When I read in the national newspapers last year that this TV host/actor has written a memoir, my first thought was: when would a copy be available for loan at the public library? Well, it didn’t take long. (By contrast, I still haven’t been able to get hold of Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl With Seven Names for more than two years now.) Perhaps many readers are not as interested in local books, since I could also easily get a copy of Josehpine Chia’s When A Flower Dies soon after it was published.
I did not have high expectations for the book, as all I knew about Gurmit Singh was that he has a reputation for being a funnyman (when I didn’t find him all that funny), a host for programmes like Singapore Idol and the NDP (National Day Parade) and an actor (the most famous of which is Phua Chu Kang, the contractor with yellow boots, permed hair and a big mole, who could not speak proper English). Hence I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered what a good read it is: I was not only highly entertained (I laughed out loud more than a dozen times) but I also learned something more.
In 16 chapters over 275 pages, Gurmit Singh writes about his early childhood (birth, speaking problem, memory problem, kindergarten, primary school), in which he reveals how his inferiority complex (I would never have guessed, from what I saw on TV) led him to become depressed and harbouring thoughts of suicide when he was only 10 years old.
Due to the financial circumstances at home, he became the youngest jaga (watchman) of a bank when he was 13 (from when he was in Sec 1 till Sec 4). Here, there’s something he writes that I fully agree with: I think everybody should play at least one instrument. Not to show off … but just so you have a place to go to when you want to be alone or just ‘escape’ for a while to get your thoughts collected and to feel calm again. Your instrument will always allow you to go to that place where you can just zone out. And that zone can sometimes be the difference between sanity and all-out war.
When he was in Pre-University, he was shocked to find out during an Economics class that his 40cents-allowance-per-day was not the ‘norm’ as even the teacher didn’t quite believe it when his classmates were getting allowances of up to $20 per day. I was shocked to learn this tit-bit because I had an allowance of 50cents a day (though I’m almost a decade older than Gurmit Singh) and my parents made me believe it was a lot!
I already knew from earlier reports that he didn’t attend University because his ‘A’ level grades were not good enough, but I didn’t know he sat for the exam twice, and that it was Maths that caused his downfall. (So there’s something I have in common -well, almost- because Maths has always been my weakest subject, but at least I managed not to fail and had better grades in other subjects to ‘help’ me.)
I would never have guessed that he was classified as ‘medically unfit’ (PES E, for those who are familiar with the system) when he enlisted for National Service. After all, he has mentioned in many interviews that he was very active in the National Police Cadet Corpts in school. The reason was that he has a LAZY left eye! (Something else I didn’t know but can empathise because I also have something like that.) So he was sent to the Navy Headquarters as a Registry Clerk and then to the Navy Recruitment Centre where he was bored out of his wits. When he auditioned for the Music and Drama Company, and was selected, he felt as though he was going to the New York School of Performing Arts; there, he learnt ballet, jazz ballet, breakdance, tap dance, Malay dance, acting and singing. This would be a turning point for him!
In his recounts of how his career went from being a dancer to TV personality, I had lots of laughs! In between, he also wrote about how his application to the Ministry of Education was rejected (because of Maths again), and his relationship with his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Melissa (to whom he devotes a whole chapter, and more, through the pages throughout the book).
From humble beginnings at the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now Mediacorp), he became a household name. Programmes I remember catching glimpses of include Live on 5, Can I Help You, Gurmit’s World, Gurmit’s small Talk, Tonight with Gurmit, Phua Chu Kang (PCK) and Minute To Win It. PCK was such a huge phenomenon that there was even a movie (which I watched, courtesy of the National Library Board) and a stage performance for the President’s Star Charity. Another movie he had starred in is called One Leg Kicking, which I had also watched (on DVD on loan from NLB) because it also starred Mark Lee and Sharon Aw.
I’ve almost forgotten (because I didn’t follow every episode) the Mandarin drama serial called Baby Boom until it is mentioned that this was the only time he spoke Mandarin. He made great sacrifices and dedication for his craft. I vaguely recall an English drama serial (but never watched a single episode) called Lifeline; I got an insight to the lives of firefighters from a behind-the-scenes section here.
Having hosted the NDP 19 times, and the Countdown Live show on TV for 20 years, Gurmit Singh decided it was enough. Because all these have taken a toll on his health. For a long time now, he has been experiencing fainting spells and epileptic fits. His Blood Pressure is generally low, and doctors advise the best solution is never to be hungry (another piece of useful information for me). Fatherhood has also changed him.
One surprise came almost at the end when he reveals (with a photograph) a tattoo on his back with the names of his wife and children – a permanent part of his life.
In earlier chapters, he has also shared snippets about his parents, their relationship, and how he coped with their illnesses and eventual death.
Besides the fact that there are many details that take courage and conviction to write, I also like his conversational style. There is a lot of humour and wit in his honesty and frankness. Of course, there are also lots of photographs!