A MOMENT AFTER the camera flashes, Baby Bo Pui-yu asks: 'Can you not take a close-up shot of my face? I don't want people to focus on my wound.' Then she sinks into her chair and starts sobbing. 'I haven't been photographed for five years,' she says, wiping away her tears in the Novotel Century Hotel's coffee shop. 'I am so scared of being pictured.' At the height of her career, being in front of the cameras was all in a day's work. As a singer, TV presenter and actress, Bo could command up to $30,000 for simple ribbon-cutting ceremonies and made a film with Aaron Kwok Fu-shing. But in the early morning of November 10, 1999, after singing in a karaoke lounge owned by her boyfriend, Lee Sai-ho, the couple were driving to their home in Ma On Shan with Lee at the wheel when their car crashed into a barrier in the middle of the road and ended up on its roof. Lee was only slightly injured, but Bo, 34 at the time, suffered a fractured pelvis, broken bones in her face, smashed teeth and a ripped upper lip. Doctors had to put two metal plates into her shattered face, and stitch the tear between her lip and nose. Bedridden for two months, she eventually started to walk again. But the muscles in her face began to contract, distorting her looks. 'Day after day, I felt my mouth gradually being pulled upwards,' she says. 'I couldn't close my mouth. I looked at myself in the mirror, I was more and more ugly, and I was scared.' Last Thursday, in her first interview since the accident, Bo spoke candidly about the past tumultuous five years. For someone who, because of that accident, has little money and no job, and now calls home a 300 sq ft flat in Wan Chai, she harbours little bitterness over her fate, claiming she's learned much from the experience and is happier than before. 'The misfortune is a lesson,' she says. 'Looking back, my problem is very minor - like a cut finger.' Yesterday afternoon, after being out of the spotlight for five years, she appeared at a press conference with a group of friends to announce the publication of her first book, Smiling Face, Shining Life, in which she writes about her life, her trauma, depression and attempted suicide, and how she came through it and hopes now to be an inspiration to others. Bo's rise to local fame began in 1988. Influenced by her then boyfriend, TV actor Lok Tak-wah, she entered an ATV singing contest. Although she didn't win, she was spotted by judge, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee. 'She said that my singing was just so-so, but that I was very suitable for development in the entertainment industry,' says Bo. With Chow's help, the then 24-year-old signed a contract with CBS Sony, and in 1989 released two albums, Fly, and Please First Register. When her singing career faltered, a year later she joined ATV where Chow was chief executive. Over the next six years, Bo sang and acted in various soap operas until her big break came in 1991, when she landed a spot co-hosting the weekly TV show Hong Kong Book of Tricks, with TV actress Victoria Lam Kin-ming. Success landed her roles presenting coverage of the Olympics and the World Cup, and shows such as Hong Kong Has It All, and Eating Must be Crazy. She partnered comedy king Michael Hui Koon-man in TV work, as well as others such as Ivan Ho Sou-sun. She also appeared in The Kung Fu Scholar, a 1994 film with Aaron Kwok and Vivian Chow Wai-man and was invited to sing overseas. By 1996, she had quit ATV in an attempt to take her career to the next level, but ended up acting in TV films on the mainland before moving to Taiwan where offers dried up. In 1998, she returned to Hong Kong and started singing on boats and mainland clubs. 'My career was in decline,' Bo says. In 1999, she met Lee and separated from Lok, her boyfriend of 15 years. Within six months came the car crash that changed her life. 'I didn't go out afterwards and always stayed at home crying,' she says. 'When I walked on the streets, I would put a bandage on my wound or wear a mask, and lower my face.' Few people recognised her, but when they did, it was traumatic. 'People would stare at me, sometimes in restaurants, or keep glancing at me. I felt that they were looking at my wound,' she says. Gradually, she lost all confidence. 'Before I had many jobs, but after the accident, no one called me to offer me work. Eventually, I dared not walk out to face people.' With no income, and with her boyfriend's business failing with the economic downturn, Bo lived on what she could borrow from friends. 'I lost some friends. They said they couldn't care for me for the long term. Some stopped calling me, maybe as I was no longer in the right circle, and I hid myself away.' Depressed, she went to a Hunghom hotel in 2001, intent on taking her life. 'I rented a sea-view room in a hotel for a good death. I told God I was so tired and asked him to take me. I took 20 to 30 sleeping tablets. But eight to nine hours later, I woke up. God didn't want me to die but to carry on.' Ex-boyfriend Lok, now married, called her from time to time out of concern. Former colleagues and actresses Lam Kin-ming and Yuen Kit-yee have also remained loyal friends. 'Yuen asked me not to be scared,' Bo says. 'She said as long as she has rice to eat, I will have rice to eat. Although she didn't get a lot of jobs, she would give half of her earnings from a performance to me. I was so touched. This empowered me to survive.' Last month, Bo had her sixth bout of reconstructive surgery. Although her scars are still obvious, Bo is a natural beauty. Having gradually come to terms with her fate, she no longer shuns going out. She says she's accepted the way she looks, and that her ordeal has taught her a lot about the emphasis society and especially the entertainment industry puts on looks. 'A person with a beautiful face may have a bad heart,' she says. 'We should look at people's heart and not their appearance. Before, I never felt satisfied and didn't know how to treasure what I had. I always thought I wasn't beautiful enough, and wanted plastic surgery. Now, looking at my previous pictures, I realise that I was so beautiful before.' She also learned to forgive others, including her boyfriend, with whom she's still living. She says the crash was an accident. Last year, Bo received $1 million from an insurance company for the crash and used the money to repay her debts to friends. Now, with the launch of her book, she also hopes to send a message that she's ready for a comeback. Bo says she'll try to contact producers in the new year. 'I want to tell everyone that I can stand up again. I hope people can accept me. I can still work, I can sing advertising songs and do voiceovers,' she says. Bo says the book launch is helping her celebrate her 40th birthday, which was on December 9. 'I want to use the book to encourage myself to remain tough and determined. I want to tell others that when misfortunes happen, don't be afraid. We can overcome anything, we just need time,' she says. 'It's in the worst times that we are the strongest. There are tears, but the tears are for learning.' Smiling Face, Shining Life, published in Chinese by Universal Press, $55. Bo will donate her book royalties to the charity Joyful (Mental Health) Foundation, which helps people with depression 'When misfortunes happen, don't be afraid. We can overcome anything. We just need time'