BABY STEPS I was born in Suzhou [Jiangsu province] but moved to Shanghai when I was 10. In Suzhou, life was relatively slow and relaxed. Everyone was nice, neighbours greeted each other - it was a family style setting. Because I was an only child, I was cared for well by my parents. But as they were busy working, I was often the only person at home. When I was still in school, my grandparents mostly took care of me. Even though my family wasn't large, I felt a lot of warmth, and although I was an only child, my mother and father had lots of brothers and sisters so we always had plenty of relatives nearby. I was quite energetic and playful, and was particularly good at maths and Chinese.
EN POINTE DUTY I had always been a bit frail, so my mother thought I should take up ballet. I went to an audition for a ballet school in Shanghai. They accepted me, so off to Shanghai I went. "Your girl has good qualifications," they told my mother, due to my long legs, defined feet arches and the general proportions of my body. The school was very strict - it was like the military. The coaches taught us how to fold blankets into clearly defined squares. We would wake up at 5am every morning, quickly fold our blankets, brush our teeth and get in line.
HONG KONG HOLA After graduating, I attended the dance school of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, where the teachers and directors gave me a lot of opportunities, and after graduating from there, I had a few choices. A dance company in Spain made me an offer, as did the Hong Kong Ballet. The Spanish opportunity came about because of the graduation tour my ballet school made to Monaco, which was attended by a lot of dance company directors. In the end, I decided that the Hong Kong Ballet was better for me - partly because I would be closer to my family on the mainland. Spain would have been a contract position, to be renewed each year; it would have been like an ongoing competition. I was with Hong Kong Ballet for four years, and slowly I was offered bigger roles, from duets to solos. I got better and better. It wasn't difficult to adjust to life in Hong Kong after Shanghai. Ballet is its own small world, with only 10 or 20 students in a class. Even in a dance company there are only about 40 dancers involved. I took part in many performances, including a lot of traditional ballets such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Giselle.
A MISS OPPORTUNITY My job in the Hong Kong Ballet was stable, but I didn't want to stay there. Life was quite harsh. I trained from 10am to 6pm every day, with performances almost every month. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was sleep. When you get older, your ligaments and muscles can't perform like they do when you are young, and you get hurt more easily. Although we trained every day, I had already had quite a few injuries. Being a professional dancer means enduring hardship - even when you're injured you have to dance.
I saw an ad for the Miss Hong Kong competition on TV, and I thought it could get me where I wanted to be. I wanted to try new things and not just be a dancer, so I filled out the form and went to an audition. I didn't tell my family. I'm quite decisive by nature. When I want to do something, I do it immediately.
WALKING THE WALK I concentrated on learning etiquette, the catwalk, how to act in front of a camera - you can pay to learn these things, but that doesn't guarantee you'll master them. The Miss Hong Kong competition is quite short - the audience only sees what we look like, they don't necessarily understand us. The competition was not what I expected. It was similar to the military-style training I had before, though it was less harsh and more fun. There wasn't a lot of backbiting in the year I competed. You can be competitive in a friendly way, with no talking behind anyone's back or backstabbing.
CROWNING GLORY Winning marked the start of a new stage in my life and was a realisation of my dreams. In this year's pageant, I will present the crown to Miss Hong Kong 2012. TVB's fashion designers have made a very pretty gown for me to wear, and I am looking forward to it. During the past year, I have taken part in a lot of charity events as Miss Hong Kong. I have visited the elderly and children, attended charity auctions to raise funds for the Po Leung Kuk and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, and I have also tried being a master of ceremonies.
INTO THE FUTURE I have been lucky enough to have acted in TV dramas and a movie, and I'm slowly developing a career as an actress. I was in a movie called Turning Point 2, which was a new experience for me - I made sure I watched the more experienced actors at work. I am the lead actress in a 40-episode TV drama (the title is not yet confirmed), which was relatively complicated as there was a lot to learn. It's probably going to air at the end of this year. Some people may dismiss me and say I'm not that good or I'm not that pretty, but I hope I can interact with these people - maybe then they'll think better of me. It's important to be natural - not just in your appearance. Clothes and make-up can make you look prettier, but you can't cover up your inner self. Your personality exudes a glow that can be beautiful, too.
The 2012 Miss Hong Kong Pageant will be held tonight. The show will be screened on TVB Jade from 8.30pmTopics: Hong Kong Singers Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group Leslie Cheung