Singer Mavis Hee finds happiness again after mental health recovery, invited to China as ‘Heavenly Queen’
When home-grown singer Mavis Hee tells you that she is a happier person now, you cannot help but hope for more good things to come for her.
Hee, who turns 49 in September, is chatty and often breaks into gentle laughter during an interview with The Straits Times at celebrity hairstylist David Gan’s Passion salon.
He has followed her through her ups and downs for more than 20 years, and remains her go-to stylist for hair and outfits.
Hee, who trumped superstars Andy Lau and Faye Wong on the Asian music charts at her peak in the 1990s, faded from show business in the early noughties.
But in 2006, she hit the headlines when she was arrested for harassing two guests in a hotel, leading to her diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Since then, she has been taking a mental health break and her performances have been sporadic.
But 2023 is possibly the year when the reclusive star’s Mandopop singing career rises again.
“The invites just happened,” she says, “and I felt I was ready.”
In January, Hee made a surprise appearance at festive event River Hongbao. She was also part of the Chong Feng 17th Reunion Concert line-up with local and Taiwanese singers in April and performed at Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao’s 100th anniversary shows in July.
Come Saturday, she will share the stage with Kit Chan, Suthashini and other local singers at the free Gardens by the Bay and Mediacorp National Day Concert.
Hee will deliver her take on the English classic Moon River and her signature number Moonlight In The City, the theme song of the 1996 Channel 8 drama Tofu Street.
Despite her decades of experience, she confesses that she still struggles with stage fright.
“I’m shy by nature. Before I go on stage, I would often feel breathless,” she says.
Her solution? A pre-show ritual that includes a short prayer for strength.
Hee is set for a bigger stage in Haikou, China, on Aug 26 when she headlines a Heavenly Queens’ Night concert with five other renowned female music stars: Joey Yung and Vivian Chow from Hong Kong, Malaysian singer Fish Leong and fellow Singaporean singers Stefanie Sun and Tanya Chua.
The excitement in her voice is irrepressible as she talks about her engagements in the coming months, which also include performances at various Chinese cities like Xi’an and Shanghai.
But Hee is apprehensive about calling this her career comeback. She prefers to enjoy the process and take things as they come.
No mental health recovery is easy, and she knows this well.
She is candid about the period when she sought treatment for schizophrenia at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), battled with relapses and longed to lead a “normal life”.
“Sometimes when I felt lost, I would go on a bus or MRT ride to take in the sights. I looked at the people around me and told myself, ‘If they can find strength (in life), so can I,’” she recalls.
Schizophrenia is found to be most common among the psychotic disorders in Singapore, affecting one in 116 people, according to a 2021 report.
Hee is grateful for the support from the doctors and nurses at IMH, where she still sees a psychiatrist.
She pays it forward by volunteering for mental health causes with organisations such as the non-profit Silver Ribbon (Singapore).
“Volunteering and building relationships make me happy. I also entertain myself with artworks, which help me destress,” says Hee, who dabbles in acrylic paints and crayons.
She enjoys turning her paintings into customised bangles and rings, as well as picking up needlework to make accessories such as berets fashioned from upcycled materials.
She sounds gleefully surprised when this writer asks to see her works.
“Are you sure you want to see them? I don’t know if they are good enough,” she says, but dutifully sends a series of photos via WhatsApp after the interview.
She also lets on that she has been composing new songs and hopes to release them as part of a compilation album in 2024. Among them is a romantic ballad inspired by her mental health recovery.
And does she have a special someone in her life now?
She says with a giggle: “Well, I do have someone in mind. We have a mutual liking, so we’ll see.”
View It/Gardens by the Bay and Mediacorp National Day Concert
Where: The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive
When: Saturday, 7.30pm