FIRST IMPRESSIONS I was born in Durban, South Africa, and immigrated to the United Kingdom with my family at 14, where I received a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School, in London. I worked in ballet companies in Italy and France after graduation, before moving to Hong Kong, in 1966. Initially, I was only visiting for a vacation, because my brother, Tokkie Smith, who instigated the Rugby Sevens, invited me. I didn’t like being here at all in the beginning. I thought it was too conservative and colonial. I wanted to go back to London but Tokkie asked me to hang on for a few months to see if I’d like it. I’ve been here ever since.
MAKING A SCENE In 1966, the first discotheque opened in Hong Kong, in the basement of The Peninsula hotel. It was called The Scene. I went to the opening night wearing a silver dress from Biba boutique (a famous brand in London) and the girl who was running it at that time asked me to come and work there as a DJ. I thought that was fantastic because I had been working in Europe at night, so I was used to working late and sleeping during the day. I took the DJ job and then became manageress. It was just before the riots broke out in 1967. It was a very scary time and I thought about going back to London, but decided to stay, at the insistence of the then-manager of the Peninsula. Then I got another job at TVB, which had just opened in Broadcast Drive.
STAR STRUCK At TVB, I took over as choreographer for the Star Show, which was like a pop show. That’s when I met Canto-pop singer Sam Hui (Koon-kit) and his band, The Lotus, who were performing on the show. I decided to introduce live music at The Scene, where I was still working at night, so I invited Sam and his band to perform there. I then managed to get other singers to perform at The Scene, including (New Zealander) Peter Nelson. This was during the Vietnam war. It was a very exciting time. Hong Kong was a lot of fun in those days.
A 1960s LOVE STORY I met my late ex-husband (Moni Narain, an Indian) while he was visiting The Scene. He said he saw me and said to his friends, “I’m going to marry her”, but it took him a while. Our families weren’t very happy about it, so his family sent him to Australia. But fate had different plans because he came back and opened the first real boutique in Hong Kong, called the Om Shoppe, on my birthday. I went to the opening with a friend and our relationship slowly started up again. I’d say it’s fate that I came all the way to Hong Kong to meet the man I’d end up having children with. We got divorced seven years later and he passed away about nine years ago, but I don’t regret marrying him.
PUNCHING BRUCE LEE While I was still married, my husband opened his second shop, in Wan Chai, called Jeans East, which was the first proper jeans shop in Hong Kong. One day, his business partner, who was also in the movie business, brought along this guy and introduced him as Bruce Lee. He was about to sign him up for a movie and brought him to the shop to fit him for jeans. I had no idea who he was and then, all of a sudden, people started congregating outside the shop and looking through the windows. I guess I didn’t show much interest and I didn’t know who he was, so he suggested I hit his stomach with my fist. I gave him a little punch and I couldn’t believe it – it was like hitting a brick wall. It wasn’t long after that he died. The movie he was supposed to sign up for with my husband’s business partner never happened.
A LOTTE EXERCISE When I separated from my husband, I wanted to start a new chapter in my life, so I started teaching the Lotte Berk exercise method in my flat. Since the Lotte Berk method was a franchise, I had to be trained by the German dancer in order to use her name. So I went to London to train. Afterwards, I opened a Lotte Berk studio here with a friend, who bought the franchise while I managed and ran it. Eventually, I left and went into aerobics, then I opened my own studio, Beth’s Workout.
CALIFORNIAN KARMA I closed Beth’s Workout in 1997, when California Fitness opened right across from me and started poaching my clients as they came out of my studio. Now I’m a part-time teacher with Pure Fitness. The other day (following California Fitness’ demise), I saw this woman come into Pure Fitness and I asked her if she was from California Fitness and she said yes. And then I said to her, “See? What goes around comes around.” California Fitness was very pushy. They grabbed and pushed people to sign up, and that’s what pulled them down. They were like that from the beginning. It doesn’t bother me, though. It’s been too long and I’ve moved on.
HAPPY HONGKONGER I teach four classes a week that are very well attended. I also train clients that have been with me for 15 years and have followed me wherever I have gone. This is my 50th year in Hong Kong and I’m very happy to call it home. The city’s been very good to me, inasmuch as I’ve always been very lucky with work. I think it’s very important that you’re at a place where you’re happy with your work and what you do, and I’ve always had a good job. I so enjoy the energy of Hong Kong and, with all its ups and downs, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.