A new life for Frances Yip

Songstress Frances Yip celebrates being cancer-free with a charity concert.

FRANCES Yip has a career that spans four decades, 80 albums to her name and the adoration of loyal fans all over the world. But the veteran songstress says she values the last 14 years of her life more than anything.

“This year marks the 14th year I am cancer-free,” says the Hong Kong-born chanteuse in a recent interview from Sydney, Australia, where she has lived for the past five years.

Yip was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. She was 48 and in the prime of her life. Having always been health-conscious and active, the diagnosis was a complete shock.

“I don’t smoke, I exercise regularly and am careful with my diet so I was really shocked. You read about it and hear stories about people with cancer but still, you don’t think it will happen to you. Well, it happened to me and it was a real wake-up call,” she shares.

Thankfully, Yip detected her cancer when it was still in the early stages.

“I had been told how important it is to do regular breast self examinations and I did that every month. That’s when I came across a tiny lump in my right breast. It was narrow and about half the size of my little finger.

“I went to a doctor but because it was so small, he could not see it. He told me to come back in six months, and we did an ultrasound and mammogram and they detected a lump. They did a biopsy and (after finding out it was malignant) removed the lump,” Yip recalls.

The prognosis was, thankfully, positive. Yip didn’t need a mastectomy nor did she have to undergo chemotherapy.

“I had the lump removed and then went for six weeks of radiotherapy. I was very lucky that it was detected early,” she says.

Yip suffered from depression after undergoing the treatment, but she realised how fortunate she was and decided to take stock of her life.

“It was time to examine my priorities. Was I working too hard? What else was I doing? I realised that because I used to perform in nightclubs, I had been a passive smoker for more than 25 years.

“I decided to cut back on work and spend more time on the things that matter most in my life ... my family. And, thanks to regulations now, most places where I perform are smoke-free,” she says.

Yip also became more careful with her food, eating only organic produce and very little, if any, processed food.

“I am not a vegetarian but I don’t eat a lot of red meat. I eat a lot of tofu and vegetables and I very rarely eat ready-made stuff,” she says.

Yip also became an advocate for breast cancer screening, and the importance of breast self-examinations. “Breast cancer is not a terminal disease by any means and prevention is really important. Early detection is the key to curing this disease as it was in my case.”

To celebrate her 14 years of being free from the disease, Yip will be performing in a charity concert in aid of cancer research and treatment in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 29. Themed A Pink Charity Evening With Frances Yip And The Orchestra, she will perform a 90-minute set, backed by a 32-piece orchestra.

“It’s been a few years since I last performed in KL and I’m really looking forward to it. I will be working with a symphony orchestra this time, singing many of the lovely songs I’ve recorded over the last 40 years. I will be sharing my experiences with the audience as well,” she offers.

Yip last performed in KL in December. In 2006, she did a show with Anita Sarawak.

The charity concert is organised by Estée Lauder Group of Companies as part of its annual Breast Cancer Awareness campaign.

Though she has been singing since the 1960s, Yip gained international fame in the early 1980s with her signature tune, The Bund, the title song of the popular Chinese TV drama starring Chow Yun-Fat.

Equally at home singing Chinese opera and English contemporary hits, Yip has performed in more than 30 countries in truly diverse settings: from the Friendship Theatre in Guangzhou (past acts at the venue include the British Royal Ballet and the Beijing Opera) to a cabaret in Swaziland, Africa, the renowned Caesar’s Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, and on board luxury liners.

Despite having performed numerous times to sell-out crowds, Yip rates her gig as co-presenter at the British Farewell Ceremony to mark the transfer of sovereignty in Hong Kong (to China) in 1997 as one of her most memorable appearances.

At 62, Yip has no intention of retiring although she has, for the past three years, been busy with a different kind of gig altogether: looking after her grandchildren – a girl, aged three and a boy, who is barely six months old.

“You are talking to Frances Yip, full-time grandmother and housewife,” she says with a laugh. But she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of releasing another album in the near future.

“I’ve not done an album for a while but I’d love to be back in the recording studio when the time is right and when I find the right material,” says Yip.

“What I love doing, however, is singing in front of a live audience.”

■ A Pink Charity Evening With Frances Yip will be held at Plenary Hall, KLCC, on Oct 29, at 8pm. Ticket sales start today. For details, call the Axcess hotline (☎ 03-7711 5000) or log on to www.axcess.com.my