TERRI HOLLADAY HAS taken being 'famous for being famous' into the realm of the virtuoso. Basically, she modelled a bit, went to some clubs, married a rich bloke, left the rich bloke, discovered she was never legally married to the rich bloke at all, before spending five years floundering about on the shoals of the legal system. But despite - or perhaps because of - the years of strictly rationed appearances and carefully measured proclamations, she can still send the Canto-press pack into a slobbering, flash-popping, rib-cracking frenzy like few others who inhabit the ephemeral uplands of Hong Kong celebrity. Now, with her legal battles mostly behind her, the 'American-Vietnamese model and socialite' - to borrow the stock description that has settled upon her sculptured shoulders - is ready to talk in detail about life after ageing playboy Cecil Chao. Or at least, she will be once her stylist has finished her hair. 'Sorry to keep you waiting, I've been trying to make myself look nice for you,' she says, sweeping into the room in a peacock-motif top and cream slacks, those trademark almond eyes as wide as Bambi's beneath a cascade of chestnut hair. If she's had a harrowing time - and she says she has - it does not show on her face. She settles on a cream couch in her Repulse Bay eyrie's living room, which boasts a sensational view but seems curiously spartan; all blonde timber and glass and candles that have never been lit. There is little hint of the presence of her son Roman, the curly-haired seven-year-old cherub whose photograph sits in a lacquered bowl - no toys on the floor, no crayon smudges on the wall, no splay-spined Dr Seuss books. Holladay is clutching a hand-written sheaf of notes and I want to tell her it's not a test, although doubtless she knows the public will be awarding her marks for her performance today. She's happy to talk about the past, but says she'd rather talk about the future. And her immediate future is going to be taken up with the launch of her rather raunchy calendar next month. 'Wow, OK, yeah, this calendar is very, very interesting,' she says. 'About two months ago, I woke up one morning and I thought, you know, it would be really fun to get a group of people together and shoot a calendar, because in America they do calendars all the time. I was thinking, does Hong Kong do calendars? Because I've never really seen models do calendars. So I did some research into it and I got a group of great people and we went down to Thailand and just had so much fun shooting this calendar.' Walk past any newsstand and there she is, smiling coyly from the cover of one of the Chinese glossies, a scarf strategically draped over her 'assets', as she calls them. They seem to have appreciated considerably in recent years but I can't screw up the courage to broach the topic. 'I gave a couple of magazines exclusives to promote the calendar,' she says. 'Next magazine put me on the cover and that issue sold out, so Next Media has offered to distribute my calendar. We've pre-sold 8,000 already. It's going to be everywhere - HMV, 7-Eleven, Parknshop, Tower Records, bookshops, newsstands.' She jumps up and disappears into the next room, returning with a handful of photos. 'These are the pictures,' she says. 'For example, that's not too sexy, is it?' She hands me a shot of her in a swimming pool. 'But then, you'd say that's sexy.' This time it's Holladay, glistening wet in a black bikini, reclining on a table covered in fruit, lips parted. 'I would say it's more of a beauty calendar, it's not just all swimsuits,' she says, handing me more photographs and carefully monitoring my reaction. 'There's some poetry in it and it's more about a mood and a feeling. It's all shot with water surrounding it, by the sea. Growing up in Miami, I was always by the sea and that's where I'm happiest. This calendar is saying, you can be 32 years old and still be healthy and happy.' Healthy and happy are not adjectives Holladay has had much cause to employ since she split up with property tycoon Chao in April 1995, after he was photographed with aspiring actress Michelle Leigh. Holladay swiftly vacated the ostentatious brass-and-glass Pokfulam mansion modestly dubbed Villa Cecil and fled to Florida, with the paparazzi in tow. Chao, meanwhile, issued writs against three newspapers, denying his marriage was in trouble. This was technically correct, because there was no marriage. According to Chao, their low-key wedding in Singapore two years earlier did not include a proper ceremony. Somehow this managed to escape Holladay's attention. She then sued law firm Fred Kan & Co, claiming the firm failed to draft properly a 1994 agreement in which Chao promised to provide financial security for Holladay if they split up. She told the court Chao promised her $500,000 to buy a property in the United States, a credit-card payment of $100,000 per month with an annual increase of 10 per cent, $2 million a year plus 10 per cent annual increase and a $10 million one-off payment, rising by 10 per cent each year, in the event of his death. The main component of the $300 million claimed by Holladay's lawyers was $266 million to cover her credit-card bills for life - a figure Mr Justice William Waung Sik-ying described in the Court of First Instance as 'astronomical'. The court case was covered in minute detail by a press pack ready to pounce on each new morsel of scandal. Holladay's successful application for legal aid set tongues wagging, particularly when she arrived in court in a Mercedes and it emerged she was living in a $59,000-a-month apartment in the Conven-tion and Exhibition Centre. In April this year, almost five years to the day after the pair broke up, Holladay settled with Fred Kan & Co - just before Chao was to resume giving evidence. 'Congratulations,' muttered Chao on his way out, as the law firm steadfastly denied any liability. 'I'm relieved. I'm a free girl. I'm happy that's finished,' said Holladay, telling reporters the $300 million was 'a big, big joke'. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but she said it 'matched her target figure'. It was not the end of her legal woes, however. In September, she discovered her erstwhile friend and former Government Flying Service pilot Michael Ellis was suing her for $940,000, part of $1.9 million he had lent her for living expenses. The Court of First Instance ruled on September 22 that Ellis would be repaid plus interest from Holladay's settlement money, most of which is still being held by the Legal Aid Department. High Court Master Poon Shiu-chor ordered that she appear before Registrar Christopher Chan Cheuk on December 7 to itemise her accounts. According to Holladay, however, the December 7 hearing is unlikely to be necessary, as she is not contesting Ellis' claim and she says he will get his money as soon as the Legal Aid Department releases it. Holladay stares out her window, where a lone hawk wheels over a slate-grey sea, and takes up the tale. 'Oh my gosh, all I can tell you is if you can avoid going to court, do it. Unfortunately in my situation, I wasn't left any option. I had to go and fight it out even though I'm not a fighter basically. 'But the end result is, I've won full custody of Roman and I've secured his life for the next 21 years. It wasn't easy. Especially when you don't have a husband. You get fatigued. Emotionally it just drains you so much. I'm the kind of person who can only do one thing at a time. For five years, if there was an option or settlement offered, I would have taken it. But it was like playing poker, they wanted to see if I could go the distance, and I had to go the distance. In the end, it was a fair settlement. It was time to let it go.' She says the saga has also taken its toll on her widower father, a former CIA agent now retired and living on a farm in Florida. 'My poor father, he sits on the sidelines watching me, smacking his head.' She says she was too trusting before, having grown up in a close-knit and loving family. Her father, she adds, 'never told a lie in his life', which makes him a remarkable man given his career choice. 'I guess when I met Cecil I was very immature,' she says. 'Now I take things with a grain of salt. But I don't want to say I've become totally cynical or will never trust anyone again, because that's not what life's all about.' She and Chao have reached a kind of truce. 'He sees Roman whenever he wants. I was just on the phone with him last night. We have somehow managed to put everything behind us. I think with the death of his mother recently, all he has is his children now. We're moving into phase two of our relationship. We're always going to find things we don't like about each other because we're just two different people. But at the end of the day, it's not about us, it's about Roman. 'We've also realised how the media play games and try to stir things up. A reporter will ring me up and I'll say something, then they'll twist it 10 degrees and go and tell Cecil, then he'll say something, they'll twist it a bit more, and come back to me. We realise now how the media starts these wars of words. So now, if anyone calls, we'll ring each other so we both know who's saying what.' Holladay says she was devastated when she learned of the writ from Michael Ellis. 'That was such a shame,' she says. 'He was a family friend. I've known him since Roman's birth. He was one of Cecil's friends, and I remember looking up from my hospital bed and seeing this smiling face, and that was Michael. 'He helped me out when I needed money. I mean, I lost everything to fight this case. The whole thing is a misunderstanding. I was away in America for several months, spending time with my father. And then Michael left Hong Kong to go to the Middle East. I still don't really understand why it ended up in court. Maybe he just panicked and thought he wouldn't get his money back. I'm hurt and I'm confused. It's cost me a friend.' Holladay's voice rises slightly at the end of each sentence, turning her statements into semi-questions, as if she is unconsciously seeking affirmation. It's difficult to gauge where she's coming from - one minute she's a canny manipulator of the media, speaking of exclusives and angles, the next she's a wounded naif, used and bemused by the big bad world. My tape stops, the batteries dead, and almost instantly she notices its wheels have stopped turning. At one point she asks: 'When is this coming out? Which section will it be in? Please be nice to me.' The photographer arrives and Holladay slips seamlessly into model mode; pout, smile, toss hair, tilt head, profile, carrying on our conversation all the while. 'Excuse me, I'm just going to change for you,' she says and disappears into the next room again. Minutes later she's back, in painted-on blue jeans and a tight black top. Holladay is no stranger to conflict - she was born in Saigon during the Tet Offensive and spent her first three years in the middle of the Vietnam War. Now she's hoping, finally, for some peace. 'What was my lowest point? I don't know, the past five years have been pretty low. But I think when you love somebody and they betray you, that's the lowest. When you don't see it coming. And it's also low when the playing field is not level. You take a single mother who at the time was 26, and you're against two solicitors and Cecil. 'I've forgiven Cecil. I won't forget, but I have to forgive because he's the father of my child. I'm focused on the future now. I've got so many ideas and plans.' Her biggest problem, she says, is getting too far ahead of herself. 'Being a Pisces, I have to learn to stop. My dad's like, Terri, just focus. But I'm so excited now. 'I started a cookbook two years ago and it's so close to my heart, a Vietnamese cookbook, and that's nearly ready to come out. That's my next project. And I've got a Web site that I'll be launching in the next two weeks. We're trying to put together the infrastructure and looking at various cosmetics and perfume companies; we're interviewing them now. Plus I'll be launching my own exclusive range of cosmetics.' I check out the Web site. 'Terri Holladay's home page . . . under construction,' proclaims the black lettering on a background of pink, purple, puce and orange love-hearts. She denies reports she is writing a book. 'You know what, I never said that, and to this day it's misquoted. I am not writing a book, I'm never going to write a book. I can tell you, I've been offered millions of dollars to write a book and there is no book.' Holladay says she has parted company with local PR Karen Penlington, though they still remain friends. She has been working out and swimming every day 'and I'm finally happy with my body'. She has regained the weight she lost during the years of acrimony. She's sleeping well for the first time in years. 'Your nervous system can only hold up so far,' she says. 'Someone told me the most stressful things are death, divorce, moving and financial problems. And I've had all four in the past seven years.' Her Vietnamese mother died around the time Roman was born. 'I think my faith in God - I'm a Christian - has pulled me through. I go to Bible class on Mondays and I read the Bible every day.' She looks down at her notes. 'Do you want to know some personal stuff, like what Roman and I do? Basically, Roman is very interesting. He's ambidextrous and he's a great little artist. He's on the computer all the time. And his favourite thing is on Saturdays and Sundays, he loves to walk to the bus stop - he knows every bus stop and route in Hong Kong - and we catch the bus somewhere. 'I really don't go out much anymore. And you can see my apartment, it's nothing extravagant. I love cooking for friends. I love Vietnamese food. On Sunday night we'll have an American night, favourites like tacos or pasta. And we'll just sit and watch TV and talk.' She shuffles her notes again. 'My favourite pastime is reading. I have a library with about 300 autobiographies. I'm truly intrigued to see how people come into this world and what they do with their lives and what lessons they have learned. I have everything from Gandhi to Marilyn Monroe to Mother Teresa to the Spice Girls. I'm presently reading a biography of former US president [Jimmy] Carter.' A final scan of her notes, to make sure she's left nothing out. 'Um, I'm in a very good space right now. This is not something I say all the time. I was telling my girlfriend the other day, I was sitting on the edge of my bed and I felt this surge of happiness go through me. And I promise you, that has not happened a lot in the past five years. And I just thought, wow, God has created this great big beautiful world and I just want to get out there and I want to see everything and I want to do everything.' Our time is nearly up, but I can't resist asking her about the strange saga of Sugarbear and Bobochew. It was reported in this paper's Lai See column, amid many sniggers, that in April, shortly after her settlement was announced, Holladay threatened to sue a Happy Valley petshop owner because he wouldn't sell her his dog, a two-and-a-half-year-old Chow bitch named Bobochew. According to the shop owner, Holladay said she could afford the dog 'at any price' before informing him she was 'a famous person in Hong Kong'. 'Oooh, can I tell you? I love telling this story,' she says. 'OK. Karen and I and another friend were out walking in Happy Valley and we walked past this pet store. I grew up with chow-chows, even when I was with Cecil, he bought me two, and I had five chow-chows growing up. They're my favourite dogs. They're the closest animal related to the bear family. Their tongues and bellies are purple. 'So I was walking by and I saw the most beautiful chow that looked just like mine in the States - mine is called Sugarbear - stuffed in this cage. So I went in and asked the owner may I see the dog. I asked if she was for sale and they said no. So I asked why was she in the cage and he got angry. 'We couldn't bear to leave it there, it was inhumane. One thing led to another and next thing I'm reading how they said I was going to sue them or whatever. It was just the silliest thing. Most people know I love animals.' Terri Holladay may be a famous person in Hong Kong, but few people really understand why - not least her. 'Let me ask you. Why are people fascinated by me? My dad's always asking the same question. I don't know. Part of it is Cecil. Part of it is glamour. But it's unbelievable the attention I get. I really, truly don't know why.'