Chances are you already know CHRISTINE CHIU from the hit Netflix series empire bling. She says Caroline Graham how, despite all his mansions and private jets, there is one thing his millions will never be able to buy. PHOTO: NATTH JATURAPAHU
Christine Chiu likes to party. So much so that the socialite and millionaire owner of the Beverly Hills plastic surgery clinic once shut down all of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive for her own entertainment.
So it’s no surprise that she’s also the star of Netflix’s hit reality series. empire blingwhich, dubbed “a garish mix of boobies rich asian meets keeping up with the Kardashians‘, is back on our screens for a second season.
Happy to be filmed splashing some of her estimated $80m (£65m) fortune on homes, private jets and six-figure dresses, she quickly became the show’s pantomime villain. Fans loved its plunging necklines and shameless names so much that it became one of Netflix’s ten most-watched shows following its January 2021 premiere.
And yet, when Christine arrives at the famous Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles for our interview, not a single head turns. Contrary to his dramatic posture on empire bling, there is no surrounding. In fact, she speaks so softly that the waitress has to ask her to repeat her order three times.
“I play a diva on the show but that’s not who I am in real life at all,” says the 39-year-old mother-of-one. “I think most people realize that reality TV is heavily scripted and we are no exception. I’m also the executive producer of the show, so I often take one for the team to make it more dramatic. But I am really very shy. It’s a way to achieve a goal, tell stories, and showcase people you haven’t traditionally seen on TV.
Still, she wholeheartedly embraced fame and the relationships that come with it. The most notable name in his address book? It will be Prince Charles, whom she called a “really cool guy.”
“I was introduced to Charles and Camilla several years ago through a friend of mine who is extremely philanthropic. We were invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace, which was such a great adventure, and I fell in love not only with their humor – they are incredibly charming – but also with how they are blessed beyond description and give so much back.
“Prince Charles’ eyes light up when he talks about the various projects he is undertaking. He and my husband connected through their love of integrating Eastern and Western medicine and, as they discussed various ideas, that’s when they landed at a health and wellness center in Scotland.
She is referring to the clinic she and her husband, Dr Gabriel Chiu, 54, a renowned plastic surgeon, sponsored at Dumfries House, the 18th century Palladian mansion in Ayrshire which is owned by the charity of Charles, The Prince’s Foundation. While the clinic, which opened in 2019 and offers a range of complementary therapies, is run by the charity, the Chius plan to spend millions to underwrite it over the next decade.
Christine has few illusions that her ultra-privileged life – the $20m (£16m) mansion in Bel Air, the $12m (£9.5m) pad ) to Malibu and private jet jaunts to the Cannes Film Festival – may seem vulgar in a world facing so much upheaval and hardship. But, she says, she wants people to “see behind the smoke and the mirrors.” While her Instagram is filled with glamorous images, including a recent trip to see French chateaux in search of a European vacation home, her life has not been without its own challenges.
On her wedding night in 2006, her mother-in-law stopped by her bedroom and presented Christine, then 24, with a family tree featuring a blank space where her future child’s name would go. Christine, who had married Gabriel after a short romance and hadn’t met her new in-laws – wealthy Chinese-American real estate developers – until her wedding day, had no idea he was a direct descendant. of the 24th generation of the Chinese imperial Song dynasty. . She says, “I didn’t know about his past. He was single and renting a one-bedroom apartment when we met.
“When my mother-in-law showed me this dynastic lineage book and the hole I was supposed to fill by giving birth to an heir, I was shocked. I was so young it didn’t occur to me. in mind until I was specifically told that my only role was to serve my husband and produce an heir.
But the long-awaited heir never came.
When the couple went for tests, they discovered it was Gabriel who had fertility issues (something to be discussed in more detail in the show’s second season), and Christine had to put up with that knowledge. in a “secret shame”.
“It was hard waking up every morning, especially with something that was out of my control. I felt like a loser, because my value was based solely on my ability to reproduce.
“We had so much money to spend on infertility treatments, but for a long time no amount of money made a difference. Many women will understand what I say. It’s not about money, it’s about trying to meet other people’s expectations. I succeeded myself, but when it came to producing an heir, the blame was put on me when that didn’t happen.
“Over time, technology and medicine improved and we found this amazing Asian fertility doctor who was determined to break the cycle of shame for me.” And she did, because in 2018 Christine gave birth to Gabriel Chiu III, or Baby G.
While Baby G is undoubtedly raised in luxury – he has his own collection of children’s sports cars, including a Tesla and a Ferrari – Christine is determined to give her son the love and stability he has been missing in growing up, as well as teaching him the importance of giving back.
Indeed, Baby G’s childhood is very different from his own. Born to Taiwanese musicians who traveled constantly, she was raised “mostly by nannies and sometimes parents” as her parents traveled the world to build their careers.
‘I was left in Taiwan when I was four – which is how old my son is now. Finding myself without parents was very traumatic for me.
When she was seven, her parents decided to put down roots in San Francisco and Christine, an only child who “didn’t speak a word of English”, was thrown into an alien world.
“It was not an easy transition at all. I was very lonely growing up. I was made fun of at school because I was one of the few Asians. I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes like everyone else – and there was a phase later in my life when I dyed my hair and wore blue contact lenses, just to blend in. That was what I thought someone who is beautiful and popular looks like.’
During her teenage years, she was bullied so much that she ended up in the hospital (“without going into too much detail, brass knuckles were involved”).
“Growing up in an Eastern culture, you are taught not to fight back. You aspire, you work harder, you prove yourself in other ways, you succeed better. Tears stream down her face. “I’m sorry, she said, I didn’t think it would affect me again. I was so angry that my parents didn’t do anything. I remember them saying, “You know what, you’re going to grow up and you’re going to be someone and that’s all that matters.”
After school, she graduated with honors in international business from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. She also distanced herself from her father, a subject she doesn’t want to discuss, only saying, “I did something he didn’t agree with, so he cut me off. We only reconciled in 2020 when my mother passed away. It’s still very early. Maybe that’s something we’ll get into on the show in the future, but he’s a very private person.
After college, Christine worked hard, taking jobs in marketing and public relations before buying her own house. ‘I love working. What annoys me the most is that people think I married for the money. I think a lot of women go through that. People always judge us based on our husband’s success and ignore our accomplishments.
She met her future husband Gabriel while working for a large medical company as vice president of marketing. ‘I was young. I was focused on creating a career for myself. I thought it would be a cliché to date a doctor. I was very reluctant at first, but we fell in love and he proposed within three months.
Christine used her marketing skills to promote her husband, and the couple opened a plastic surgery center in Beverly Hills that became famous for its “Mommy Makeover”, which includes a breast lift, liposuction and abdominoplasty. Today, the company has 35,000 patients on its books, and while Christine can’t name any clients, Britney Spears recently visited and talked about it on her social media.
Christine went from “literally painting the walls of the office” to promoting her husband “in a highly competitive, very Caucasian world.”
She told me: “I became the face of our firm because my husband is less sociable than me. In many ways it looks like empire bling. I was putting myself out there then, to support the man I love, and I’m doing it again now to promote the bigger story behind the show, which is diversity and inclusion.
Ironically, while she earns a salary as a star and executive producer, that doesn’t come close to paying for tailoring – according to one report, she regularly spends six figures on a single dress – or private jets and jewelry who are so much a part of empire bling. “I agree,” she laughs. “What I get doesn’t even come close to what I spend.”
Spending aside, Christine is very aware of what matters most to her.
“When my mother was dying, I had the overwhelming realization that no amount of money could buy me more time with her. All I wanted was one more minute with her. Time is our greatest gift and our most precious possession.All the money in the world can’t save time.
The second season of empire bling is streaming on Netflix now