updated 24 Dec 2010, 22:41
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Fri, Dec 24, 2010
The New Paper
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He gets stars to bare all
by Maureen Koh

HE got Hong Kong singer Kelly Chen to cry on his show and singer-actress Gillian Chung to reveal her “naive” love for Edison Chen.

He also got sultry actress Athena Chu to talk about why she left her superstar boyfriend.

In just under four years since he first rolled out Be My Guest, Hong Kong host Stephen Chan has had the hottest stars, plus businessmen – Jimmy Lai, founder and chairman of Next Media, which publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine and Ronald Arculli chairman of the Hong Kong Exchange – spill it all on his Cantonese talkshow.

Even politicians like Hong Kong’s chief executive Donald Tsang, chief secretary Henry Tang and veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau have been his guests on the show.

The weekly episodes – which lasts about 50 minutes each – are usually filmed at a restaurant, where the guests enjoy good food and fine wine while they discuss the most intimate details of their lives.

Stephen was in town recently to attend the StarHub TVB Awards 2009, during which he picked up the award for My Best TVB Variety Show.

So what is it about him that makes his guests talk so much about their lives on his show?

The answer is simple: It is the art of listening that has worked the magic.

The 50-year-old told The New Paper: “I try to focus on the art of listening, maybe that’s why they (the guests) are willing to share with me. Everyone needs a listener.”

Patience is the key.

Said Stephen: “I keep the questions short and I try not to interrupt even when they stop, because when they get emotional, they may stop. I just let the emotions run.”

Understand better

The host said his role as a public persona has also helped him better understand what his company of stars – some of the hottest in Asia – go through.

He said: “I found that paparazzi had been following me. But it’s also good because it helps me to understand how artistes feel.”

Listening is also the key to managing the stars at TVB, which he has helmed for 16 years.

He said: “My door is always open for anyone who wants to walk in, to discuss whatever issues they may have, however big or small. Stars or not, everyone needs respect. As long as you’re willing to communicate, to listen, they’re happy even though you may not offer them any solution.”

But he brushes aside suggestions that the fact he’s the general manager of TVB – Hong Kong main TV broadcaster – played a part in persuading the celebs, most of whom are not even TVB artistes, to open up.

Even though he had experience hosting radio programmes, he admitted he was initially worried that the concept of a chat show with him as the host might fail.

The showbiz icon said: “I was worried because if I didn’t do it right, there would be criticisms. Even if I did it right, there would still be criticisms.”

Fame was the least of his concerns then.

“All this started because we wanted to launch the channel’s Pay Vision TV. I had my concerns initially because I’ve hosted radio programmes before but not TV.”

It took him one night to mull over the idea. “Then I took on the challenge because I too was convinced that the show would be a talking point – good or bad.”

Love or loathe his probing skills, Be My Guest soon became a platform for celebrities to “set records straight”.

So has anyone turned down his request for an interview?

Stephen laughed and said: “Oh, many. Not everyone says yes.”

One example was Loretta Chu, a former Miss Hong Kong. She was previously married to Mr Timothy Fok, son of the late tycoon and philanthropist Henry Fok. They divorced in 2006 and she married Hong Kong real estate billionaire Vincent Lo at the Four Seasons Hotels in Singapore two years later.

Open book

Stephen said: “She’d said yes, then she thought about it and she said, ‘Stephen, I don’t want my life to be an open book.’

“She asked if I could conduct the interview without mentioning her family, her sons or her new love life.”

After giving it some thought, Stephen told Loretta to “just take it I’ve never invited you on my show”.

He said: “If they don’t feel comfortable, I don’t want to press them. But if they’re prepared to accept the interview, then be prepared to share with us freely.”

Like in the case of Gillian Chung.

He said: “I asked her many times, even when she said she is ready. Just before we began filming, I asked her again if she was ready to share her experience. If not, let us not do it.”

She insisted she was ready. To Stephen, confidence is paramount.

“As a celebrity, people will write about you, talk about you – some bad, some good, or even make unfounded allegations. Whatever it is, you have to have this EQ and confidence in yourself. If you have confidence, you shine.”

Oh, and of course, passion.

“It’s just like finding a partner – you can’t just settle for someone. You have to find someone you really love, love so much that whatever he or she does, you still accept it.

“And only then can you find success and joy in showbiz.”

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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