Colette Koo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am

THE BIG FIVE-OH It was quite a shock to turn 50 because I certainly don't feel it. I don't have the mentality of a 50-year-old. People say, 'Why don't you tell people you're younger?' Well, I [don't] think it's better to be 18 or 28. It's all in the mind, anyway. It's sad everyone wants to be younger. Of course, your skin is better, your memory is better but for me there's something very comfortable about being older. You know what you like and don't like, what you can and can't do. It's a nice place to be.

As I get older, I realise I am someone who lives in the moment. I'm not good at planning ahead, which is not always a good thing. I don't look back a lot. I reflect on friends but I don't look back to assess myself.

THINK PUNK I was born in the UK. Classmates said I was a bit absent-minded and arty. In high school, I wanted to be an actress, performer and designer. I was encouraged to do maths and physics but I wanted to study arts and English. I ended up doing [them all]. I [started studying] architecture at Cambridge [University] but I took a year off, went to art school and never went back to Cambridge. Those were great years because the punk and new-romantic scene was happening. I had a shaved head, blue hair, went to all the nightclubs and hung out with Boy George. It was an exciting life. The rebellious side of me was quite superficial though. It was all about the hair and the fashion but my behaviour wasn't that bad. When I came back to Hong Kong [having attended school in the city] with a shaved head people believed I was artistic because I looked artistic. I was even hired to be art director of a film, even though I had never designed anything. I ended up working on fantastic movies like The Last Emperor and Empire of the Sun [in the costume/wardrobe department].

KICK START My passion, though, was acting. I didn't want to be one of those people who always wanted to act but never did. So, at 31, I applied to go to acting school back in England. Most of the students were 18 and 19. I recommend everyone do at least one week in a good drama school because you really learn about yourself. I ended up getting a role in a police show called Backup [a BBC programme set in Birmingham]. I played a cop who knew kung fu. I didn't get a lot of TV work; at auditions, they always wanted the pretty, fragile Chinese girls. Even though most of them couldn't speak Chinese, they were always named May-ling, Sue-ling, Sue-yin, May-Sue. I only did one season of the series but I got tonnes of mail because I was the only Chinese character on British television.

DROPPING IN When I got disillusioned with acting I came back to Hong Kong, in the mid-1990s. That's when [nightclub] Drop happened. People said clubs were dying but Drop was really special. The music by DJ Joel Lai was fantastic and the drinks were good. There were very few female club owners at the time. I am very much about looking after the customers. If a really drunk girl is getting dragged out, we'll ask if she knows the guys. We've taken regulars home, put them in cabs and made sure they're looked after. Clubs before weren't girl-friendly but coming from the UK, I have always been amazed at the amount of alcohol that is poured into people and how little trouble there is. In England, you'd have a fight every two hours.

BEST FOOT FORWARD Even after we launched [Scandinavian restaurant] Finds, I never felt I was a businesswoman. My friends used to laugh because I went to work in shorts, didn't do my hair for six months and had no make-up. When I visited friends at Goldman Sachs, people pointed me to the delivery entrance. I used to always just wear comfortable shoes that were ugly. Anyway, one time, [French shoe designer] Christian Louboutin was in town for a signing and I went up to him and he said, 'Oh, I really like your earrings and your dress is beautiful'. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw my feet, took a deep breath and turned away. That was the last word he said to me. I thought, 'How embarrassing.' I was mortified and decided I needed to take better care of myself.

LIFE IS FOR LIVING Last March, I discovered I had cancer. It was stage four. All I can say is people should go for check-ups; it's not as dramatic as in the movies. I got operated on and am going through chemo. I'm still not in the clear but I'm a lot better. My character is, if you're going to get cancer then you should live now. I'm not thinking about whether I'll live 10 or 15 years. My sister, a Buddhist, said you should always be engaged in life. No one really knows if you have two months or five years or [if you're going to] get hit by a car tomorrow. But if I had only two months, I would go snowboarding. I've changed my diet - no meat or alcohol. I don't want to be afraid to live; there are things I still want to do. There's no point hanging around for the sake of hanging around.


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Colette Koo

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