Cecil Chao

Big-spending Cecil Chao's billions do not interfere with his happiness

Regrets are the only indulgence that lesbian's billionaire father says he cannot afford

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 3:14am

Unexpected fame from his efforts to find a male suitor for his daughter, who has married her lesbian partner, has not changed the lifestyle of billionaire playboy Cecil Chao Sze-tsung.

He still enjoys the companionship of more than one woman, he still prefers a desk phone to a mobile - and he still doesn't believe in same-sex relationships.

He also isn't too interested in what daughter Gigi is saying publicly about her own relationship with Sean Eav, her female partner of seven years.

"I don't want to know," Chao cuts in when the question is raised about Gigi's Facebook posting on Friday.

She described Eav as "the wind in my sails", said "you can call her my wife", and expressed amusement at Chinese society's acceptance of a man with many wives but not a woman "choosing not to have a husband".

"I can call 1,000 women my wife, but I'm not married to them," says Chao, speaking almost a month after he made world headlines with his HK$500 million offer for a suitable husband for his daughter.

"Marriage is legally binding. You can have any friends you want, but, in my book and in law in most countries, marriage is matrimonial, of two different sexes to have the next generation. If everybody becomes gay, there will be no next generation. [Human beings] will be extinct."

To Chao's surprise, his HK$500 million offer has drawn 20,000 applications, but also criticism for living in an "obsolete" world.

The 76-year-old chairman of property developer Cheuk Nang (Holdings), which has a net asset value of HK$4.2 billion, says he is accustomed to the publicity, and what has been said in the press does not "get" to him.

But there is one point that he wants to clarify.

"I have been interviewed by all these television and overseas press. But they have been misinformed, thinking that I'm like this old man in Romeo and Juliet forbidding his children from choosing friends and companions," says Chao, concealing his eyes behind a pair of extravagant gold-coloured sunglasses.

"That's not the case. I just want Gigi to have a better choice, instead of being stuck with what might not be the best … it's up to her. I'm not trying to dominate her. I'm just trying to give her more choices."

Does he know Sean Eav?

"I prefer not to … everybody has their own right to choose what they want."

In the middle of the interview, Chao's desk phone rings. It is Gigi.

The ordeal has not strained his relationship with his 33-year-old daughter, says Chao.

"I never really want to talk to my children in a very serious tone. I always talk to them as a friend … Whatever they do, is their own decision. I never interfere with their lives."

Chao says he sees his children - Gigi and sons Howard, 28, and Roman, 19 - regularly. Gigi and Howard are on the board of Cheuk Nang. But his relationship with their mothers is not perfect.

He is on good terms with Gigi's mother, a Hong Kong actress, but he has not spoken to her about the bounty offer. He doesn't really talk to Roman's mother, American-Vietnamese beauty Terri Holladay, but says Roman will seek advice from her on girls. And he revealed that their mothers had wanted to take them overseas, but he sought a court ruling to avoid losing contact with them.

He is still friends with Howard's mother, a Taiwanese actress.

The elder son, who now has a son and a steady girlfriend, "lives a completely different way of life", the tycoon says. "He has become sort of a family man. When I was his age, I was dating four to five girls a day. But he's very satisfied with the family life."

Regardless of when or how the HK$500 million bounty episode pans out, it will make a colourful chapter in Chao's life story, which he is prepared to tell the world in an autobiography and, later, a museum.

Being both rich and famous has been Chao's goal since he was young.

On the business side, the son of Shanghai-born shipping tycoon Chao Tsong-yea wants to be remembered as a hard worker who built his own fortune by investing in property. And he shares his advice on investment: "I have put more money into real estate than the stock market."

Chao says that he plans to start work on his autobiography in three to five years' time, and it should take six months to a year to complete.

"My life is very colourful. A lot of things happened," Chao says, adding that his life could be equivalent to 10 lives of other people. "It takes time to collect information." Originally, he planned to publish it only in Chinese, as "my own life record", but now with a newly acquired international following, an English edition could be possible.

"If we have international publishers that would like to do it, I will do it. The proceeds will go to charity," he says.

Chao has previously said he had a close relationship with his late mother, who left him with a collection of Chinese calligraphy and paintings, as well as jewellery - which he would let his girlfriends wear but strictly on loan.

In his museum, Chao wants to show his late mother's collections, as well as movies, interviews, newspaper clippings about his life and even cars that he has driven.

"This museum will be for charity purposes, for people to see an interesting and colourful life of one person," he says. "You might get to see [who] the pretty girls from the 10,000 are. Some are very beautiful."

But he insists that dating does not mean bedding, which has been a mistaken impression over the years. "Dating five to six people a day is quite normal."

Chao says he is still friends with most of the women he dated. "[On] my birthday, I still receive 50 to 60 calls from my previous girlfriends. In their memories, I'm still their perfect boyfriend."

But out of all these women, he still can't forget a girlfriend he had for five years when he was studying in Britain, and an Australian girlfriend of six years.

Chao hasn't decided where the museum will be. He complains about the lack of space in Hong Kong, despite owning many properties here as well as in the mainland and Malaysia. "To build a big museum you need lots of space. It'll be a good thing to have my museum together with my [property] projects."

When will the museum open? "After I die. Let Gigi do the work."

But Chao doesn't think that time will arrive soon. He still keeps a routine of exercising six days a week, and today he is planning to play basketball with friends. "Every day I get up I think about how to make money, and how to make myself happy. I don't want to waste a single day."