The interview I never forgot
She was a gorgeous Japanese lady who mysteriously vanished after her story was published three months later.
The only proof I’d met her? Her collection of prized cosmetics still lies untouched on my desk.
It was November 2010 and I was preparing for my first ever “real woman” shoot - that is, a photoshoot-cum-interview involving regular women. Ie: not celebrities.
This was for a story about expatriate women in Singapore and their beauty regimens. It was one of those nosy, “oh-where-does-she-get-her-hair-done”-type stories. Sounds simple. The catch was I had to photograph my interviewees.
Here’s a secret: while I adore looking at beautiful photo spreads in magazines, these are precisely the stories I fear doing the most because the coordination is a nightmare. Once you’ve convinced someone to be photographed for a national magazine (tough, especially with camera-shy Singaporeans!), there’s the whole rigmarole of scheduling the shoot and finding a venue that will host you - for free.
For this shoot, I had to regrettably turn down a renowned five-star hotel. Why? Because they insisted that we include their restaurant’s high-tea menu in the photograph! Can you imagine? In the photo, there’d be a cheerful-looking woman reclining on a sofa, presumably chatting about the best spas she’s been to - and bam! Mini crumpets and macarons in the foreground. Um, no thanks.
So anyway. I’d gotten all my interviews settled, but there was a last minute glitch. One of the women was dropped from the story and I had to find a replacement within three days. This was the first time I was coordinating a photo-shoot involving four women over two days so needless to say, I hyperventilated.
I made frantic cold calls, trying to convince expat women I’d never met to tell me where they shopped for body masks. Yes, it was weird. But eventually one of them agreed to meet me at a hotel restaurant for a chat.
She turned out to be a dream interviewee. Not that it matters greatly (okay, it does somewhat), but she was beautiful. A former air stewardess, she strode into the hotel wearing a smart-looking cream sheath dress and nude pumps. She was two-months pregnant and while the bump wasn’t visible, I’m betting it accounted for her glow. I looked at her and thought: “Wow, she’s our opening picture”.
More importantly, she had a fabulous personality, cheerful, patient and helpful to a fault. Before our meet-up, I’d told her to prepare a list of all the beauty products and services she used. She didn’t just do that - she went the whole damn hog.
As she greeted me carrying only a tiny purse, I joked about what a light traveller she was. At this, she smiled, snapped her fingers at the bell-boy and told him to bring over her “luggage”. He promptly wheeled over a Samsonite which unzipped to reveal bottles upon bottles of her beauty products! Lancome, Guerlain, Sisley, Cle de peau beaute…you name it. She meticulously laid them all out on the table, while I watched slack-jawed, and proceeded to give a lecture on her nightly skincare ritual. I wanted to kiss her there and then.
At one point, she actually pressed some of her expensive creams into my hands, urging me to photograph them in my studio if I needed to - it was incredible. I’d never met an interviewee who was so eager and not in an irritating, self-promoting way.
I didn’t take the products but went back with 75-minutes worth of dialogue (she had a very detailed regimen) and a stack of name cards containing the numbers of her facialist, masseuse and hairdresser.
A week later at the photoshoot, she handed me a paper bag containing brand new face creams, a lip balm and blotting paper. They were all from a traditional beauty brand sold only in Japan. I was stunned by her generosity.
The story was published three months later and of the four women I’d interviewed, my art team selected her photograph as the opening picture. She looked amazing. I immediately called her up to tell her the magazine was out, but she never picked up her phone. I texted and emailed her several times over the next few weeks, asking if she would like me to send her a copy of the magazine. No response. She’d disappeared.
A year later, I haven’t heard from her. I still have her bag of stuff which remains untouched. It’s gathering dust on my desk but I refuse to junk it. I’m treating it as if it’s “on loan”, and I intend to return it to her once she shows up again.
It sounds corny but sometimes I think she’s an angel who appeared just when I needed her most. I met her at a stressful period when I was still relatively “raw” as a writer, and everything was one huge, confusing blur at work.
At times like that, you’re grateful for people who believe in your stories and show such support. I still remember wringing her hand, thanking her profusely after the interview. She waved it off, smiling and said: “I know your job isn’t easy so I just wanted to make things a little easier for you.”
So Haruka, if you’re out there, from the bottom of my heart, thank you once more.