We first noticed Natasha Capol while having an evening drink at Mr. Brooks, a hidden bar that serves up stylish concoctions in a quiet nook of Bangsar Shopping Center. Natasha, a master mixologist and brand/area manager for a number of household names such as Mr. Brook’s and Tate under The BIG Group, turned out to be much more than meets the eye. Her story is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Here, she shares with us snippets from her time dancing Salsa in Spain, to overcoming a difficult part of her life following an accident by reminding herself on ‘The Theory of Awesomeness’, to her present career in the Food & Beverage industry.
Please give us a little introduction of yourself?
I grew up in Malaysia before moving abroad to Europe at a very young age. I learned dance in Spain before pursuing a degree in acting in Singapore, followed by working with a design company in Switzerland. I currently live in Malaysia now.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher By Twenty3.
That’s quite a life! Having lived in so many locations, was it difficult moving from one place to another?
Well, I moved to Spain without knowing any Spanish. At that time, hardly anyone in Spain spoke English. I had no relatives in Spain and I think I had about 100 Euros in my pocket. My parents asked me, “Why did you want to go to Spain?” I said, “I don’t know? I just feel like it!” I was at a very young age when I decided to move abroad alone. I remember when I first arrived; I took a train into the center of Madrid. They have these telephone booths with little tags on it that have a number you can call to rent a room or whatever. Armed with a little translation book in my hand, I called the first number. The first one didn’t speak English nor understood my ‘try-hard’ Spanish, however, on the next call, there was this lady who spoke a little bit of English. She ended up taking me in and I was fine. I managed to get a job as a waitress as well.
Were you not afraid as you were alone and moving to a country where you didn’t know the language?
I guess at that age, I was fearless, I felt like I could conquer the world. Growing up in Malaysia, you are constantly faced with so many challenges. You come out not as a normal, ordinary person, but one that’s toughened. I had a tough time fitting into school despite achieving good results. It was difficult for me to get accepted into college but eventually I was accepted with a partial scholarship as well. When you go through things like that, you have a different focus, energy and drive. I live by the mantra of “accomplish or do not begin”. You just go out there and do whatever you want to do.
You mentioned you danced in Spain; tell us a little about that?
My passion has always been dance so I started going to Salsa clubs to dance the night away. One guy invited me to join his Salsa group. I was like “sure, why not?”. They were mostly Colombians and Venezuelans. Old ladies taught us how to dance; they tap on your chest so you learn to feel the beat that way. The men would lead you around the dance floor. When I used to dance in competitions, nothing was choreographed, you just danced to whatever music they were playing. Dance is about living in the moment and having the freedom to move and the freedom of expression.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to move back home after living abroad for so many years?
While I was in Switzerland, I was in a really bad car accident that left me hospitalized for a long time. On top of that, someone close to me had passed away from that accident. I went back to Spain for another 5 years to get away from that situation. I went back into dancing after my broken bones recovered and, having regained my joy for life, I decided to move back home to be closer to my family.
How did you manage to recover emotionally from that period of pain?
My family deals with situations like these by just getting over it, without time to grieve or mourn. I grieved alone during those 8 months in the hospital. You just tend to deal with the consequences as they come and there were many. I didn’t let anyone talk to me even the psychologists and therapists. I had so much rage and anger inside me for a very long time but after a while you realize that hey, I am still alive.
What kept you going?
It required a lot of self-endurance for the first couple of months because it was such a difficult period in my life. For a lot of it, I tried to stay as positive as I could. I have this theory called the “Theory of Awesomeness”. It’s people trying to be the best they can (thus being awesome) and that applies to me as well. It’s the same as always trying to be the best version of myself. When you go through things like this, you realize how strong the human mind and body is. You then realize how strong someone can be. Also, I used to do a lot of charity work and see kids go through a whole lot worse. Finding motivation and inspiration from people who have nothing but manage to survive due to the world working this or that way, pulls me through.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to path a career in the Food & Beverage industry?
The reason I’m in F&B right now working for The BIG Group is that it’s the only thing I know other than acting and dancing. I was working in bars as a dishwasher when I was 12 years old. I’ve climbed that ladder to get to where I am. I’ve been a dishwasher, a waitress, a bartender, and I’ve worked my way up. I didn’t get to where I am because daddy gave it all to me. I worked at the age of 12 to buy toothpaste for my family. That’s my upbringing.
So how long have you been with the BIG Group?
I’ve been with them for two years. I’m in charge of Mr. Brook’s, Tate, and Barlai to name a few. I’m in charge of many brands under The BIG Group.
Is it difficult to manage so many brands as well as your staff at the same time?
I’ve realized that people don’t need to be managed. It’s the process that needs to be managed. I have this thing I call “Brules”, which is short for “bullshit rules”. If you give me a rule, I’m going to break it. There are so many rules and regulations for everything, especially in Malaysia. Giving my staff a say and an opportunity to take ownership at what they do is a better option, as long as they don’t step over boundaries and work according to their responsibilities. You tend to realize that many people won’t overstep their boundaries when they’re given freedom.
However there are a few that do, and it breaks my heart, as I treat them like my family. Someone really crossed a line once so I asked him to pack his bags because I gave him a chance that was his key to an opportunity, but he let me down.
Do you usually give second chances to people?
They all end up asking for a second chance, whether I give it or not is a different question. It’s never final but it’s the way they approach the situation, the severity of it, as well as if they’re apologetic. I gave someone a second chance once and that person turned out to be pretty amazing. Everyone makes mistakes; I made so many mistakes myself.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
What is the best advice that you could possibly give your staff, or anyone at all?
Many people tend to set realistic goals. I ask myself, “...Why?”. I think people should set unrealistic goals because that’s what you should be trying to achieve, like the saying, “aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. However, I do feel that there is so much Malaysian talent and stories to tell but there’s a lack of opportunity.
Have you ever thought of going back into acting?
I do want to use the skills I learned from acting but maybe to host documentaries or travel shows. I’ve acted in a few shows in Singapore but I didn’t really enjoy it. I would love to host documentaries on controversial topics and things people aren’t aware of, like child prostitution, human trafficking, and things like that. My ultimate goal is to help children.
Any other hidden talents we should know about?
I did Kung Fu for 10 years in Penang, and I was the only non-Chinese there, and I can also speak Hokkien!
Seems like you are an avid traveller, what’s the next destination on your bucket list?
If I ever go to Cuba I’ll never come back, so that’s for last. South America is also last because I’ll never want to leave. Maybe somewhere close to home since I’ve travelled all of Europe; somewhere like Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam. I guess places like Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, places like those. Anywhere that inspires the mind.
One sunny Friday afternoon, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Hoon Mei Sim, otherwise known by her stage name, 雲鎂鑫, to talk about her singing career. She rose to fame when she placed second in Project Superstar Malaysia back in 2006, but only released her first album last year, titled “Himalaya”. Here, she shares her story about her singing career, her struggle with low self-esteem, and her unlikely path to success via...hiking.
How did you get your big break, and what happened after?
I was 18 years old when I joined Project Superstar Malaysia. I was only tagging along with my friends, but it ended up being just me in the end, because they didn’t pass the audition stage. It was a great experience, and I soon got an offer to star in a TV drama series. My parents were supportive of my career, but said that I had to go to university no matter what. So, just as my singing career was launched, it had to be shelved for my studies.
Was it difficult to cope with having a career in acting and university classes?
Quite. In my first semester, my results weren’t great. My English was terrible; I could hardly understand what I was supposed to learn. Also, I had just moved to KL; I didn’t even have a printer to print out my assignments so I would be at work until 2 am every day, printing out my assignments at the office before handing them in the next day! It was difficult. I didn’t want to skip classes so I would accidentally fall asleep in them, not because I wanted to but because I was so tired with 4 to 5 hours sleep each night, sometimes less.
Why did it take you awhile to get back into your singing career after the competition?
I had to mentally prepare myself. I was 20, when people approached me to ask if I wanted to record an album. My parents were worried that I wasn’t ready. I was easily influenced by negative comments and highly emotional; I cried easily over little things. At that time, I was recording the theme song for the drama series and I would suddenly burst into tears when I felt like I wasn’t singing well enough. I had high expectations for myself, yet no confidence. Also, a Singaporean record label I was signed to wanted to record an album for me, but then they saw me crying when I was under pressure, so that fell through. Everyone thought that I wasn’t ready.
Tell us about your time working as a DJ for a radio station. What did you learn?
After graduating, there was one year where I didn’t do anything; I felt useless. There was so much time for me to think and I was lost with no direction, no clear path to take. So I got into being a DJ despite always wanting to be a singer. I interviewed so many singers and played so many of their songs on the radio, and I asked myself, why wasn’t I on the other side of the table? I didn’t want to play my own songs on the radio, I wanted people to play them.
When did you know that you were ready to get back to singing?
Hearing positive feedback from my friends and family. They felt that I had improved as a person. Bad comments used to get into my head, such as people calling me ugly or telling me that I was a terrible singer. It bothered me so much but now, it might still sting a little, but I try to take it as constructive criticism in trying to improve myself. People have commented that they see a change in me.
What triggered this decision?
I felt a change in myself when I picked up hiking. I am not an athletic person but because of hiking I begin to realize that if you have the determination and will power, you can accomplish anything, especially when you have already started it. You wouldn’t want to see it go to waste. In long hikes that could take days, I used to feel tired after 1 or 2 hours but I never gave up. I kept pushing on. This helped me to develop a mentality to accept myself and be stronger than who I was.
I used to feel like I was born ugly, I had no confidence especially in my appearance. For example, I hated my lips, I felt like they were too full and the make up artists would keep applying bright red lipstick, making them even fuller! As I gradually learned to accept it, I felt like it wasn’t so bad, my lips could maybe be my trademark.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever hiked?
Gunung Tahan in Pahang! It was mentally and physically challenging because we had to camp in the jungle. After the first day, you start to feel that everything around you is smelly, you don’t have enough rest and your own body odor is overwhelming. It was the most memorable and challenging trip.
Do you have any regrets?
I always tell people that I regretted joining Project Superstar. My life would have been much simpler, and I wouldn’t be so exposed to and affected by negative comments. But then again, without Project Superstar, I wouldn’t be here right now.
So what do you want for your future?
Happiness is important to me and I don’t want to forget why I went into singing. It was for the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of it. I feel touched when I see that people enjoy my music.
What would you like to dedicate to your fans?
I wish my fans happiness. Follow your dreams and put yourself first before anyone else. Don’t spend your life chasing someone else’s dream, because you might end up being 40 and full of regrets.
Mei Sim is wearing the Reversible Kiefer Jacket from Sher by Twenty3.