Celeb Dad Steve Lai: I’m a pretty relaxed parent

He interviews VIPs and brings you breaking news every day. It’s the anchor man’s turn in the hot seat now…

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Primetime Asia presenter Steve Lai, 39, is a shining example of not letting age to come between you and your passion.

At the age of 31, the Brunei-based Eurasian made a mid-career switch to broadcast journalism in Singapore ― a path he had always dreamed of pursuing ― after a six-year stint at the Brunei Economic Development Board.

“I had pragmatic parents and one shot at higher education. So, I graduated with a business degree. I would have rather done Filmmaking or Sports Science,” Steve explains. “But when my brilliant wife, Wei Wei, got a job opportunity at a US law firm in Singapore, it freed me up to start with a clean slate. A series of fortunate events and circumstances led me to broadcast journalism.”

These series of fortunate events included voice-over stints for corporate videos and TV commercials, plus playing small parts on Channel 8 programmes and some theatre work. 

Steve’s big break, however, came when he won an online competition that gave him a chance to present on ESPN’s nightly highlight show, SportsCenter ― a show he used to watch religiously back in Brunei. This led him to more regular work at sister channel ESPNews, a 24-hour sports channel. He eventually joined Channel News Asia (CNA), where he’s helmed various shows over the past five years.

“I’ve worked on the sofa for the morning show, fronted documentaries, covered live sporting events, breaking news and travelled to places like Myanmar and Philippines to cover their elections,” notes the dishy dad of two girls, Georgia, 6, and Sophie, 9.

He adds, “For someone that came to broadcast journalism relatively late in life, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities and trust that CNA has given me.”

“I’m a pretty relaxed parent, I’m more interested that they are good, confident kids who treat people well and aren’t afraid to try things.”

What do you love most about your job?

There’s buzz and excitement with live TV. There are so many moving parts the viewer doesn’t see that goes into a one-hour show like Primetime Asia. It’s a roller-coaster ride and I get the front row seat.

You’ve done sports reporting and you’re now doing more hard news. Which one do you prefer doing?

My friends always tell me I come alive when we do sports stories and interviews on the news. I’ve even had messages from strangers on Twitter saying the same. I actually enjoy both, but you can’t smile and be too animated talking about death and tragedy. So, I think I’m just being appropriate. That said, I still watch and talk about sports a lot, and it annoys me when sports stories are always the first to be dropped when a bulletin is over running.

Are you a sports fan?

Sports was a big part of my life growing up, I’d happily play anything. I think it was the few years I’d spent in Australia when I was young that really ignited my passion for sports.

I was in school teams for football, hockey and athletics, but I was best at rugby. I captained my school rugby team in England. Many years later, I captained the Brunei National team and played against Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.

I play touch rugby occasionally, mountain bike and like to keep fit. I used to ride to work when Channel NewsAsia was at Caldecott Hill, but I haven’t had the chance to find a safe route to our new campus yet. I also enjoy the Spartan Race, I’ve done all three ― Sprint, Super and Beast ― and look forward to doing more.

What’s a typical day for you at Primetime Asia?

I’ve been presenting Primetime Asia since January 2015. I present the show with Glenda Chong, who is phenomenal by the way. She is smart, diligent and on the ball.

My job is essentially to be ready for anything. It’s a fast-paced one-hour show packed with live interviews with guests and correspondents. That means lots of background reading for stories and preparing questions for guests.

Even if it looks like plain sailing for the viewer, it rarely is. We have to always be ready for unforeseen circumstances such as, breaking news, when a correspondent’s line fails or if guests are running late.

I don’t really have a typical day as we also go out and shoot stories. But generally, my day is a mix of research, planning, shooting, preparing, social media and presenting.

Having covered many important events in your broadcasting career, what has been the most memorable for you?

I was covering an overnight shift on 23 March 2015. We broke into programming at 4:10am and I read, “The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.” As the obituary package about his life played out, I remember thinking how difficult it must be for a son to announce the passing of his father in such a way, and that Singapore was going to wake up to the sad news. That was an incredible week to be in the newsroom and certainly a moment I will never forget.