HELLO! Magazine, Issue 69, December 2011
Paula Malai Ali welcomes us into her home for baby Zane’s first photoshoot
By Sophia Goh
Paula Malai Ali greets us at the front door of her apartment in Singapore, her hair and makeup half done. In spite of that, she looks great. “Come in, come in,” she says warmly. “Make yourself comfortable.” She’s the perfect host, offering us sandwiches, coffee, even her DVDs if we see anything we want to borrow.
Her seven-and-a-half-month-old baby boy, Zane Gollestani, is cruising along in his baby walker, an absolutely adorable bundle of big-eyed preciousness. He comes over to investigate, and breaks out into a huge grin. He turns out to be one of the happiest babies we’ve ever seen.
As a presenter for ESPN Star Sports, Paula, 37, is a familiar face to tennis and Formula 1 fans. But on this day, she’s showing us a side television viewers have never seen before. She’s gorgeous and confident as always, but this is also mummy Paula, the woman who dotes on her baby son, wipes his snotty nose and rearranges the carpets so “his majesty” can move about with ease.
Zane’s father, a 31-year-old TV producer from Los Angeles named Sam Gollestani, has just left for work, Paula tells us. We’ve just missed him. Not many people know this, but they’re married. They went to the registration office about a month and a half after Paula found out that she was pregnant, followed by brunch at a nice hotel for immediate family and a couple of friends. Just like that.
“It was the right thing to do,” says Paula. Her forthrightness is refreshing. This is a woman who’s not afraid to call it as she sees it. “It was a very quiet ceremony. I mean, I was pregnant so it wasn’t a big party. It was just one of those things that had to be done, you know. We didn’t even exchange rings. Who knows? Maybe when Zane’s a bit older, we might do something.”
The makeup artist gets ready to leave. She’s already had a bite to eat, but Paula asks her to pack a sandwich to go, for her lunch. She tells our photographer to rearrange furniture or objects however he wants for the photo shoot, and settles comfortably into a chair – her own sandwich in hand – for the rest of this interview.
How’s motherhood been?
It’s been really lovely. I found the first three months very difficult. I think it was just everything. You know you’re going to be tired, and I was grappling with the whole breastfeeding thing. I just didn’t love doing it. It wasn’t my thing. And then you have a little bit of guilt about that and then I was like, ‘Okay, let’s move on.’ Zane wasn’t a difficult child; it’s just that your body’s gone through a lot. But one thing that’s true is that the older he gets, the more fun he is. I’m enjoying it a lot. He just rewards you now. He laughs, he knows his name, he’s turning into a little person rather than just being a dumpling that sits there and doesn’t do anything.
What about the pregnancy?
Oh, it was a breeze. My doctor said it was a really uneventful pregnancy. I didn’t have any crazy cravings, I didn’t put on a particularly large amount of weight, I wasn’t sick. I was quite impressed [laughs]. The last two weeks I had really incredible backache, and that’s when I had my weird cravings. I wanted telur masin, sambal and white rice – full on Malay food. I was a Malay girl my last two weeks. But that was the only weird dietary thing.
And how was the birth? It was in Brunei, wasn’t it?
It was in Brunei. He was born on Brunei’s national day. As for the birth, I had a bit of a point to prove with my sisters. They were like, ‘Don’t take an epidural.’ So I had an epidural on standby, and I kept saying, ‘One more contraction, one more contraction…’ And my sisters were like, ‘Don’t do it, be a warrior.’ And then I left it too late, and you can’t do it. But I had my sisters – my twin and my elder sister – and my mum in the room with me, really being my cheerleaders. It was incredible. I thought I wouldn’t be the kind of mother that wanted people to go, ‘Come on!’ But I really needed it. Labour was 11 hours, so it wasn’t too bad.
Good on you for sticking it out without an epidural.
I think by the time it came to pushing, I didn’t have any energy left because I’d been managing the pain, and that’s probably why I should have done an epidural. But anyway, I’m more macho for it. I’m very smug about it.
Did you ever see yourself here, being a mum and everything?
Not really, you know. It wasn’t the thought that particularly frightened me. I think there’s always a little part in most women that want to have a baby. But I also got to the age in my life where I’m kind of stuck in my ways, I’m a bit selfish. When he came, it was an idea that I embraced quite quickly. I didn’t over-think it. And because I’m older, you can keep a check on your emotions, you know, so I wasn’t so overwhelmed.
Tell us about Sam.
He was down to do The Biggest Loser Asia, and he’s working on a show called The Challenger Muaythai now. We first met in Malaysia about seven years ago, and he came to Singapore about five years ago for a press conference, where I interviewed one of his talent. Then we kept in touch. It was one of those things.
So he’s based here now?
He’s just working on The Challenger Muaythai now, doing postproduction. And we’re all going to San Francisco for a holiday in December. Then he’ll decide what to do next year.
Is there a chance that you might move to LA?
Yeah. For me, to move to LA as a TV presenter is very difficult. Everyone wants to do the same thing. But you never know.
Where was he when you gave birth?
He was in LA. He was stuck doing a shoot, so we kind of knew about a week before [that he wasn’t going to make it out in time]. I was really… I don’t know what the word is. And then I thought, ‘Well, obviously, if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. What are you going to do?’ So he eventually met his son three weeks later. I said, ‘It’s your loss. You missed out on just seeing the baby come out and taking his first breath.’ My brother-in-law, my twin sister’s husband, played proxy dad [at the birth].
How are you settling into this new chapter in your life?
I think what’s been the hardest thing is juggling work. I got back from my maternity leave in April and I’ve been travelling non-stop. Can’t complain. But it’s getting harder and harder to leave Zane now. I have to use my mum a lot, but she doesn’t live here.
Do you see yourself cutting down on the travelling?
No. Work is great in that if I don’t want to go, I’ll say no. I’m not full-time; I’m part-time. That’s been absolutely fine. But at the end of the day, the more you work, the more you get paid. I’m a working mum. And I think it’s good for me to take a couple of days out as well. I will miss him, but after the second day, I’ll probably have a very good night’s sleep.
What’s been the most difficult adjustment in all this?
I think it’s the fact that your life is no longer the life you remember. For example, I was in the studio yesterday, and one of my colleagues has just moved into the apartment next door, and he’s like, ‘Come by for a cocktail.’ I was like, ‘No, I need to go home. Zane’s been poorly and I want to get home to feed him at five-thirty and I want to try and put him to sleep.’ When people ask me to go out at night, I really have to think, was I out last night? Was I working late yesterday? And if I do go out, I try to make sure I’m back for his midnight feed. So my timing is really dictated by him.
Do you miss the old life?
No, because he’s been so rewarding. He’s given my life so much legs. I think he’s made me feel like a real woman. You kind of go through life like an early-30-something, but now I’m a mother. I don’t want my baby to be my calling card. He’s not my identity, but he’s my world. I don’t miss my old life at all. I did it hard, did it strong, and I’m done.
How did you feel when you first realised that you were pregnant?
Weirdly enough, quietly delighted. I was like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ I actually found out during Wimbledon last year. I know when I’m late, and funnily enough, I knew. So I took the test.
What did you do after you found out?
First thing you think about is, is this going to affect my work? Then I called the dad, called my twin, and called my producer. And so that day I was in a bit of a daze. I was really not with it. I was just not present. This was one of those things – it’s so massive, isn’t it? I couldn’t sleep. And I’m a smoker and I thought, ‘Damn it, this is when I really need a cigarette.’ And then you have to decide there and then, you can’t do this shit anymore. It was a big lifestyle change for nine months. It’s the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.
How did Sam react to the news?
He was very, very happy. It was one of those weird phone calls you make. He was really excited. And it was one of those conversations that can go either way. I came back to Singapore five days after that and went straight to the doctor.
Has Zane changed your outlook on life?
[Pauses] I don’t think so. Can I say that? I don’t think he’s changed my outlook on life. I don’t suddenly think I’m a different person. I think my life has got a lot more value in it, a lot more meaning, but I do think I’m fundamentally the same person. The only thing I’ve done is just really cut back on this crazy hedonistic lifestyle that was very much a part of my personality. I don’t need to do it anymore; it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I think I’m a lot tamer than I was – I was never a crazy, wild party person, but I just don’t do that anymore, needlessly going out for the sake of going out. I have a lot of reasons to stay home now.
Are you guys planning for another baby?
I don’t think Sam’s too keen. And I’m not particularly stoked at the thought of doing it all over again. It will hurt. To be honest, even though I had an easy pregnancy, I didn’t enjoy it. But if anything happened to Sam or myself, I’d like Zane to know that he’s got a sibling.
What are your plans for your career?
The blessing about being part-time is I’m at liberty now to work with other TV networks, as long as it’s not sports genre. I’m doing a lot more gigs. Ideally, I do want to do a talk show about ordinary women and their struggles. I’ve wanted to do it since I was 20, but I also think that I’m at the right age now. I think I’d be a lot more substantial as a host now. It’s a dream. I want to talk about love life, where’s the best place to buy knock-off designer clothes… I just want to talk about everything and nothing. I think I’m a good listener; I love hearing other people’s problems. And ideally, I’d like to do a show for teenagers as well. I remember as a teenager, saying to my housemistress, ‘Why is life so difficult?’ And she goes, ‘Because everything’s new and your heart’s breaking for the first time.’ It will be grassroots kind of TV. I don’t need the glamorous, beautiful people; I want the heartbeat of the people.