SHE'S forever 28.
That's what Angel Chua always says when anyone asks - the press included.
'I'm actually 33,' admitted the model, most famous as the ABC Stout poster girl of a few years ago, over the phone from Penang, where she was visiting her 52-year-old mother.
Angel has been with Jeffrey Chung Models for 12 years, a lifetime in modelling, especially when a lot of her work includes walking around in a bikini.
She is a familiar face (and body) for those who have got Mr Chung's cheesy annual calendars.
Save for one year, she has appeared in every one of the calendars since she joined in 1996.
And she appears again in Mr Chung's 'Retrolicious' 2009 calendar, this time lying down, in a bikini, smiling at the camera.
The calendar will be distributed only to clients.
Mr Chung, 41, said Angel is one of the longest serving in his stable of 30 full-time and more than 100 part-time models, though she is not the oldest.
'She is someone who really likes the job,' he said.
Some clients want to see new faces, but many still ask for her 'because they know she will do a good job'.
And if you ask her, she'll say her longevity in the business is because of her working attitude: she never rejects clients.
Angel, who is 1.73m tall, said, humbly: 'My height is not that tall, my look is not that (hot), my English is also not that good. I think it's by luck.'
And indeed, it was a stroke of luck that she signed up with Jeffrey Chung.
Angel is the eldest in her family, and has two brothers and a sister. Her mum was a clothes contractor and her father a lorry driver.
She had wanted to study fashion design after her O levels, and argued with her mother, who told her girls didn't need to study so much.
'I didn't know they couldn't afford to send me for further studies,' she said.
She worked to support her family in Penang, earning just RM360 ($150) as an administrator in a law firm, and later RM500 as an account clerk.
After two years of this, she moved to Singapore and joined a factory, working 12 hours a day, with only two days off a month. But she earned up to $1,200 a month, out of which she sent $500 to her family.
Two years into this job, she took part in a beauty contest, with categories for men and women, at the factory. Mr Chung was a judge. The winners got contracts with his agency.
But here's the twist - she didn't win.
She got only the Miss Photogenic prize. But the male winner was an executive and couldn't do modelling. So he offered the contract to Angel.
'Actually, (the contract) cannot transfer. But there was no name on the contract. So I quietly went to Jeffrey's office,' she said, chuckling.
And Mr Chung was so impressed he gave her assignments even before she finished her modelling training.
It was only more than a year later that she revealed the truth to Mr Chung.
As a model, her income tripled. And it was a whole new world for this small-town girl and her family.
'Actually my dad got a bit worried... In my kampung, no one really knows what it is about,' she said.
But she said in the end her father, who was suffering from stomach cancer and died not long afterwards, was quite proud her.
Angel brought her mum to see her do a sexy dance show in which she wore a bikini.
'She said, 'Aiyoh, why wear until like that',' Angel recalled. 'I said, nowadays, it's normal.'
Angel, who is attached, is perhaps most famous for her ABC Stout poster, which had her posing semi-nude with her breasts covered by a digitally-added arm reaching for a drink. She wore just enough to cover her most important bits.
However, she revealed that she was terrified at her first bikini job. She had never worn swimwear before. She couldn't swim at that time, and even now she can only swim 'a little'.
'But after some time, I told myself, if I want to be the best, be bold!'
|POPULAR: Clients ask for Angel because they say she has a great working attitude.
She still does three or four shows a week, a far cry from her peak, when she once got 60 jobs a month.
She doesn't do car shows any more, though she was one of the 39 race queens for the Formula One night race earlier this year. 'If I appear, people will say she's the oldest one,' she said.
Loss of confidence
In 2005, she suffered from a loss in confidence, when her number of job offers fell.
'I was a bit sad,' she said. 'Was it because I was old and had no more demand in this line?'
As she was also suffering from gastric problems, she retired from modelling for six months to recuperate. That was why she didn't appear in the calendar that year.
But she returned in 2006 when she realised she still loved the job. And offers began to pick up again.
Nowadays, she also helps come up with new concepts for shoots. For example, she helped conceive the retro theme for the new calendar.
She also helps take care of and teach the new models, who call her 'old mamasan'.
Mika, 22, one of the new girls in the calendar, said that when she started, Angel was at every show she was doing, and was always very helpful.
She agreed that Angel's longevity in the business was inspiring.
'I see that clients still remember her. Sometimes, I wish I could be in her shoes sometime in the future.'
As for Mr Chung, he has no problems with Angel's age. He said: 'We hope to work with her another 20 years - until she cannot walk any more!'
This article was first published in The New Paper on Nov 16, 2008.