'THERE'S NOT MUCH of a view for photography; my home is just functional,' Frances Yip says apologetically as we step into her new apartment in Austin Road. It isn't far from the truth. The place is no-frills yet exudes a natural warmth and cheer - not unlike its owner. Yip is dressed casually in a pastel cardigan set and trousers. The only hint of her glittering days as one of the great songbirds of the 1970s and 80s is her sparkling sandals - 'my weakness', she says - and that voice. Who in Hong Kong can forget that crystal clear voice reverberating across Asia with her hit Shanghai Beach? Today, Yip's voice performs mainly for charity, private functions and special occasions - such as her upcoming concerts with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. It will be her second major concert with the Phil. The first was as headliner for its sell-out 'Simply The Best' series five years ago. This time around, Yip will open the 'Diva' series at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall during the New Year (from December 29 to 31 and January 2 to 3). True to form, Yip's concerts have already sold out, despite the fact that she hasn't been in the limelight for more than 10 years. 'Our last venue, the Hong Kong Coliseum, was a nightmare acoustically,' Yip says. 'For the music aficionados, the Concert Hall will be a much better venue. It will be a much cosier crowd and the atmosphere will be better.' The concerts will take Yip's fans from her early days as a semi-professional singer to the contemporary songs she favours today. These include Dusty Springfield's You Don't Have To Say You Love Me, Rebecca Pan's If Loving You Is Hurting You, Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loca, some Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers and a selection of some of her own hits in Cantonese, Putonghua, Japanese and Tagalog. 'Initially, the Phil wanted a more English-language run-down but I've done songs in so many languages that we decided to make it more diverse,' she says. It was hard choosing songs from all the albums she has to her name, including a new one called Facing Our Life With A Smile, released this month to coincide with her appearances. The album is a collection of new songs and older numbers re-arranged by old friends such as Chris Babida, Dave Packer, Richard Yuen, Jim Ling, Tony A, Koji Sakurai and Chiu Tsang-hei - all top musicians. Facing Our Life With A Smile is Yip's first new release in eight years and the 81st in her 34-year career. She was tempted only after being impressed by the work that her new record company, Worldstar, had done with other veteran singers such as Lisa Wang Ming-chuen and Albert Au Sui-keung. Yip's stepping stone to the business was a TVB talent contest when she was in her early 20s that she unexpectedly won on her own, despite having entered as part of a trio (with her first husband and a friend). The two men backed out, so Yip performed alone. The triumph brought Yip her first singing contract, although she hung on to her day job as a bank clerk. She later moved to Cathay Pacific and became the voice behind many of the airline's jingles on television around the world. Before long, EMI in London offered a regional contract, and Yip took the plunge into full-time professional singing. Her big breakthrough came with the success of Joseph Koo and James Wong's Shanghai Beach. Tailored to her voice, the song was written for the successful TVB series The Bund, which set Chow Yun-fat on the road to stardom. Since then, Yip has recorded in Cantonese, Putonghua, English, Japanese, Malay, Thai and Spanish - and earned herself monikers such as 'Asia's leading lady of song' and 'Hong Kong's Barbra Streisand'. She was watched by a worldwide audience of 120 million when she co-presented the British farewell ceremony to mark Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty on June 30, 1997. Yip has been married to former journalist David Lomax for almost three decades. The couple have one son. Since overcoming breast cancer seven years ago, Yip has been taking life easy - alternating among her homes in Hong Kong, England and Sydney. Fit and tanned from countless hours of golf and exercise, Yip turned 56 in October. In between her travels and golf - she has an impressive handicap of 10 - Yip holds charity concerts around the world, mainly benefits for cancer-related and elderly care organisations. 'A lot of people my age are more aware of folk that need care,' she says. 'I've done work for the Patti Austin Liver Foundation too, because it's been found that Asians are a high-risk group for hepatitis C and they wanted to encourage them to go for screenings. They needed faces to help them launch the campaign,' says Yip. She was also tempted back on stage by Springtime's stage musical, Jubilee, in 2000 - an experience that the self-confessed control freak described as 'tough'. 'I had never been in a stage musical before and we had 90-plus performances. Vocally, I wasn't prepared at all,' she says. 'I was so used to being in total control as a solo performer that I knew everyone's lines. By the time we opened, I was totally freaked out by the magnitude of it. 'A friend of mine came to see the show halfway through and she told me to forget about everyone else and enjoy being on stage,' she says. By the end of the 97-show run, Yip's vocal chords were exhausted. She lost her voice, and doctors told her there were signs of polyps. Like Julie Andrews, Yip also faced the loss of her famous range. 'I got really depressed and went to Sydney to recuperate. It took me three months to regain my voice,' she says. When Jubilee came back for a second run two years later, Yip was more prepared, carrying out exercises regularly and long before rehearsals started. 'It was easier that time because all our parts were written as monologues, so I didn't have to worry about the other parts. If any one of us couldn't perform, the show could still go on.' Despite her love for singing, Yip says she has no plans to go back to it full-time, especially after seeing the kind of stress that young singers are under these days. 'I enjoy it physically when I am on stage. I enjoy being creative but basically I'm a housewife who sings occasionally.'