This week's cover boy, Nat Ho, has come a long way, since his Singapore Idol days. Before the TV hunk stole hearts with his role as Jay in Tanglin, he was turning heads as a Polo Boy way back in 2009. We re-visit the 32-year-old actor-singer's spandex-donning cover shoot with us from back then.
It’s a cold day in hell, we mean the photo studio, when Michelle Chia is doing a shoot with five guys and she’s baring the least skin. But she’s abs-olutely cool about Polo Boys Adrian Pang, Nat Ho, Kiwi Lim and Primeo Ang stealing her thunder.
It was originally conceived as Polo Girls starring Fiona Xie. But, sadly, she went into hiding. Okay, we jest. The show is Polo Boys and it was always about guys in itsy bitsy trunks playing ball in the pool. Girls running down Orchard Road in bikinis? That’s so 2004. Welcome to the era of Equal Opportunity Ogling. Objectify, oops, admire men just like you do women. Maybe the difference is only in the vocab. Not so much ‘cleavage’ and ‘legs’, but ‘abs’ and ‘pecs’. But just like the brave women who have dared to bare in the guise of pretend-swimming and make-believe volleyball on TV, Adrian, Nat, Primero and Kiwi here will be scrutinised, appraised and appreciated. They’ll flaunt their butts, develop a complex about their stomachs and worry about their thighs. It’s a tough job, and now they guys have to do it too.
But we’re sure that the good writers at Polo Boys aren’t just pandering to horny female viewers (and curious men) with this show of male skin. We hear this drama is about the challenges that young men these days face. It’s a healthy sports drama for the entire family. It explores themes such as teamwork, the father-son relationship and the unbearable angst of young love. You know, serious issues.
The complex issue at hand right now is the tussle between gratuitous pleasure and guilt as we stand in the room and train our eyes on the action. The stars are prepping their bodies for our cover shoot. Nat is smoothing baby oil over his boyishly lean limbs. Kiwi is doing one-handed push-ups on the floor, the muscles on his back rippling as he pumps. The unbridled voyeurism is starting to get embarrassing. Hmm, do guys feel the same way looking at bikini-clad women? Like we said, serious issues.
Michelle Chia, who plays the water polo coach, is sitting in a corner, completely impervious to the flesh parade, her famously hot body concealed beneath a fluffy robe. She’s seen it all before, back when they filmed for seven-and-a-half weeks from March. “In this show, it’s the gentlemen first,” she says matter-of-factly, not at all bothered by having to wait her turn while the stylists fuss over the men. Oh, how the tables have turned.
NAT HO, 25
The former ACS student used to be a twee choir boy looking at the polo boys in the canteen. But he can channel the top dog swagger — after he’s done buffing up.
8 DAYS: We hear it was an uphill battle for you to buff up for Polo Boys.
NAT HO: Yeah. It’s hard for me to gain bulk. Before filming started, I was very stressed because people were telling me things like, “The rest of the guys are very tua jiak (big-sized), you’d better do something!” I had only a month to train, so it was very tough, and I ended up taking protein shakes. Not mass gainers though, ’cos I heard they’re not good for your kidneys and you’ll get ‘back-ne’ (back acne). When I started filming, I was 62kg. By the end of production, I was about 66kg. And ’cos of the tan, I looked quite nice. (Laughs)
Did you feel insecure standing next to those big guys?
Yeah! If you line everyone up, you’ll see that my neh (chest) is the smallest. I’m not one who likes to take it off, but it seems to be happening a lot to me. I had to do this impromptu underwear scene in Ch 8’s Honour and Passion two years ago and that was really terrible — I had no time to prepare! I wish I had more time to train for Polo Boys. If there’s a second season, I’ll be in better form!
We hear your manager used to tell you to eat more.
I do eat a lot, but everything gets burned fast ’cos I used to walk everywhere. But I started to notice a spare tyre round my waist after I got my car! I’m too young for that! So I started hitting the gym and going for muay thai. But my new production is taking up a lot of time so I haven’t been going. I’ve been eating soupy stuff for two weeks to prepare for this 8 DAYS shoot. Oh, and I haven’t eaten dinner today. I’m feeling faint, but bo pian (no choice)!
You’re from ACS, which is known for their polo boys.
The polo boys in ACS were really the jock type — they were always hanging out in a clique in the canteen. I was a choir boy. (Laughs) But I’m not worried about them talking s**t about me when they see me in this show, ’cos most of them are fat now. (Laughs) I see them at school gatherings and think, “Oh, what happened?”
Who has the best bod?
Kiwi. In terms of proportion, everything seems to fit nicely. I’m so jealous. (Laughs)
Is this the male version of Ch 8’s The Champion?
I don’t think so.
But there’s a scene where you guys lost a bet and had to walk into the school canteen in your trunks.
Oh gosh, I totally forgot about that! I must have been so traumatised by that experience that I blocked it out. It’s selective amnesia. But that took place near the end of filming, so my body was slightly better. (Laughs)
We’re guessing you’re comfortable about being topless now?
Not really, but it seems like it’s gonna happen more. I’ve promised myself that once filming for my current production ends, I’ll hit the gym more, ’cos I could be asked to take off my top anytime! I’d better be prepared, or else people will say, “Eh, why his body like that one!” (Laughs) - JONATHAN FAM
ADRIAN PANG, 43
In a show full of sinewy young boys, Adrian is kinda like the Muscles Mentor. He tells us what it’s like working with guys half his age who’re “10 times fitter”.
8 DAYS: Filming for Polo Boys started in March. When did you start training for the show?
ADRIAN PANG: I play an ex-water polo player, so three weeks before filming started, I did some cardio at the gym twice a week. Once filming started, I did some laps in the pool whenever I had time. Sometimes, I go running from my house in Telok Kurau to the beach, but it’s not far at all. It’s basically crossing the road, and dodging traffic while I’m at it.
You say you don’t do any exercise at all outside of filming. We find that hard to believe, looking at you.
I have two energetic sons aged nine and 10, and playtime with them every day involves lifting and tossing them in the air. We also play this game called Wobbly-Gobbly, where I’m a monster, and that’s 30 minutes of intense spurts of running. I’m glad to say I’m still fast enough to catch them, and I take advantage of that to stay in shape.
Any special diet?
I love chicken and fish, so there’s no real change to my diet, besides lowering my carb intake. Oh, and I had some tau huay today. It was a last-minute desperate attempt to have some protein just for today’s shoot.
How would you describe your body?
Vaguely malformed. Actually, I was a skinny runt for most of my life until I got to my early 30s. Then I worked out like hell for a few productions I did. Since then, I make it a point to stay in shape, sporadically. I’ve never thought of myself as sexy.
Do you have any insecurities walking around in front of all these younger guys?
Absolutely! It’s like a Miss World beauty pageant where all the girls are looking at the size of one another’s chests. These boys are half my age and 10 times fitter than I am. I absolutely have the worst body — there’s no contest there.
Who do you think is gonna watch this show?
(Laughs) Er, I’m sure the gay population will be our biggest demographic. And I say, great! It’s time there was a programme just for them!
How about the women?
Oh, them! Never thought of them! Well, I suppose they’ll watch it! At the end of the day, this show’s about friendship and father-son relationships. And for the younger viewers, there’s all the angsty boygirl stuff.
We thought it was just gratuitous male nudity.
And that, too! The nudity is the main thrust — for want of a better word — of the show. It’s the other things — like the father-son stuff — that’s gratuitous.
You’re David Hasselhoff, aren’t you?
The boys are the David Hasselhoffs. I am the transgender equivalent of Alexandra Paul, the Baywatch actress with the flat chest and short hair.
Was anyone’s trunks padded?
(Laughs) Mine certainly weren’t! The trunks are so small, nothing else would fit in them! There’s no space for your pubes, let alone any other foreign objects. Also, we have no budget to enhance anything digitally. It is what it is.
Did you boys ever compare sizes?
Size of… paychecks! (Laughs) Yes, we do, all the time. I think Primero had the largest... package. Or that’s what he tries to make us believe. I will unreservedly say I had the time of my life filming Polo Boys. Filming with a bunch of hormonal 20-yearolds — all you talk about is sex. All manner of low-brow humour is the order of the day.
Speaking of which, you unleashed quite a lot of F-bombs in the film The Blue Mansion. Do you do that in front of your sons?
To my shame, yes, I’ve let [the word] escape recently. They know it’s a naughty word that’s not to be used in civilised company. I’ve tried to bring up my boys as liberally as I can, and they know a lot for their age. But having said that, they make me believe that they still believe in Santa Claus.
MICHELLE CHIA, 33
The actress doesn’t work out, but she has a toned body. She goes out in the sun a lot, but she has no wrinkles. Yes, life’s darn unfair.
8 DAYS: You always seem so fit and toned. What’s your workout regimen like?
MICHELLE CHIA: Thanks, but that’s putting a lot of pressure on me. I’m not that toned anymore, you know. I used to do a lot of sports, such as wakeboarding, three or four times a week. I also did a lot of yoga, swimming and dancing.
I don’t have the time. I try to go swimming, but not really.
So you’re telling us it’s genetic?
Maybe? (Laughs) People are going to hate me! But I swim! That’s the best workout.
Aren’t you scared of getting tanned?
Nope. As long as you take care of your skin and use sunblock, it’ll be fine. Beauty doesn’t equal fairness for me. I like the outdoors and if that means being tanned, then okay lor.
But getting tanned means more wrinkles, no?
No! See! (Smiles to show the lack of wrinkles around her eyes) I only started using sunblock when I hit 30, and I was under the sun a lot in my 20s. Lucky, hor? I don’t have freckles, either.
So how did you prepare for this photo shoot?
I didn’t do anything! (To Adrian Pang who’s walking past) Adrian, my tummy very fat… how? (Adrian shoots back, “Your ‘out-of-shape’ is what people train three months to achieve!”) (Laughs) I’m damn not-in-shape now.
Do you and Shaun do any sports together?
I don’t like to go to the gym, but he does. He plays badminton, but I don’t. I do yoga and wakeboard, but he doesn’t. (Laughs) He tried to make me run but… Argh, I’m just not into it. And he’s damn good at badminton, so it’s a waste of time to play with him.
Which are the favourite parts of your body?
(Without missing a beat) My shoulders and butt. My shoulders are broad and straight, which makes it easy for me to wear clothes. They get complimented a lot. My butt is not the flat kind, so when I wear dresses and jeans, you can see the contours.
Good for making babies?
No, no… my butt is not wide, okay? If you look at me, you’ll think I wear small-sized jeans, but I wear bigger jeans than girls my size, ’cos of my butt.
You play a water polo coach and a professor in the show. How unbelievable is that?
Unbelievable! But in the show, I know nuts about water polo anyway. And why can’t I be a professor? (Laughs)
You only have one swimsuit scene in the entire show? How is that possible?
’Cos this show is for the guys to show off. It’s about time! It’s a relief that the focus is not on me. I loved it. I had a good time filming.
How did it feel to stare at half-naked boys all day long?
If they don’t feel paiseh, why should I? Maybe in the beginning, when I had to talk to them in their near-naked state, I was like… Argh (Struggles not to look downwards). But you just get used to it. After a while I was like, “Eh, your body not so nice today hor? Eh, your tan not so even today hor?” (Laughs)
To make us feel better, tell us which parts of your body you’re not satisfied with.
Well, I’m not going to tell you ’cos then all you’ll do is to notice it! Nope. Never! - JONATHAN FAM
KIWI LIM, 21
The Temasek Polytechnic student and only legit polo boy, is a walking recruitment ad for water polo. He’s unbelievably fit — and eats all the junk food he wants.
8 DAYS: How did you get this gig?
KIWI LIM: There’s a guy from my water polo club whose wife is a parttime actress — I think she was once on Phua Chu Kang — and she asked us to try out for this new show. I got the number of the casting guy and arranged for all of us to go, which means I actually approached them. (Laughs) I think I got the role because I made an effort to memorise the script and rehearse the scenes — it’s like role play. Not that I can act, but I tried to — my friends just went and didn’t know what to do. (Laughs)
So you want to be famous lah…
No! Really! At first I didn’t want to go, but my brother told me, “If you don’t go, later MediaCorp anyhow whack, then water polo chui (Hokkien slang for ‘destroy’) how?” So I have a purpose! I must make water polo look good!
Tell us more about yourself.
I’m in the third year of an infocomms course in Temasek Poly. I play water polo for my school. I’m trying to move on to play polo full time — not in Singapore but in Spain. They have a professional league there. But hard, lah.
As the only real water polo player in Polo Boys, tell us how true to life the show is.
I think my role is true-to-life. My character is an angry man. And I’m the captain on my school team, where I’m known as the devil because I eff my team mates up every time they do something wrong. But I don’t see any female coaches in real life. That’s just bull. Don’t tell Michelle. (Laughs)
What would you do if you had a coach as hot as Michelle Chia?
I’d go to training every day. I wouldn’t care how tired I was. My coach now is not hot and he doesn’t look like a girl at all. (Guffaws)
You’re very comfortable parading around in trunks.
I am! Because I’m always in trunks anyway. But now that I see the trailers on TV every day, I scared, you know. Mostly because my English not good.
So how not good is it?
How to say ah... It’s my pronunciation lah. Words just sound different when I say them and people laugh at me, so there’re a lot of NG s (‘no good’ takes). Pai seh lah, so I tried to practise speaking properly, but really cannot lah — it’s damn funny. So the director told me to just be myself. So I speak Singlish lor. Bo pian — that’s me.
So who has the best bod on the show?
Me. (Laughs) You know, [co-star] Paul [Foster] takes care of his body — I don’t. I eat junk food, I don’t care about my diet, and I don’t see the need to go to the gym. Adrian is always asking me how to build my chest — I tell him, polo lor. It’s the best because there’s cardio and strength building involved. I train six times a week, two hours per session.
Which is your favourite body part?
My low fat percentage body. (Laughs) What is a diet? I just ate western food — chicken cutlet with fries.
Did you pad your trunks in the show?
No… I know I’m small, but I don’t give a damn! Primero doesn’t need to pad — he has a big package. (Laughs)
Who do you think will watch the show?
My classmates? My mum and my aunties? Girls and metrosexual guys?
Is the name Kiwi in your IC?
No. My name is Lim Kian Hwee. I got the name in Primary Six when I was playing Counterstrike, and I kept ‘killing’ this guy. He was not happy and asked for my name. When I told him, he laughed and said, “What Kian Hwee? Kiwi lah!” I liked it and it stuck. Now, people always ask me, “Bird or fruit?” Bird, of course — I don’t want to be hairy and green.
But kiwi birds get ogled at the zoo — do you feel like a piece of meat being ogled now?
I do, because we have to be topless for all the promos, but I don’t care lah. I just want water polo to be on TV. And we really wear tiny trunks what. Later I show you my trunks— very nice one! - JONATHAN FAM
PRIMERO ANG, 27
His name means ‘first’ in Spanish. And depending on whom you ask (like his, ahem, over-awed co-stars in the previous pages, for instance), the 27-year-old civil servant of Chinese-Eurasian parentage, is No. 1 in different ways. To us, he’s just the Most Unabashedly Outspoken.
8 DAYS: You’ve been busy since dropping out of season one of Singapore Idol!
PRIMERO ANG: After I flamed out of the Top 28 at Singapore Idol, I did some hosting on Kids Central. I’ve also played a supporting role on Life Story 2 with Max Loong, and I've appeared on Incredible Tales as well.
So how did you get this gig?
A Ch 5 casting director asked me to go for the audition. I play Jin, who’s the weakest waterpolo player in the team. The best part was that I was told by the producer not to train so I could be convincingly weak!
How would you describe your body?
Okay, average. Before the shoot started, I was training for boxing, which I do recreationally. I would wake up at 4am in the morning to run 5km, then go back to sleep. Then I’d wake up to have breakfast, and skip for 30 minutes. Once filming started, I just did maintenance work — cardio stuff such as jogging and skipping.
Any special diet?
Not really! But I cut down on carbs.
’Fess up — were you boys ogling Michelle Chia during filming?
Not really! We treat each other like brothers and sisters! But there’s this inside joke that every time there’s a female extra on the set, I’ll be the first one to ogle her! (Laughs) All of us are chee hong (lascivious), but I’m more outspoken and tend to approach the extras to talk to them. There can be long waits during filming, you know.
Do you feel like a piece of meat on this show?
When we first read the script we thought, “Sh**! We’re going to be a display of man meat!” We do hope viewers will watch it for the story, but it doesn’t hurt that we’re in trunks every week.
Who do you think has the best body of all the guys?
I’m hard-pressed between two guys: Hansen [Lee] and Paul [Foster]. Hansen is a He-Man kind of guy — he’s got a freaking huge chest, man. Paul is leaner, and I prefer that.
Naughty question for you: Have you ever stuffed your trunks?
Well, there was this time I walked around with three pieces of 3-ply tissue stuffed inside my trunks. But it made no difference. These trunks are so tight that even if you had a boner, no one could see anything.
PHOTOS: JOEL LOW
STYLIST’S ASSISTANT: MAGGIE WOO / MAKE-UP: JOEY CHAN (HP: 9008-2888) USING CO LOURS FROM YSL/HAIR: NICHOLAS CHU OF TWISTER BY MONSOON USING L’OREAL PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTS / On Michelle: Dress: Bottega Venetta / Shoes: Yves Saint Laurent. Both at Paragon / Ambrosia diamond bracelet from Goldheart Jewelry. Special thanks to Singapore Jewelfest 2009, Word of Mouth Communications PL, FUJI QUEK AND MR KWOK KIT CHYE OF MEDIACORP for their kind assistance.