The Straits Times
Sunday, Nov 30, 2014
Former Channel 8 actor Peter Yu is slowly getting back on his feet after a high-profile divorce and chalking up a $100,000 gambling debt.
At the height of his fame, Peter Yu won the Top 10 Most Popular Artistes award at the annual Star Awards in 1997.
Now, he is a taxi driver earning $2,000 a month, about a quarter of what he used to draw.
But Yu, 46, the ex-husband of TV host Quan Yifeng, says he is happy. After the couple divorced in 2008, he hit rock bottom and became hooked on gambling.
By 2011, he had run up a debt of more than $100,000 after partying and overspending on credit cards. The born-again Christian is slowly re-building his life.
He has sworn off gambling and is now paying off his debts from his earnings as a taxi driver. Yu, who was with Singapore Broadcasting Corporation and Television Corporation of Singapore from 1990 to 1999 and joined the now-defunct broadcaster SPH MediaWorks from 2004 to 2005, has also re-married.
He has a two-year-old son with his wife, Ms Brenda Leow, 33, a sales executive. He also has a 15-year-old daughter with Quan. Next month, he will act in a church play about hope and prayer, his first starring role in almost 10 years.
He tells SundayLife! in Mandarin: "I'm contented. In the past, I was foolish and ignorant. But since I found religion, I know what's important - leading a good life and being a responsible father and husband."
His relationship with Quan, whom he married in 1998, was a tumultuous one, with frequent fights and alleged infidelity on his part.
After they split up, he moved to his older brother's place and fell into depression. "Back then, I was a housing agent. But I lost all interest in work and friends," he recalls.
"I'd coop myself up at home, watching videos on my laptop." Out of boredom, he betted on football online daily, frequented casinos in Malaysia and China and gambled on cruise ships.
"After my savings were depleted, I borrowed on credit cards. Eventually, the banks stopped lending me money and I couldn't afford to pay alimony to my daughter and ex-wife."
Yu, who is not in contact with Quan and his daughter, last saw the girl in 2010, when she was 11.
"At that point, my world was in shambles. I had lost everything and felt so useless. I missed her so much but was too ashamed to see her."
He married Ms Leow in 2011 and the couple live in a three-room HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio with their son. They met in a club in 2009.
Says Ms Leow: "I don't judge his past. I, too, had a complicated past. We can understand and support each other.
"When I first met Peter, he was cocky about a lot of things. But he has changed. He is now more responsible and caring towards others.
"When disagreements occur, he used to just ignore them. But now he takes the effort to work things out."
Yu agrees, saying: "In the past, I didn't devote enough time to my loved ones or communicate with them enough. Now, I do so with my family and we enjoy one another's company every day."
He adds softly: "I also want to let my daughter know that even though we are apart, I will always love her."
Yu, who has completed N levels and was trained as a hairstylist, became a taxi driver in 2011.
"Initially, I did it to survive. But I realised that there are good things about being a taxi driver. It allows me to manage my time," he says.
"If my wife is on leave, I can also take the day off to spend it with her and our son."
Some passengers recognise him from his acting days.
"They chat with me and some encourage me, saying I'm brave to pick myself up," he says. He recalls how one female passenger was dumbfounded after hearing his story.
"I'm fine talking about my past. She said she felt comforted and encouraged after hearing about it."
He is at peace with himself now.
"I know I can earn more money if I get back into property or acting. But for now, I think it's better to lead a simple life as a taxi driver."
In 2012, he approached Credit Counselling Singapore, which provides counselling to help debtors repay their debts. It worked out a repayment plan for him.
He now pays $600 a month to service his debts and reckons it will take him six or seven years to clear them.
"I might not have as many creature comforts as before, but now my family is my greatest comfort."
In Window In The Sky, the upcoming theatre production organised by Bartley Christian Church, he plays a businessman dying from cancer who undergoes major brain surgery, but slips into a coma after the operation.
"It feels good acting again. I feel this is more meaningful than my past work as this is not for profit," he says.
"I can understand exactly what my character is going through as I, too, have gone through a dark time in my life."