Life through a lensBy S.S. YOGA
Name: Danielle Pieta Graham
Age: Turns 24 on July 17
Hometown: Kuala Lumpur
Education: Sayfol International School, Ampang, and St Vincent’s College, Sydney
Years spent abroad: Five
Current Base: Hong Kong
BIG in Japan is the title of a song that was a huge hit in the 1980s. It also describes the status of a certain Malaysian model.
Who’s the gal that has inspired such fervour? She is none other than Danielle Graham, the beauty of Irish-Chinese parentage.
When asked why so many people are taken with her, she could only blush and mutter, “I don’t know.” Apparently she had no idea about her websites until her younger brother told her about them.
“I had a look for myself and was so shocked to see the sites. It’s very sweet of them (the fans) and they actually collect all my pictures. Of course it feels nice, it’s a kind of approval and appreciation of your work.
“Yeah they send letters to the agency (Calcarrie’s in Hong Kong) and at events they want to take photographs with me.”
She was equally stumped but pleased when told there was a new website created by a fan in Indonesia!
Devoted fans also send her little gifts and the nicest Danielle says was a Playboy (she likes the symbol) lighter that had her name engraved on it. The weirdest? “I’ve been lucky, nothing yet,” she says with a smile.
She has, however, received strange letters from men and proposals for marriage are not uncommon, said Danielle, whose otherwise cheery countenance suddenly turns a little grim.
It’s quite easy to warm up to Danielle as she has a bubbly and good-natured personality, an ever-smiling face and a barrel of giggles. Everyone seems to get the same treatment; being a celebrity, it seems, has not gone to her head. So much so that when my colleague, photographer Ong, came up with a shot of her looking pensive, I threatened to caption it “Never before seen. Danielle without a smile.” Danielle’s response was just to laugh.
“I believe in always being positive. No sense dwelling on something negative even if you’re feeling depressed. Best get on with it and be thankful for what you have. It’s all about balance in your life.”
Danielle’s “balance” includes her family , which she adores. Her Irish father Gerald Graham lives in Kuala Lumpur and her Chinese Malaysian mom Wei Graham is in Sydney. Her sibling, 19-year-old Matthew (whom she calls her angel), does part-time modelling in Malaysia too.
On enquiry about her younger days, Danielle says that she coincidentally spent time the day before poring over her family albums.
Danielle – who loves keeping photographs and has stacks of them – remembers spending a lot of time in the kitchen while growing up. Everyone in the family apparently loves to cook and she even has a cousin who is a chef. Danielle says her dad thinks she makes a mean pasta and she loves to have barbeques. She’s also one for eating. I look at her figure and ask if she is one of those lucky few that most women hate.
“I love to eat. I especially love mushrooms; you can call me a ‘mushroomholic’. Isn’t that part of the quality of life – to enjoy eating and having great food? I try to eat as much as I can. Sure in this profession you have to be careful but I’m fortunate that my metabolism rate is quite high, it’s in my genes I think as the rest of my family are the same.
“Of course if I binge out then the following day I cut down and eat less and more healthy stuff. So I keep it pretty balanced.”
”You know I was really young and my cousin and I used to play with the dolls we had. We’d pretend we were teachers and then we would take our exercise books and give them (the dolls) work and then pretend to correct their work.”
Is she still keen on being a teacher? She laughs it off but says she adores children and proceeds to gush over her two godchildren.
“One is six and the other is four and I absolutely adore them. They are staying in Singapore and I will be visiting them soon. I love getting cards from them, which they make themselves and it will be like ‘Dear Auntie Danielle. How are you?’.”
After four years studying in Sydney for her Higher School Certificate she headed back to KL in 1997 and resumed her modelling career as “I thought I had enough of studies and missed my family and friends.”
Danielle made a soft drink commercial for the China market and the director for the shoot suggested she try out the Hong Kong scene.
So armed with some introductions, the plucky lass in 1999 (just 20 then) started knocking on doors in Hong Kong. She concedes that it was difficult at first as she could only understand some Cantonese but could hardly speak it.
Danielle says she gave herself two months to see how things would turn out. Fortunately the road she took led to Calcarrie’s and an ad for Standard Chartered Bank started opening other doors.
Soon she was making the covers of magazines on a regular basis and was snapped up for commercials and ads. Danielle says she’s quite comfortable doing those as she can cut back on runway shows.
As such she says she was not affected by the cancellation of fashion shows because of the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong. The epidemic, however, did prompt her to come back to KL until the worst is over in Hong Kong. She keeps herself busy with interviews and a few weeks back did a soft drink commercial for the market here.
What she’s most proud of is her representation for Oil of Olay for the markets in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong and the contract runs for a couple more years. It’s easy to see why she got the contract as Danielle has a flawless alabaster complexion.
When asked if she’s happy with her looks, Danielle replies in the affirmative but says, “I wish my skin was a bit darker though.”
“I have problems getting a tan. You know when I travel either for work or for vacation when I tell people I’m from Malaysia, they go like, ‘No, you can’t be.’ I suppose it’s because of my complexion and they think coming from a hot climate one should be darker. What is a Malaysian person supposed to look like? We have such a mix here,” says Danielle, who is proud of her Malaysian heritage.
“I like working there as they are very professional and very nice. Too nice sometimes and so polite. They always make sure you are taken care of. I suppose it’s because that is so much a part of their culture.”
Has there been any interesting incidents while doing her work? She laughs and tells of the time she almost fell off a boat while shooting a commercial. Another was when she was all made-up and had to stand near some rocks by the sea and suddenly a wave completely dunked her.
Her looks have not only graced magazines and TV screens; Danielle has been on the silver screen too. In 2001 she filmed 2002, a big-budget Hong Kong movie with the likes of Nicholas Tse and Stephen Fung. How did that come about?
“I got a call from Golden Harvest (Hong Kong-based movie studio) and they said they wanted to meet with me. So I had coffee with the producer and the director (Wilson Yip). I was like, why me? They said they wanted a fresh face. It was a good experience even though I had never dreamed of acting before. Yes I would like to do more and there might be something coming up soon.”
Danielle became all-coy when asked for more details and would only reveal that the movie had a few big names too. She blushed too and kept mum when I asked whether she was prepared to handle more media nosiness about certain scenes in the movie, which had caused a frenzy such as her screen-kiss with Tse.
She even had the privilege of working with Chang Chen and Wong Kar Wai who directed a music video for DJ Shadow called Six Days of War.
Danielle has also had a stint as a columnist with a Hong King magazine. The column was all about her experiences, vacations, dining out and attending social events. Danielle says that it was quite an interesting experience and wouldn’t mind doing something like that again.
“Me sing? I don’t think so though my dad is a singer. So that artistic gene is probably in the family.
“My dad used to sing professionally in Ireland and UK and he does songs along the lines of Louis Armstrong and jazzy stuff. He has a wonderful voice and he even performed with the Bee Gees once.”
This and that
When not busy at work, Danielle enjoys spending time with family and friends. Danielle also loves practising yoga (sometimes with Carmen Soo, another Malaysian model based in Hong Kong and one of her closest friends) to keep fit and says that it is one of her only keep fit regiments. Drinking lots of water and having at least eight hours of sleep are also rules she abides by and hence she’s not into big-time partying though she says she loves to dance.
She’s also into physical sports such as horse riding and she loves water sports like water skiing and wakeboarding. Danielle says her agency is not worried about her activities as she’s very careful in what she does.
Danielle also spends time with her three dogs (a Cocker Spaniel, a Labrador and a mongrel), two cats and a fish.
“When I’m overseas I really miss my family and friends and the food, food, food. People in Malaysia are so friendly and easygoing and not so aggressive. I don’t miss the heat though.”
Danielle, who describes herself as energetic, caring and curious (“I’m kaypoh-lah always asking this and that”) and also cheeky and mischievous with a little bit of a devil inside, gives herself a few more years in the profession.
Not trying to make it in Europe or America?
“No, I’m not really ambitious and what I have done here in Asia is quite satisfactory. I want to go back to my studies and this time it would be photography. It would be good to be on the other side of the camera for a change.”