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Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy PIERRE TOUS­SAINT

ee Lin Chin should have plenty of time to chat. One of the rea­sons she quit pre­sent­ing the week­end news on SBS is so she could de­vote more time to the pub and re-read­ing Shake­speare.surely,then,she could tear her­self away from Much Ado About Noth­ing, Ham­let or the like long enough to speak to Stel­lar? But no. She ar­rives for our shoot with her own clothes wrapped in tis­sue, in­sists that The Bea­tles are the only mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground,drinks beer through­out and pro­ceeds to in­form the pho­tog­ra­pher that he can take no more than 10 frames per out­fit. Were she not so fas­ci­nat­ingly idio­syn­cratic, she’d be a pint-sized pain in the arse.

Nearly a month later, we’re still try­ing to pin Chin down for an in­ter­view to ac­com­pany the pic­tures. In her tran­si­tion from ven­er­ated news an­chor to cult fig­ure-cum-mar­ket­ing icon, she ap­pears to have for­got­ten that be­ing the “face” of a prod­uct gen­er­ally means hav­ing to en­dorse it. Bed­ding com­pany Sheri­dan has cho­sen her and other “tal­ented over­achiev­ers” to spruik their sheets as part of its lat­est cam­paign, so at the very least she needs to of­fer up her pre­ferred thread count.

How­ever, de­spite more than five decades as a pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ca­tor, she won’t meet with Stel­lar face to face nor will she chat on the phone. In the end, she an­swers ques­tions via email – and turns out to be so gen­er­ous and en­gag­ing, it’s hard to know whether she’s sim­ply un­trust­ing or a con­trol freak.

What is clear is that Chin has some­how par­layed that most strait­laced and con­ven­tional of me­dia ca­reers – the desk-bound news­reader – into the most con­tem­po­rary and edgy: a so­cial me­dia in­flu­encer. With 246,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers, a Gold Lo­gie nom­i­na­tion, a slew of new com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties and the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion net­works re­port­edly clam­our­ing to sign her, she has pulled off the great­est rein­ven­tion since Kylie Minogue chose singing over act­ing in Neigh­bours.

What’s more, she’s lov­ing it. “The ben­e­fit of leav­ing SBS is a free­dom I have not ex­pe­ri­enced in my pro­fes­sional life,” Chin ex­plains. “My de­sire is to have fun. That could be in com­mer­cially driven work or in Mc-ing char­ity events, or even lam­poon­ing our po­lit­i­cal class on Twit­ter.”

There’s even an im­mi­nent come­back to the small screen, in a role that she teases will “sur­prise ev­ery­one. It will be un­ex­pected, but I think peo­ple will like it,” she pre­dicts, re­fus­ing to elab­o­rate any fur­ther.

De­ci­pher­ing which el­e­ments of Chin are the real per­son, ver­sus those which are a per­sona, is chal­leng­ing. The woman who so dis­tinc­tively and au­thor­i­ta­tively read the news on SBS for 30 years now has a pro­duc­tion com­pany, two shows in de­vel­op­ment and is keen to try pod­cast­ing and open a bar. The per­sona is plas­tered over trains and buses as part of a cam­paign for Trans­port NSW, makes cut­ting and hi­lar­i­ous com­ments on Twit­ter and is be­ing cham­pi­oned al­ter­nately as #Prime­chin­is­ter or the next boss of the ABC.

In­deed, ac­tor David Wen­ham tweeted that she’d be “splen­did” in charge of the pub­lic broad­caster.

“Ah, Mis­ter Wen­ham,” Chin tells Stel­lar. “He and I met last year when we co-hosted an event to­gether and be­came fast friends. Would you be­lieve we live on the same street and share a favourite pub but had never met be­fore?”

As for the ABC, she’s not pitch­ing for the role. “There’s too many meet­ings to at­tend and I can’t stand that whole rig­ma­role,” Chin says. “I’d be much bet­ter suited as a board mem­ber. That way I can fight back against the govern­ment try­ing to in­flu­ence our pub­lic broad­cast­ers. I’d also en­cour­age shows to take more risk, be dar­ing.the pub­lic broad­cast­ers should be a place of in­no­va­tion and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.”

And as for those in­trigu­ing #Prime­chin­is­ter rum­blings, she in­sists, “It’s ob­vi­ously a jest. I’m not one for all those po­lit­i­cal games.”

If pol­i­tics is off the ta­ble, it is still game and gutsy for her to have piv­oted at a time when many are re­tir­ing and set­ting off into the dis­tance as grey­ing no­mads. Speak­ing of which, Chin won’t di­vulge her age and says it’s unim­por­tant. “Be­ing young doesn’t mean you’re in­no­va­tive and pro­gres­sive, whilst be­ing old doesn’t mean you’re wise and knowl­edge­able,” she de­clares.

In some re­spects, she’s res­o­lutely teenage, dress­ing with con­fi­dence and aban­don and thor­oughly en­joy­ing “friend­ships” cul­ti­vated purely in cy­berspace. To­day show co-host Karl Ste­fanovic recorded a seg­ment for Chin’s SBS 2 satire show The Feed and she counts him as a friend, even though he tells Stel­lar he’s never ac­tu­ally met her. “Lee Lin de­cides who she’s friends with, not the other way around,” Ste­fanovic says. “Our friend­ship is based in the ether.what a lovely,non-judge­men­tal place for a friend­ship.”

He ad­mires her enor­mously and believes she’s a smart woman and the essence of mod­ern Aus­tralia. “Con­fi­dent, eth­nic, smart, ir­rev­er­ent and funny AF,” is how Ste­fanovic de­scribes her. “Lee Lin dances be­tween two worlds. She re­mains a strong and cred­i­ble news­reader in a world that

de­mands im­par­tial­ity and then throws it out the win­dow on so­cial me­dia with sting­ing par­tial­ity.”

Net­work Ten’s San­dra Sully, who fea­tured with Chin and the Seven Net­work’s Na­talie Barr in a mem­o­rable seg­ment for The Feed called The Real News­read­ers of Syd­ney, con­curs. “She’s cut her own path and is never afraid to be her au­then­tic self,” Sully tells Stel­lar. “She’s com­fort­able in her own skin, has a wicked sense of hu­mour and never sub­mits to the ex­pec­ta­tions of oth­ers.”

But Chin’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to set rather than fol­low the agenda has drawn crit­ics, with one me­dia out­let call­ing her a “mul­ti­me­dia con­struct as close to re­al­ity as a Kar­dashian”.

“I’m not en­tirely sure who the Kar­dashi­ans are,” she re­sponds when asked by Stel­lar about the com­par­i­son. “I’m as­sum­ing that this comes from a story put out a few years ago that my Twit­ter ac­count was ghost­writ­ten.”

And Chin is happy to clar­ify the chat­ter about her widely fol­lowed ac­count: “It’s true that I don’t have ac­cess to my Twit­ter ac­count be­cause I don’t know how to use Twit­ter and have no de­sire to learn. Chris Leben, who man­ages me, is my busi­ness part­ner and wrote and di­rected my com­edy sketches, is the only per­son with ac­cess.”

Some­times they col­lab­o­rate on jokes; other times she’ll call Leben and dic­tate a tweet or she’ll say some­thing funny and he’ll ask if he can tweet it.

In any case, Chin’s dex­ter­ity switch­ing be­tween tra­di­tional and new forms of me­dia saw her re­ceive a nom­i­na­tion for the 2016 Gold Lo­gie. She rocked up to the awards cer­e­mony wear­ing yel­low pants, shirt and sus­penders, and lip­stick as scar­let as her shoes. Her date was a young man named Char­lie, the 10-year-old son of one of her make-up artists – and if she won, she planned to send him up to ac­cept the hon­our in her place. (She lost to The Project’s Waleed Aly.)

Main­tain­ing cred­i­bil­ity as a news­reader while lead­ing a dou­ble life as a comic is tricky, ac­cord­ing to Stephen Brook, The Aus­tralian’s Me­dia Di­ary ed­i­tor, although he believes Chin car­ried it off with aplomb.

“I think Lee Lin’s strength re­mains as a pre­sen­ter, so I’d love her to host a doc­u­men­tary series,” Brook sug­gests. “I think her stature is such that she would bring a lot of peo­ple into a topic that they oth­er­wise wouldn’t sam­ple.”

The daugh­ter of Chi­nese par­ents, Chin was born in Jakarta, In­done­sia, but she was raised in Sin­ga­pore with her six sib­lings and schooled there. She re­calls her child­hood be­ing “loud and naughty” but re­sented that her broth­ers were al­lowed to do things her fa­ther banned her from do­ing – such as rid­ing a bike – as to him they were “un­la­dy­like”.“my broth­ers al­ways looked like they were hav­ing a re­ally good time,” Chin says. “I was jeal­ous of that, but it was a dif­fer­ent time.”

As the el­dest girl, Chin was more favoured than her sib­lings, although she claims she takes af­ter her mother in be­ing “ab­so­lutely use­less” around the house. “She was a very lazy woman who never worked a day in her life, didn’t know how to cook or clean and left the rais­ing of her chil­dren to the nanny and house­keeper,” Chin re­mem­bers. “But she was im­pec­ca­bly dressed.”

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