Does your name hold any special significance for you? My Chinese name Tian-ai means 'heaven's love'. I feel I have been blessed with many talents so that I can help others. It's my mission to make the world a more beautiful place. I am strong spiritually because of my name. People say I am talented but unless you do something with talent, it is no use. So I lead a very hard-working life. When did your name first inspire your sense of mission? Since I was young because I was a gifted dancer. Without being arrogant, I can say I'm a gifted person. I can speak many languages. I have done 32 different courses apart from ballet, such as stage production; making wigs, costumes and shoes; and how to do odd stage jobs, such as fixing the lighting. I feel very strongly that God wants me to transform society; promote culture; promote feminine beauty; and feel good about being Chinese. I do very strong Chinese things but in a modern way. Clothing is dominated by Western designers, but it's time that we promoted Chinese culture. Western clothes can have Chinese elements. I feel I have a very old soul. I have lived 20 lives because I have had different careers over the past 20 years. Why did you start learning ballet? What was your life like at ballet school? I saw the movie Red Shoes and I loved it. I went to the Jean Wong Ballet School in Hong Kong at five. At nine, I was one of 10 chosen from 5,000 at an audition, and the only Chinese child to go to the Royal Ballet School in London. Besides basic academic courses, I studied different kinds of ballet, ballet notation and theory. I finished there aged 21. I never played, never had a Barbie doll. I just drilled myself - it was like a drug. But I did design and sell clothes, fashion T-shirts and embroidered jeans. I was a little designer from age 14. Have you ever regretted dropping ballet to become a designer? Was it a difficult decision? No, because I knew I had a lot of scope. Being a dancer was not enough for me. I miss it but I don't regret it at all because I'm more in control now. I wrote my own lifestyle book. I can write, choreograph, plan and make a dream come true. Being a dancer, you're always just a cog in a machine. You join the Royal Ballet which performs this repertoire that is not decided by you. Now I have my own costume design company. I might want my own ballet company in China. I could build a fashion empire in China. What will China be like in the new century? China is the 'dragon'. It's going to wake up and shape the world. Politically it will open up gradually. There is growth in commerce, the economy, the arts, culture and society. There is more freedom of thought and higher spiritual goals. China's economy still lags behind the United States. That's why I'm so busy. I don't create beauty just to satisfy myself but I want to stand up and sell what we're good at to the West. My role model is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader. She's special to me because she has a very political father, like me. She's standing up for her country. She loves her husband, but she couldn't be with him. It was the right decision but a sacrifice. That's what a truly brave woman should do. I'm not political, but I would not hesitate if I had to stand up to protect people. Do you have any religious beliefs? No, I am not a devout Catholic like my mother, or a devout Buddhist either. But I strongly believe in being good and kind. I don't need a god because I do things for myself. For a person to be fulfilled and happy, one must give one's all and enjoy life. The most important thing is to have balance on the mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual levels. Happiness to me includes being both happy and sad, the highs and the lows. When I'm unhappy and low, I can create and write better. How do you have the capacity to work towards your many dreams? Work is a habit, a hobby. I must be doing things or I'm not happy. I'm married to my work. That's why I left three wonderful men. And I learned discipline from my training at the Royal Ballet. Without discipline you can't be successful. I went through blood, sweat and tears in ballet. Even with a broken bone, the show must go on. Do you ever feel worn out? Not at all. I feel I haven't really started communicating to the world yet. I do a lot of meditation, yoga and exercise. You have to build up your energy, qi, in the morning and prepare for sleep at night. Would you like to marry again? Yes, to a man who really loves the whole me, not just part of me - and my work. He's got to be balanced. He's got to have a sound mind and a good physique - healthy and sporty. I can't stand stupidity. He has to be emotionally, socially strong and spiritually higher up than me. He has to work for people and society with a deep belief in giving. I know a lot of men like this, but we just don't have time for dates. Who has the best dress sense in town? Anson Chan Fang On-sang, because she doesn't go for designer labels. She has a position in life and knows how to accen tuate her personality - warm, capable, influential and intellectual. She doesn't necessarily wear expensive things, but she makes it look expensive. Another person is Jean Wong, my ballet teacher. Do you let your daughter [Claudine Ying] learn ballet? She doesn't like it. But she's very sporty. She likes skiing, horse-riding, golf and swimming. She's very outgoing and dynamic. I talk to her on a philosophical level about what a person should be. Luckily, she's very intellectual, balanced and disciplined, and she does listen. She also does charity work, like me. Do you have 'counter-revolutionary' associates on the mainland? They are called dissidents, but they're just people and my friends. We all want to build a better China. I like people who have a purpose. I don't mix with tai tais. Most of my friends are people who have some aim in life. There are only three types of people: those who make things happen, those who record things, and the rest wonder what is happening. Do you enjoy being a celebrity? No. I was already in the Royal Ballet when I was 10. It is not important. I do interviews to communicate, not to become known as a pretty face. I hate being called a pretty face. True beauty comes from inside, from what you think and how you handle things. And it's too much trouble. There are a lot of guests I have to handle. I don't just want to be famous, but to do great things. I do a lot of charity work, such as the Spring Blossom project, founded by Jiang Zemin, to look after and educate abandoned baby girls. My fashion work contributes to China's economy. My collections go into museums because I've done a lot of exhibitions that are to do with Chinese culture and history. What has been the biggest challenge in your life? I haven't had one yet. The biggest challenge now is to be able to communicate with the world through the Internet and yet maintain emotional closeness with people. We should not lose our personal touch or our femininity. Name: Flora Cheong-Leen Tian-ai Birthday: November 20, 1959 Birthplace: Hong Kong Occupation: Fashion designer Flora Cheong-Leen Tian-ai switched from ballet to become a fash ion designer 15 years ago, using her knowledge in costume-mak ing acquired during her time with the Royal Ballet in London, L'Opera (Paris) and the Institute of Technology (New York). She is known as a London-based fashion designer with an indi vidualistic style for using Chinese culture in a modern way. Her collections, playing on images of Communist leader Mao Zedong, went into the Henie-Onstad Museum in Norway in 1995. Last year, her work was bought by London's Victoria and Albert Museum. She promotes the mainland's fashion industry and economy. She is the artistic director of her fashion, stage art and corporate uniform production companies. She published a book on health and beauty, Almost a Successful Revolution , in 1997.