Anyone dreaming of a job as assistant to a show-business figure should think twice - the work isn't all that exciting. In fact, it's more often a dog's life, according a former assistant who has worked for more than 50 artists, from starlets to A-list celebrities. Hence the title of her recently released memoir, I'm an Assistant, Not a Dog, which she has written under the pseudonym Ah Sei (No4) Mama - ah sei being Cantonese slang for dogsbody. 'Many young people want to be a celebrity assistant because they think it's a fun job, but the entertainment world isn't as glamorous as they think,' says No4 Mama. She, too, had been attracted by the idea of being associated with celebrities but was quickly disillusioned. Star-struck fans should just admire their idols from afar, she says. There is the occasional perk. Assistants receive tickets to movie premieres, some of the luxury freebies that the stars receive, and share the odd limousine ride to red carpet events. But, as No4 Mama recounts, the core duties of co-ordinating the artists' work schedules and handling media inquiries made up only a small part of her day. A lot of her time was spent running personal errands, from picking up dry cleaning to taking their pets for spa treatments. Assistants hired by management companies to take care of several artists have an especially tough time. Chronic aches and pains are common because they have to cart heavy items - bags of clothing, cameras and bottled water - to several locations in a day. And many assistants develop gastric problems because the days are long and unpredictable. During a particularly busy period, says No4 Mama, she went without sleep for days because she was minding several artists, all of whom had packed schedules. When the artists were working, she had to take photos and videos for publicity material; when they were on breaks, she had to co-ordinate with their stylists, sponsors and production team, or read their scripts and highlight important lines for them. Tantrums, verbal abuse for minor mistakes and unreasonable requests from artists were par for the course. No4 Mama recalls how one well-known actress ordered her to fetch a watermelon during the early hours while on a break from filming. 'Where can I buy a watermelon at 3am in Kwun Tong? I took a taxi all the way to Mong Kok to buy one at a 24-hour store,' she says. 'When I returned, she complained the watermelon wasn't cold enough.' Dishing the dirt on some behind-the-scenes shenanigans (although she doesn't name names), No4 Mama tells of one singer who asked his assistant to cover for him at a concert when he lost his voice following a heavy night out the previous evening. He got his assistant, who had a good voice, to sing while he lip-synched on stage. Emerging stars can develop inflated egos, says No4 Mama, recalling how a starlet asked her assistant to paint her toenails. Another former assistant tells of a young actor who demanded that his assistant exchange clothes with him because he couldn't bear an aide looking more stylish. Mani Fok Man-hei, director of Emperor Entertainment Group, concedes a few artists have been guilty of bratty behaviour. 'I once saw a young artist have his assistant tie his shoelaces for him and immediately told him off,' she says. The Emperor group manages a large stable of artists and she advises all of them to treat their assistants as colleagues, with respect. However, Fok says, some young artists allow sudden fame to go to their heads and make unreasonable demands of their aides. 'If all the artist needs is a domestic helper, we wouldn't have to pay so much to employ an assistant. Even domestic helpers deserve to be treated respectfully.' Kelvin Lam King-fan, an assistant to actress Angela Tong Ying-ying, says aspiring assistants shouldn't get any ideas about basking in the reflected glory. 'Many view us as people who fetch and carry for the stars. They don't acknowledge our existence or bother to talk to us,' he says. Aides here aren't paid much despite being on call around the clock. Those working for the Emperor group earn between HK$7,000 and HK$15,000 a month, yet the job still attracts many young people. Frequent travel, a chance to learn about the entertainment business and meet advertisers and media are part of the appeal, Fok says. However, some want the job simply because they're star-struck, says talent manager Stella Chan (not her real name), a former assistant herself. 'Many assistants are fans, so they don't mind undertaking chores for their idols, even if all they do is collect clothes,' she says. 'They just want to be a part of the glittering world and be around celebrities.' For Lam, it's the excitement of being part of show business that has kept him in the job for 11 years. He may be dashing around under the scorching sun at a movie shoot one moment, but could find himself rubbing elbows with the rich and famous at an evening ball a couple of hours later. 'This kind of surreal life isn't something an ordinary person would experience,' he says. Besides, not all artists are self-centred and inconsiderate. A few years ago, when Tong's career was in the doldrums, the actress asked Lam if he had any interest in working at a restaurant that her family ran in Canada. 'She was worried that I wouldn't be able to find a job if she returned to Canada,' he says. Anna Leung See-wan also enjoyed her five years working as an assistant to Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng. Now running her own public relations agency, Leung says the actress remained down to earth even though she became an international star. Indeed, Yeoh once surprised her with a birthday cake at a particularly hectic time. 'I didn't think anyone would remember my birthday because they were so busy. It was a great surprise when she suddenly showed up with the cake,' Leung says. The exposure from her work co-ordinating Yeoh's schedule at Cannes, during the making of Steven Spielberg's Memoirs of a Geisha and at the Oscars ceremony, was invaluable, she says. 'These were all eye-opening experiences,' Leung says. And for all her gripes, No4 Mama says she takes enormous satisfaction from seeing the artists she worked for become successful. Lam feels the same way, citing Tong's winning the best supporting actress title at the 2005 TVB Anniversary Awards as a highlight. With assistants generally receiving little recognition and reward for their work, Lam gets the occasional twinge of doubt about his choice of career. 'Sometimes I wonder what I'd get at the end. What's my future as an assistant?' he says. But he still prefers to remain in the entertainment business. 'There's no way I could return to the real world.'