It’s hard not to notice Georgia Lee the moment she steps into a room. There’s her height, of course, and also that regal bearing that make couturiers fall in love with her. For those who don’t know the person behind the image, the first impression can be intimidating. But the real Georgia Lee, as it turns out, is anything but.
Arriving barely a few minutes late for our interview, Lee, 46, is winsome and all apologetic. “My patient was half an hour late, so I’ve been quite stressed!” she says, launching into the full story of how she had to nip into Passion hair salon for a quick shower and “three-minute” hair wash after the case wrapped up. “I left with my hair half-dry,” she says with a laugh.
Such is the hectic schedule of this well-known aesthetic doctor. A typical week in the clinic for this mother-of-two sees her working from Monday to Saturday, seeing about 50 patients a day. Sunday, she says, is her only reprieve. “I used to work on Sundays too. But now, I try not to so that I can at least have one breakfast with my kids in a week,” she says. “One breakfast,” she repeats, holding up her index finger.
To enjoy family time, she used to take her sons on business trips. But those trips weren’t all just fun and games for the boys, Lee is quick to stress. Rather, they were opportunities for them to learn while observing her at work. “The way to teach kids is not to give them books, they can do that at school,” says Lee who would run through the takeaway lessons from each business meeting with her sons later over dinner. When drawing up contracts and agreements, she would also sit them down to explain the necessity of certain clauses. “I explain why it is done this way, and what the pros and cons are for both parties. This way, they always learn to view things from both sides.”
Lee is clearly neither one to spoil her sons, nor is she a tiger mum. Instead, she is somewhere in between — strict, but fair. “I can be very dogmatic and push them a little bit,” Lee admits. “But I will let them make their own mistakes, only stepping in when I think intervention is required.” Her elder son Georges, 19, is currently serving national service, and younger son, Pierre, 16, sits for his O-Level examinations this year.
A classic example of her parenting approach: When Georges did data-entry work for her practice over one school holiday, she treated him like any other part-time employee including having to clock in and out of the office every day. At the end of his stint, she docked two hours’ pay per day, much to his annoyance. “He said to me, ‘I only took an hour’s break for lunch each day, why did you take two hours off [my pay]?’ And I replied, ‘But from the CCTV I could see that you were playing with your hand phone sometimes’,” she recalls with a laugh.
From the way Lee’s eyes lights up when talking about her kids, it’s obvious that despite her professional commitments, family always comes first — and that includes her in-laws. Last Christmas, she orchestrated a nine day long reunion gathering for husband Pierre Christian Ip-Yam’s side of the family in Catalonia, Spain. It was the Chinese-Mauritian clan’s first meet-up as a whole in over a decade as they live all across Asia and North America.
“The whole family spent time together, the children got to know their cousins, and my eldest nephew [even] announced his engagement there,” says Ip-Yam, an anaesthesiologist. “My mum was overjoyed.”
While family may come first, friends come a close second for this glamorous doctor — although Lee confesses that she isn’t good at keeping in touch with people. “But if [my friends] call me, I will come running,” she declares. There is no better person to attest to this than Lee’s close friend of 13 years, communications specialist Frazer Neo-Macken, who claims to have sought solace on her clinic’s couch on more than one occasion — even on days Lee was working two full shifts. “She often goes the extra mile to help others, and lends a listening ear despite her busy schedule. Honestly, I can’t see how people wouldn’t be drawn to her,” he says.
By many accounts, Lee is selfless to a fault. She even walked down the aisle on her wedding day wearing minimal makeup (that she applied herself), because she had asked her make-up artist to tend to her relatives instead. Rather than kick up a fuss when the make-up artist ran out of time to get her ready, the then 26-year-old bride merely shrugged it off with a smile, and proceeded with the wedding looking au-naturel. “When I walked into the church, everyone was asking: How old is she? Because I had almost no make-up on, I looked very young,” she recalls with a giggle. (Lee still keeps the top tier of her five-layered wedding cake, cling-wrapped and frozen in her refrigerator.)
“[Behind] the public image of fashion icon, socialite and celebrity doctor hides a very caring and warm personality only felt by those with whom she interacts directly,” says her husband.
That is not to say that Lee is completely unlike her public persona — on the fashion front at least. Regaling us with tales, she laughingly recollects how as an eight-year-old attending the now-defunct May North Primary School, she would have her uniform made-to-measure in a thicker fabric, so that the uniform would not wrinkle easily. The original pinafore made from a thinner cloth, “made me look untidy,” she says. Her “long-suffering” older sister would also wake up early, just to help her braid her hair for school. “They were always very nice to me,” says Lee, the second youngest of six children.
Though her childhood was hardly lacking, she notes that raising four daughters and two sons was no mean feat for her housewife mother. Her father worked hard to build up his logistics and warehousing business, taking only one day’s break each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Although the company is now largely run by her brothers, her 93-year-old father still goes in to the office every day. “I really respect the way my father works. He still does the [company] invoices, you know?” she says in disbelief. “He’s so sharp, it’s amazing. In fact, sometimes when I store things in his warehouse, he bills me!”
As a child, Lee was heavily influenced by her father’s hardworking attitude, and she eventually carried that trait with her into adulthood. Deeming herself not as intellectually gifted as some of her brighter contemporaries, she was an assiduous student, at times even memorising textbooks from cover to cover. “I figured there are a few ways you can be successful and rich,” Lee explains plainly. “Born rich, be lucky or be hardworking. The surest way is the third way.”
That focus and drive has clearly paid off. Her medical outfit TLC Lifestyle Practice is flourishing and recently moved into expanded premises along Scotts Road. Her skincare line, founded in 2009 and rebranded as DrGL in 2011, is also developing nicely, posting a 47-percent growth last year, up from the 43 percent the year earlier. The range has presence in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and is stocked by online retailers such as Luxola. Never one to rest on her laurels, she is working on placing DrGL on a larger, international online portal by next year. “[My goal] at this moment it is to make my brand a household name outside of Singapore. It’s very ambitious and may not happen in my lifetime, but you always have to aim high, right?” she says.
Perhaps Lee is best defined as a person of extremes. She isn’t just dedicated to what she does, she is extremely dedicated. How else would you describe someone who, while on the maternity bed waiting to give birth to her second son Pierre, went through the accounts of her then about-to-be-established medical practice? Not even pausing to catch her breath post-delivery, she took meetings with drug company representatives at home while nursing her new-born child.
Some 15 years on, Lee’s dedication and unflinching pursuit of perfection has not waned. In fact, it is for this very reason that the skin-lightening supplement she is launching under her DrGL line is behind schedule by six months. In her quest to create a product she would be proud of, she wrangled with her manufacturer for the best triple-A grade ingredients, threw away an entire batch of pills as they weren’t the right shade of colour and redesigned its blister pack six times. “I had to get everything right,” she says of the long process.
Nothing about Lee is ever perfunctory or half-hearted. In both work and personal life, everything is organised down to the most minute detail: From her address book which documents the contact details of every single person she has ever met and how she met them, to her expansive wardrobe which is arranged first by colour, then style (tops, bottoms, dresses…), then alphabetically by designer.
Rarely leaving anything to chance, Lee admits to having set standard operating procedures for almost every task. The self-professed “SOP girl” even had a dry run for her clinic’s recent relocation to determine the most efficient way of packing and unpacking items.
“I find it very therapeutic to plan,” she says, before revealing how as a young primary school student, she would draw up daily schedules for herself, dictating time slots for everything from taking a shower to doing her homework.
But is she as prescriptive with her sons? “That’s the one thing I leave to chance,” she says. “There are some things that they still have to figure out themselves.”
FASHION DIRECTOR/ JOHNNY KHOO
PHOTOGRAPHER/ WEE KHIM
FASHION STYLISTS/ WILSON LIM & JACQUIE ANG
HAIR ARTIST/ RYAN YAP @ PASSION HAIR SALON
MAKE-UP ARTIST/ CINDY GOH USING DIOR
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT/ ELTON CHONG
INTERN/ ZARA ZHUANG
This story first appeared on 6 August 2015