren and Nadia from Daren's Instagram)

Something else we can all look forward to – if everything goes well – are wedding bells between him and girlfriend Nadia Lum, a medical officer whom he went public with (at least on social media) in April this year.

“I can’t tell you for certain [when I’m going to get married] but hopefully it won’t take too long – I would say, before I’m 35?” the 32-year-old said with a smile, before politely declining to reveal more information about Nadia or their relationship.

Daren is a lot less secretive about his romance on social media, and doesn’t shy away from posting cute couple selfies on Instagram. When we asked why he chooses to be so open (as opposed to other artistes who keep this aspect of their private lives fiercely under wraps), he explained, “If people like me as an artiste, they should respect and accept the fact that I have a partner, so it’s no big deal.”

Mata Mata: A New Generation premieres at 10pm on December 7 on Channel 5. Stay tuned for more features from our visit to the set in Penang!

More from our set visit to Penang:
No more Mr. Funny Guy: Alaric Tay takes on his first serious villain role

Catch up on the previous two seasons of Mata Mata on Toggle:

Mata Mata season 1
Mata Mata season 2

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