Jobs you never knew celebs had

Delivering McDonald's, cutting hair, cuddling otters, and more jobs local artistes had before becoming famous

10 local stars who had surprising jobs before they became famous
10 local stars who had surprising jobs before they became famous
25 Jul 2017

10 local stars who had surprising jobs before they became famous

If you ever spent your youth juggling odd jobs like giving tuition or waiting tables, then you’re in good company, as many of our own local artistes entered the workforce by doing things – well, less glamorous than being a celebrity. For instance, did you know that Desmond Tan used to greet customers at The Gap? Or that Shane Pow was a McDelivery rider?

While all of them had different experiences, they all credited these jobs for helping them develop the soft skills needed to succeed in showbiz. Things like empathy, a willingness to go out of one’s comfort zone, and confidence might not be things you put on a resume, but they can go a long way in helping you nab your dream job – just ask these celebs, whose ordinary beginnings gave them extraordinary returns.

Here are 10 jobs you never knew celebs had, along with the skills that helped them succeed in life.   

Shane Pow
Shane Pow
25 Jul 2017

Shane Pow

What he learned: How to handle other people’s temper tantrums

Where he learned it: Working as a McDelivery rider

Before starting his TV career, Shane Pow spent a year as a McDonald’s delivery rider. While reaching his destination on time was stressful, the job paid well, as the majority of his clientele lived in private houses in Bukit Timah. Not only did customers tip him generously, but the experience exposed him to a variety of unforgettable characters.

“I meet people all the time and sometimes there are nasty customers. For example, they will rage at me when there isn’t any chilli sauce but I wasn’t the one who packed the bag. So the job made me more tolerant of people and I don’t flare up that easily now. There are times when we are filming, tempers rise and things get hot on set, but I don’t get angsty as easily,” noted Shane.

“I also remember I had to make a delivery to an HDB flat. It was raining and the lift was faulty so I had to climb up 11 storeys with the McDonalds bag. The change for the order was 10 cents. After the customer paid me, he stood there and waited for me to give him his change. I had to put down the bag, look for my ziplock bag, in which my money was kept, and dig for 10 cents. It was just 10 cents! I climbed up 11 storeys! He could have just told me to keep the change.”

Photos: Shane Pow

Paige Chua
Paige Chua
25 Jul 2017

Paige Chua

What she learned: Empathy

Where she learned it: Working at an electronics factory

If you thought Paige Chua’s former career as a Motorshow girl (pictured above) was unexpected, you’ll be surprised to learn that this Subaru babe-turned-actress once worked in a factory. 

“I always wanted to be independent of my parents, and I wanted to try different things before settling into a real job,” Paige said. “So I sent a resume to be a factory worker, like [it said] I just graduated from secondary school, haha! So bad!”

To her delight she actually got the job, so for three months, she and a friend assembled parts. From there, she got to interact with people from different walks of life. Now, Paige credits the experience for helping her understand the characters she plays on TV.

“We made friends with a lot of aunties [and were able to] see what it feels like being a part of the assembly line, living their lives and all that,” she said. “I think the most important [thing I learned], or skill, was to interact with different levels of people. I’m not royalty, but I come from a middle class family, so there are areas whereby I wouldn’t know as much as other people who are more privileged, or underprivileged, because I’m in the middle. So by doing all these jobs, I get to learn about people from different backgrounds. As an artiste now, I need to take on diverse roles, roles of different backgrounds, [so it helped me] kind of understand why my characters behave the way they do, all the different reasons. It helped me understand life a bit more.” 

Felicia Chin
Felicia Chin
25 Jul 2017

Felicia Chin

What she learned: How to deal with stage fright

Where she learned it: Working as a show presenter at the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari

Growing up, Felicia held a lot of odd jobs, including working at a café and giving tuition classes. But as an 18-year-old who “didn’t want to work with humans”, Felicia relished working at the zoo.

“I didn’t want to work with humans, I love animals, but I realised that everywhere you go, you will have to work with humans!” Felicia laughed. “I took care of animals – like the sea otters, those that throw the cans in the bin, it was so cute, and I was able to cuddle them. I had to take care of them though, and clean their environment, and then at the end of the day I would host the Night Safari show and all.”

You’d think that hosting would be a piece of cake for Felicia, but this was prior to joining Star Search. Thankfully – or perhaps terrifyingly – the zoo forced her to confront her stage fright by putting her on stage after less than a week of training.

“I had training for five days, then I had to host the kids’ show where there with things like dogs, birds, cats, and rats. When I took the mic, my voice was trembling because I was so nervous, but I guess maybe from there you pick up how to be confident and face the crowd -- it’s good training when you’re 18!” 

Photo: Felicia Chin Facebook Page

Desmond Tan
Desmond Tan
25 Jul 2017

Desmond Tan

What he learned: Endurance (and fashion sense)

Where he learned it: Working in retail

Being up and about at all hours of the day is part and parcel of success – just ask Desmond Tan, who worked as a retail assistant before entering the entertainment industry.

“For a few weeks, I worked at The Gap greeting people from the morning all the way to the evening,” Desmond reminisced. “This taught me hard work for the service line.”

“Now when I go shopping, I won’t mess up everything because it’s a lot of work to fold things again,” he said. “I pay attention and smile at people who greet me at the store, because I know it’s not easy to stand for hours. I was working and would OT all the time greeting people…but I enjoyed it because I like to interact with people and give them advice on what to buy. I would also upsell – if people wanted to buy a T-shirt, I would get them to buy a pair of jeans too! The long hours in the retail line helped me tolerate the long hours in this career as well.”

Plus, helping customers choose outfits also helped him hone his fashion sense (essential in his career as an artiste, and as a regular on our best-dressed column). 

Photo: Instagram/@thedesmondtan

Ya Hui
Ya Hui
25 Jul 2017

Ya Hui

What she learned: How to think on your feet

Where she learned it: Working as a secretary

Before Ya Hui entered Star Search, she was the secretary to the General Manager of Shaw Towers Realty for six months after her A-Levels. This being her first and only job in the corporate world, Ya Hui was thrown into the deep end and the experience was an eye-opener for the 19-year-old.

“I was like a PA (personal assistant). I had to make appointments, schedule and attend meetings with my boss. I also tried taking minutes but I didn’t do it properly, it was just scribbles,” laughed Ya Hui, adding that she also got the chance to sit in in interviews with potential new hires, never mind that she was a newbie herself and basically clueless when it came to HR matters.

“I didn’t know anything at that time but it was very exciting. I interviewed a few people and I even asked questions. After that I will discuss with the panel to see which candidate is better and make recommendations to my boss. Now I know roughly what kind of questions the management and hirers will ask [during interviews], what kind of answers we are looking for, and how to sell yourself. These are a few skills that I picked up.”

Ben Yeo
Ben Yeo
25 Jul 2017

Ben Yeo

What he learned: How to move out of your comfort zone

Where he learned it: Working as a shampoo boy

Ben Yeo confessed that he pulled strings to land a gig as a hairdressing trainee at celebrity hairstylist David Gan’s salon, Passion, 18 years ago. Armed with a willingness to learn, but with zero relevant skills or experience, he had to start with basic hairdressing techniques like shampooing, blow drying, and haircutting – a process that even talented people can take years to complete.

“It is really not easy. Even when it comes to shampooing, there are techniques involved. My most memorable experience was when I had to shampoo a customer’s waist length hair, which was about one metre long. I was stunned when I saw it,” he recalled.

While Ben hung up his scissors after two months, the experience came in handy when he had to host beauty related programmes like Hair Challenge. And as a family man, he was also able to put his simple hairdressing skills to good use. “I trim both my sons’ hair and most of the time, I style my own hair for my shows. It is faster to just do it myself. Unless the show requires a particular look for example the Elvis Presley ‘do in King of Thrift, then I will get the professionals to do it. You need one and a half hours to achieve that look. They gave up after the first season and decided to just let me wear a wig!”

Photo: Ben Yeo

Dennis Chew
Dennis Chew
25 Jul 2017

Dennis Chew

What he learned: How to arouse interest in disinterested people

Where he learned it: Relief teaching at RGPS

Even though it’s been almost two decades since Dennis Chew taught Chinese at Raffles Girls’ Primary School (RGPS), he still gets emotional when he talks about his stint as a relief teacher. His first week on the job was challenging as the students were very “ang moh pai” (Westernised) and didn’t like Chinese, but Dennis had his ways.

“I never want them to take out their text book. I will tell them my own stories with words that I need to teach them from the syllabus, so I make it interesting for them. I always believe that dramatic teaching, with lots of action and humor attracts them,” said Dennis, adding that his efforts paid off when he saw his students “change attitude wise and academic wise”.

“And it is the same with radio. This is something I apply to my job now to get listeners’ attention. I also think how you talk to students and people is very important. If you are very tactful and sensitive, people will listen to you when you start talking. And of course, you must always smile. Even in radio, you have to smile while you talk. If you don’t smile they will feel you are unfriendly.”

Sheila Sim
Sheila Sim
25 Jul 2017

Sheila Sim

What she learned: The power of teamwork

Where she learned it: Packing hampers for a gift company

During her teens, Sheila Sim dabbled in a variety of holiday jobs, from data entry to selling Christmas trees, but the most memorable was wrapping hampers. There, she learnt the art of assembling and wrapping hampers to concealing mistakes by “using a packet of peanuts to cover it”. Her largest takeaway? The importance of teamwork at any job.

“I understood the whole system of how teamwork works. I can wrap a very nice hamper but if I don’t have a good sales person to sell it then this wouldn’t sell,” said Sheila. “Honestly, I think for a student, any job is a good job. You know that money is hard earned and you also learn about yourself better. From this job, I learned that I am more suited for more hands on work and cannot do sales because I am not good at selling things for the sake of it.”

James Seah
James Seah
25 Jul 2017

James Seah

What he learned: To appreciate what happens behind the scenes

Where he learned it: His internship at a digital media design company

At work, understanding what happens on the front end as well as the back, or in other departments, can give you a more nuanced understanding of your own job scope. While James spends most of his time in front of the camera nowadays, he appreciates how his studies and subsequent internship in digital media design helped him understand what goes on behind the scenes.

“After national service, this (acting) was my first job, but back when I was studying in polytechnic, I was doing digital media design, and I was specialising in 3D animation,” James said. “So I interned at a company that did 3D modeling and animation.”

“I guess it’s more of understanding the production end of stuff. As an actor, you’re in front of the camera, but over there I learned skills and processes, and what happens behind the camera and what happens after you shoot. This gives me a clearer perspective and helps me understand things like camera angles.” 

Lee Teng
Lee Teng
25 Jul 2017

Lee Teng

What he learned: How to approach strangers

Where he learned it: Working as a scout for a timeshare company

Lee Teng put his gift of the gab to good use when he worked as a scout for a travel timeshare company after his A-Level exams. His job involved distributing pamphlets and convincing couples to attend the sales pitch by the company. While speaking to strangers didn’t always come easy to the then-18-year-old, he relished the chance to step out of his comfort zone.

“This job taught me how to approach and speak to strangers, which laid the foundation for my [showbiz] career. When you are in school, you are in your comfort zone, so this is about stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something different,” he said.

“You also need to be thick skinned and be able to face rejection. It is a numbers game. If you are okay with being rejected then good but some people take it very personally. They will be demoralised.” 

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