Cindy gets revenge

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Cindy gets revenge

By KEE HUA CHEEPictures by KEE HUA CHEE & courtesy of Channel [V]

As a gangly teenager, Cindy Burbridge was teased mercilessly by her schoolmates. They even nicknamed her "Pred", after a mythical Thai monster! Today, the former miss Thailand is a Channel [V] veejay, model, TV host and sought-after actress. KEE HUA CHEE was smitten.  

Before she was a teenager, she was already head and shoulders above her classmates. Her height never bothered her until the jibes and taunts started.  

“At 15, I had a figure, or at least I think so,’’ says Cindy Burbridge, 24, 177cm tall. “I was just one of the girls in school and never thought much about my height. Sadly, I discovered you get picked on if you are too short or tall!  

“My height became the butt of jokes, some of which were quite nasty. In Thai mythology, there is this horrible monster called ‘Pred’ who lives in a palm tree, and has a slithery, long body and slimy, long tongue.  

Burbridge is a mix of American, English, Indian and Thai.

“Yup, my schoolmates called me ‘Pred’! I hated the name so much! I was just a kid and you could imagine my feelings of indignation and frustration! All I wanted to be was popular, like any other kid.  

“In hindsight, if not for the cruel taunts, I may not have become what I am today, just to prove to them and myself I’m gorgeous!’’ she chuckles.  

From a scrawny teenager, Burbridge has blossomed into a ravishing beauty, curves and all. “I never thought of myself as beautiful. But when so many asked if I was a model, I began to think, hey, maybe they know something I don’t!” 

Posing in front of a camera came naturally.  

“I started modelling at 13 but obviously not for fashion shoots. I am a diver and a very good one at that!’’ beams the lass proudly.  

“I got my PADI licence at 12, which is just about the minimum age. I am a qualified Rescue Diver too! Of course it helped when Daddy owns Seafari, a dive business! My father started Seafari in Pattaya as he was a diving instructor. My first big commercial came because I could dive and swim like a fish. 

“The advertiser wanted someone who could dive and be comfortable underwater. Her eyes had to be wide open as she swam past the camera, looking as mermaidish as possible. Dad’s friend asked him if he knew of a talent and he pushed me to do it for pocket money.’’ 

Burbridge took up as many modelling assignments as much as she could while attending Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok.  

At 17, she entered and won Miss Thailand/World 1996. In the process, she unwittingly caused a furore. The controversy she ignited raged throughout her reign and even today, many Thais have a lot to say about her being Miss Thailand. 

The problem was that she looked anything but Thai! 

First, with a name like “Cindy Burbridge’’, most people would assume she is Anglo-Saxon. Then there is her appearance. Her glossy dark hair is her only concession to being Thai. Her eyes are blue, her skin fair and rosy, her cheekbones high and nose as sharp as a Caucasian’s. In fact, she looks exactly like a farang (Thai for “foreigner”). 

She admits she does not look like a typical Thai girl though she is adamant she is very much Thai.  

“I was born in Thailand. I hold a Thai passport. I grew up in Thailand. I am 24 and did not spend years living abroad. My father, who is American, moved to Thailand in the 70s. My mum is half-English, one-quarter Indian and one-quarter Thai. So actually I am one-eighth Thai!  

I grew up in Pattaya and have never known any other home except Thailand! 

“The controversy got bigger because the first runner-up looked Thai. Ironically, she grew up in Denmark and had not spent time in Thailand. On top of that, she did not speak a word of Thai!” 

Burbridge’s crowning became the cause célèbre of the year. The judges had to decide whether to give the Miss Thailand/World crown to someone who looked Thai but grew up in Denmark or to someone who grew up in Thailand but didn’t look Thai. 

At 17, Burbridge was too young compared to the older and more sophisticated contestants at the Miss World finals in Bangalore, India. She did not win anything but her title launched her career big time.  

“I got so much exposure due to the controversy. I became quite a household name. But I hardly realised the furore!  

“I was so busy fulfilling my obligations and having a great time modelling, acting and appearing on TV and in the press that it was only after my reign was over, that I started to read what was said on the Internet! My reaction when I won was, ‘Wow!, I did it, I am Miss Thailand!’ ’’ 

She launched Nescafé, Lavenus shampoo and Lux skincare. She went into acting and appeared in many Thai soap operas that ran non-stop for a few months. “In Thailand, the public like to see celebrities regularly on TV. I have appeared in movies, usually cameo roles. I am very picky about movie scripts. I have received several offers for a major role in big budget movies but I am still working out the details.’’ 

She became a Channel [V] veejay last December. She went to a Channel [V] International screen test and was signed on the spot. Her first recording was in Kuala Lumpur, of all places.  

“It was also my first job in English. Previously, I only appeared in Thai TV series and films. I am really enjoying my Channel [V] job.” 

Design-wise, she is a fan of Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine, so she was pleased to help open the new KL Fendi boutique at Starhill, Kuala Lumpur.  

“I love glamour, as dressing stylishly is part of my job. Off-screen, I am just a T-shirt and jeans girl. For casual wear, my clothes must be laid-back, comfortable and easy to care for. I am not the sort who only appears in designer gear from head to toe. If I like something and it looks good on me, then I go for it. 

“Fashion to me is about feeling good. I am particularly fond of Thai labels like Greyhound, Fly Now and SODA.” 

Not only is her career going great, so is her love life! 

“Byron is half-Japanese and half-American but he looks more Japanese than white so he can actually pass off as Thai! Byron is also learning Thai so now he is assimilating,” says Burbridge. 

“He and I own a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok called Ikkyu-an, a casual, average-priced restaurant. I drop by often. It’s cool to own a restaurant as I get fantastic free food all the time. 

“Unfortunately, I put on weight easily so I am careful. I visit Malaysia often and love nasi lemak which can be fatal to my 54kg. I don’t like eating meat. I prefer seafood, vegetables and fruits.” 

“I exercise, do yoga and ballet. Yeah, I know, I am too tall to be a ballerina but ballet was something I liked but never had a chance to do. So when I came across ballet classes for adults, I jumped at it.”  

Does Byron have to stand on a chair to whisper sweet nothings into her ear? 

“Byron is 180cm and taller than me! Since you’re so nosey, I might as well tell you he is also a model and an actor and very handsome! His full name is Byron Bishop and if we marry, I don’t have to change the initials on my suitcase!’’ grins Burbridge. 

As an only child, she still finds it strange not to have siblings. “I grew up to be very observant, independent, and a little introspective but very interesting,” she laughs. “I think I will start an Only Child Club one day!” 

I did not have to hunt her down for this interview. At the Fendi launch, Burbridge walked over to me and extended her hand, “You look so stunning, I feel like you are someone I ought to know. Hi, I am Cindy Burbridge, Channel [V] veejay from Thailand!’’ 

Flattered beyond words, I was about to swoon when I remembered she had just graduated from Bangkok University in Public Relations. Just shows the power of a true PR Queen. W