Whatever it is that you think you know of Lee Lin Chin – the eminent journalist, veteran broadcaster and connoisseur of avant-garde outerwear – it’s perhaps safest to say that, in all matters, you’re entirely mistaken.
Chin, who for over three decades anchored the World News desk on SBS before vacating the post earlier this year in July, has assumed something of a mythic quality in recent years. Much of it has to do with an almost contradictory confluence of her journalistic renown and an increasingly adored cult following that has sprung up around her extra-curricular activities, which run a gamut from auteur to absurd. Namely, there’s a wildly popular Twitter presence that is reportedly once co-authored by a former SBS colleague, Chris Leben, which posits that Chin’s life away from the news desk is even more colourful than any one of her ensembles would have you believe. Not so, says Chin, who in the months since her final on-air broadcast has begun wearing a number of different, even more unexpected hats. There have been appearances as a spokesperson for Transport NSW’s rail network developments, endorsements of Nando’s burgers ordered through the food delivery platform Uber Eats and, as of today, a role as the new face of Sheridan’s exhaustive array of luxurious linens and napery as part of their Tonight Makes Tomorrow campaign.
— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChin) October 22, 2018
It’s all part of a diverse next chapter for Lee Lin Chin now that she has resigned from her news reading post (a career move not to be confused with ‘retirement’; be advised that she has no plans to do so). A great deal many of Chin’s next chapter activities hinge around a new production company called ‘All The Chin’s Men’ that she has co-founded with two long time collaborators, Leben included amongst them. Together, they will create television programs and commercials; then, there are a few other projects on the burner that Chin is keeping to herself for the time being. Could it be that Lee Lin Chin, of all people, has become an unlikely new paradigm for the kind of fluid career in the media landscape that we’ve come to readily identify today as being an ‘Influencer’?
“I wouldn’t consider myself an influencer, which, by the way, is not a word,” Chin tells GRAZIA over an email that reads as characteristically bone dry. “If Shakespeare didn’t write it, I shan’t acknowledge it.”
For Lee Lin Chin, life after SBS is nothing like she expected. It is far busier than she planned it to be, and as a result, she is taking a break to spend time with her family in Singapore. In the years prior to, and especially in the months since resigning from her twice-weekly broadcasting gig, Chin has found herself in the unique position that you get the feeling is enjoyed by far too many of her contemporaries in Australian television news journalism: that unenviable liminal space where you are both charged with delivering ‘The Story’ while you have become the subject of ‘The Story’ itself. How, then, does it make her feel to have the spotlight turn to shine on her in reverse?
“I hate it,” Chin says bluntly. “If I’m to be honest, I’m not sure what peoples’ fascination with me is all about. I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m just a lady who read words from a teleprompter two nights a week.”
To her legion fans, however, Lee Lin Chin has come to signify something more than that most rudimentary of job descriptions. To the curious, she was an excellent source of truly global news that mightn’t otherwise make commercial headlines. To the underrepresented, her evergreen presence on television was something akin to a beacon of diversity. To the casual aesthete, her invariably outré wardrobe choices were a thrilling exercise to behold in a televised landscape best known for its white jackets. And to a new generation no longer attuned to the free-to-air programming weekly world news schedule, Chin has become something of an acerbic comedic icon, her quips and takedowns often, quite literally, cutthroat in nature.
Trailblazer, style icon, comedic superstar: did she ever feel comfortable having those labels applied to her? “They’re quite touching but I don’t often think about them and the people in my normal life don’t treat me any differently,” Chin concedes. “Luckily I live in the same neighbourhood I first moved to when I came to this country. So everyone there knows me and doesn’t bother me. They’ll just say ‘Hi’ but won’t accost me asking for selfies.
“I think I’m most touched by the title ‘comedic superstar’ though,” she adds. “Comedy is still a new thing to me. The other titles are a little much though.”
For anyone who has known of Chin even in a passing sense through her singular personal style, it may come as a surprise to learn that she has no interest in fashion, nor in style (though a crucial distinction exists, believe it or not, between the two and her bio lists her as being foremost a “fashionista”). Instead, she says, she has an interest in “dressing up”. The two double bedrooms at home that function as walk-in wardrobes for her eclectic garments are testament to as much. “The way I dress is essentially fancy dress,” she says. “It’s a fun costume.” Perhaps more surprising still is that Chin never has and never will work with a stylist, preferring instead to purchase the majority of her clothes while in Singapore, where she was raised, or Hong Kong when visiting family. Though admittedly a technophobe, Chin reveals that she scours eBay when shopping online to find vintage Japanese outfits that fit her frame. Asking her to pinpoint any favourites, however, is a fool’s errand.
“I don’t have any favourites,” says Chin. “You may have well just asked me who my favourite child or member of The Beatles is. It’s an impossible question.” [I would counter ‘John, George, Paul and Ringo’, in that order, but sure.]
“Generally I don’t have favourites for anything,” Chin continues. “But for the purposes of this question I shall talk about my 2016 Logies outfit [Chin was nominated for the Gold Logie that same year]. The yellow suicide pants I’ve had for at least ten years, they’re an absolute killer. The red high heel boots I remember being rather expensive but they’re difficult to walk in so I don’t use them too often… The braces in that outfit are just a piece of rope. I had my make up artist go to Bunnings to buy some then an hour before the red carpet we were cutting them up in our hotel. That was a whole story unto itself. The hotel wouldn’t lend us scissors for some reason or another so we had to use a knife.”
The boots are the same ones that feature in Tonight Makes Tomorrow, in which she appears resplendent and in repose, entirely within her element – that is, in bed and wearing a gold taffeta confection that she says is not dissimilar from the kind of ensemble she would lounge about the house in. “I’m a home body,” Chin reveals. “I like to stay home read books, watch British crime dramas, keep to myself. You’ll never catch me at an industry event. That world doesn’t appeal to me.” Instead, it is the world of “real literature” that appeals to Chin, who reads Shakespeare in bed for some two hours every evening on those nights when she isn’t visiting a local pub with friends. Should you ever see her in one and wish to buy her a drink, Chin is a noted fan of Japanese, Italian and German beers and is partial to a Little Creatures. “The best place to have a beer is the The Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo, especially in winter,” she says. “They’ve got a roaring fire and it’s got that old school local pub vibe. If I’m correct it’s been open for over a 150 years and deserves to be heritage listed in my opinion.”
No one has come to buy me a beer, you’re all dead to me. pic.twitter.com/bJuKnk8kSc
— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChin) May 11, 2018
And while recent weeks have seen her legion supporters launch an unofficial campaign to have her elected ‘Prime Chinister of Australia‘, the “dirty business” of politics is not one that rests easy on Chin’s conscience. Instead, she returns to the political intrigue and manoeuvring central to Shakespeare’s works, or those of William Faulkner. I mention to Chin that there is a school of thought that argues in favour of seeing a person’s library as being a symbolic representation of his or her mind, and that there’s even a Japanese word for the stack of books one keeps on their bedside table that you have purchased but not yet read: tsundoku. What, then, would her library and her tsundoku say about Lee Lin Chin as she prepares to embark on a new chapter of her own?
“My personal library would say I care desperately about the English language,” she says. “Not Australian English, the Queen’s English. There are no guilty pleasure’s on my book shelves, no Mills and Boon, it’s all real literature. My tsundoku stack is not filled with books. In fact, it’s filled with issues of the London Review of Books.”
Tile and cover image: Supplied