Gurmit Singh bids goodbye to MediaCorp
SINGAPORE: After devoting exactly 20 years of his life to making Singapore laugh, Gurmit Singh now wants to spend the next 20 years making his family smile.
The 49-year-old has announced that he will not be renewing his full-time contract with MediaCorp when it expires at the end of the year. It is his way of catching up on time lost with his wife, his 17-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son and 20-month-old baby girl.
“I need to pay them back. If I don’t, I’ll be a horrible father and husband,” he said. “I kept missing important milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. I think the audience doesn’t realise this but, sometimes, when I’m hosting a programme, there could be a birthday party for one of my children at home. My family was always supportive and we made do, but I just couldn’t continue this argument within myself.”
One of his regrets is missing his firstborn’s first steps. “I left the house and the baby was still crawling. I came home late – the baby was walking,” he recounted.
After welcoming a third child last year, he told his wife: “I don’t want to make the same mistakes I made with the other kids”. “As much as I am blessed to have done something I love so much for the past 20 years, I enjoy being at home even more, with my family.”
But don’t start crying into your yellow wellington boots just yet. Gurmit will still be in the industry part-time.
A statement issued by his management said that for next year, Gurmit will take on artiste engagements on “a more selective basis, with MediaCorp’s Artiste Management unit serving as his exclusive agent for commercial engagements”.
“I wish I could say I was retiring and have a yacht waiting for me. But I still have to work to buy food and clothes and pay the school bills,” he said, adding that the family had moved from their house to a three-bedroom condominium unit – and would no longer fly business class.
Just what will he do? “Maybe now, I’ll be more accessible to productions outside MediaCorp. Maybe I can do more stage stuff, more movies – I don’t know. I just want to take it slow for the next few years and really concentrate on giving more time to my family,” he said.
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It’s undeniable Gurmit has helped shape the face of local television – and that face has a large, iconic mole on it. Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, which went down in history as Singapore’s longest-running English sitcom, may have been off air for seven years but, to this day, Gurmit is still being asked to appear as the big-haired contractor at events.
“When I first started (playing him) I was only 32 years old and had to put on lines, wrinkles, to make me look 50. (Now) the lines are already there.”
It is testament to the strength of his performance – and so are his five Best Comedy Actor Asian Television Awards, of course – that people still call him Phua Chu Kang and not Gurmit Singh, he said.
Although PCK has had his face on an airplane, given out clues in The Amazing Race 3 and even has his own Madame Tussauds wax figure, the host of shows that include Gurmit’s World, Gurmit’s Small Talk, Live On 5, Singapore Idol and Knockout Carnival isn’t jealous of PCK for being more famous than he is.
“It’s almost as if he’s this other person that I have to thank for getting me where I am,” Gurmit said. “Some people may say, ‘You’ve been stereotyped.’ But I’d rather be stereotyped as one good character that I’ve done than be that actor who’s trying to find that character to call his own.”
While his career has had towering highs, there have also been low points: In particular, the pressures of living a life in the spotlight. In 1999, when he was hosting the variety show Tonight With Gurmit, a newspaper published an article containing “personal attacks” and how he was “not funny enough”, which hit him hard.
Gurmit got on the phone with the show’s producers and said he wasn’t coming to work. “I mean, I’m human, so there’s only so much I can take … These people seem to think I’m going all out to destroy people’s lives and make you angry and frustrated watching my show – and forcing you to watch. I said, ‘They’ve got it all wrong. And I don’t want to be here any more.’”
Then, in 2003, his father passed away. As he approached the mortuary, the undertaker told him about the reporters and cameramen who had been waiting outside for a few hours. “I shouted so loudly that the whole street could hear me, ‘I will count to three and by three, you must be away from me, otherwise I’ll smash your cameras.’
“These are things I didn’t ask for,” he said. “People may say, ‘It’s part of the deal, Gurmit. Deal with it.’ But who comes into the industry saying, ‘Oh, you can tear me apart. You can forsake my privacy and human rights. You can take away my integrity and just treat me like a little thing to do what you will with’?
“So, there is a lot of rubbish that I’ve dealt with – and to think I did it at the expense of time with my family,” he continued. “It’s time. Life is short. I’m turning 50 next year.”
Does he feel a midlife crisis coming on? “I’m getting very impatient because I feel like my time is running out,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe, I want to drive a Lamborghini again – but I cannot afford that any more. I am always reminded that at least I had it for two years.”
The Lamborghini, of course, was a symbol, not a vehicle. “I grew up in a very poor family – slept on the floor, wore shoes until you could see my toes through the soles, bought extra-big school shorts so they could last for years and get tighter and tighter. I got a new shirt only once a year on Deepavali. I was thinking, as a 12-year-old, ‘If I can grow up and have my own house and a motorbike, or even any crappy car, I’ve made it.’”
And yet, after having made it, with fame, wealth, success and possibly everything a man could want, Gurmit said nothing is as important as family. “At the end of the day, I could have X number of houses and cars (but), after all that is stripped away, the only people you’re left with are your family,” he said.
“One day, I was thinking, ‘What if I didn’t have a family? What if I were a swinging bachelor going to the clubs every night?’ I think I would really be quite a joke today,” he mused. “The industry is two-faced. One side really brings you down, criticises you, wants you to just die. But the other side – and it’s not always sincere – the applause, it puffs you up, strokes your ego, makes you feel like, ‘Oh, I’m so wanted, I’m God’s answer to humanity.’ And it plays havoc with your mind.”
According to Gurmit, his family kept him grounded. “I thank God every day that I have a family to go home to. My children say, ‘You know, Dad, outside you’re a superstar; but here, you’re just a father. You don’t impress me at all.’”
At this point in his life, Gurmit is looking forward to being “just a father”. He enthusiastically told us – twice, without realising it – about his family’s plans to spend the Christmas season in Finland. And for the first time in years, you won’t see him co-hosting the live countdown show on the last day of the year.
“Finally, after 20 years, I’ll have the first New Year’s Eve with my family,” he said.