She vrooms and zooms in a man’s motoring world

From car show model to motoring journalist and now fitness photojournalist, multi-hyphenate Cheryl Tay, 28, has done it all. Chrystal Chan finds out how the NTU business graduate is living her dream

Fuelled by her growing interest in cars, Cheryl Tay began writing for car magazines in her second year at NTU. Within three years, she carved out a name for herself as one of the few female motoring journalists in Singapore. She soon expanded her repertoire to include photography, and in 2013, made the switch to fitness and sports photojournalism. She now handles about 20 writing and 10 photography assignments per month among other jobs like digital marketing and event management.
I failed General Paper

“Ironically, I never quite liked writing essays in school. I actually failed General Paper in junior college and had to go for remedial lessons. The only thing I wrote frequently was my diary. One day, I was approached by Wheels Asia to model for them. When the editor found out how passionate I was about cars, I was offered an opportunity to write. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t confident.”

It was demoralising at first, but became wheelie fun

“It was tough in the beginning as writing for a mass audience is very different from writing school essays. My copy often got rejected and required rewriting. It was demoralising, but I kept working hard as I realised I enjoyed the work. After Wheels Asia, I went on to write for Torque, The Business Times, The Straits Times and TopGear Singapore, and I even had my own motoring column in NTU Tribune.”

I’ve met Lewis Hamilton

“I’m very lucky that my work has taken me around the world to many exotic places. I’ve rubbed shoulders with top Formula 1 drivers, met enigmatic CEOs, given talks to MNCs and been invited to speak on national television.”

I’m a woman, so what?

“One of the most difficult things I had to overcome when I first started out in the motoring industry was gender discrimination. It was, after all, a man’s world that I’d stepped into. I was also young – just 20 when I wrote my first article, and I heard people saying I got opportunities because I was a woman. That was really hurtful, but it made me work harder to prove I wasn’t a flash in the pan.”

My gear change

“The automotive industry and motorsports scene hit a rough patch two years ago, when cooling measures were introduced to curb car ownership. I had to find something else to do. Sports was a natural choice – I represented my school in badminton, track and cross-country, and lead an active lifestyle with a regular fitness regime. Fortunately, my skills – writing, photography and digital marketing – are transferrable across industries.”

I was out of shape and my confidence was hit

“One of the toughest times in my life was when I grew sick of exercising. I was out of shape for three years and began to feel very insecure about myself. I didn’t make any effort to dress up, doubted my abilities and felt I wasn’t good enough. It also affected my studies in NTU. I eventually started exercising again, and I’ve learnt that confidence is all that matters. I love my body for what it is.”

Three years in NTU was too short

“My time in NTU went by in a whirl. Three years in Nanyang Business School wasn’t enough! I think being actively involved in different kinds of university activities – from organising the National Vertical Marathon to joining the school pageant – helped me learn how to manage my time and run multiple projects, which is exactly what I do now.”

Who needs sleep?

“On a typical day, I’m up at 7am. I reply emails or do some writing, then head to the gym for a two-hour workout, after which I attend meetings, events, interviews or photoshoots. I’m back home around 10pm and continue working on my computer until 2am. I try to sleep by midnight, but sometimes there’s just too much work!”

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