While Sisley Choi may have started out just like any ordinary girl, her life now is anything but. Through trials and tribulations, the newly crowned television queen has held her nerve while walking the path to stardom.
"I've always liked the performing arts," she said. "I was in choirs, drama clubs and a music trio team, where I was the pianist."
Even though she enjoyed performing, being an actress was more of a fantasy than an ambition. "I wouldn't say that it was my dream, but somehow, it just happened."
At 13, Choi left Hong Kong and went to New Zealand for her secondary school education, staying in a local hostel with Kiwi girls. "I went there without my parents, so I had to get used to a whole new lifestyle and make new friends. It was not easy to start with, because they already had their own friendship groups."
Being from a relatively modest family meant Choi had to move to the new country on her own, as it was all her family could afford. "My parents could not even come to my graduation. That's the only thing that I feel I would love to change if I could."
As her high school graduation drew closer, her friends started filling out college applications, but Choi had a gut feeling that something might come up, and she was right.
"This German family approached my high school in New Zealand and asked for a Kiwi girl to be a nanny," she said. "They did not think of hiring an Asian girl, but I signed up immediately. I love kids and even part-timed in a kindergarten."
The family liked Choi so much that they extended the au pair program to two and a half years, which allowed her to travel around Europe in her free time. "School wasn't always on my mind. I was more about enjoying life, meeting new people, seeing new things and having new experiences."
Nevertheless, under the encouragement of her then-boyfriend, she signed up for a degree in ethnology at Heidelberg University.
The spontaneous Choi describes herself as a "yes woman" who is always accepting new opportunities. "You have to say yes to things for magical things to happen. That was what led to me being in the Miss Hong Kong pageant and becoming an actress."
Her path to stardom seemed fated. She stumbled on an ad for the pageant while browsing for a summer course to take during her vacation back home. "I thought that if I entered as an overseas applicant, I could get a free flight ticket home."
Unfortunately, she mistakenly applied as a local contestant instead, so when she received the news that she had to return home from Germany in three days for the interview, she had an expensive decision to make. "I struggled for half a day, but I was like: 'Yes, let's do it.' I flew back home and the next morning, I went to the interview."
The rest is history. Choi was first runner-up in the 2013 Miss Hong Kong pageant and has since been in 14 dramas and one film in her seven-year TVB career.
"I've never been back to Germany since. All of my stuff was left behind. I thought that after a year of Miss Hong Kong, I would go back to school. I never thought that I would be so lucky and get so many opportunities."
Choi recently won the TVB Anniversary Award for Best Actress for the role of Deanie Chiu in Legal Mavericks 2020, becoming the first actress born after 1990 to win the category. She thinks that by winning alongside costar Vincent Wong, Deanie got the happy ending she did not have with the male lead.
Deanie also won her Most Popular Female Character in 2017, and Choi is grateful to have won two awards for the same role.
"The role has influenced me the most. I have done two shows with the character now. I feel like Deanie has gone through the ups and downs of life with me for the past three years and grown with me."
Behind the success and fame are unseen struggles, and the most difficult part of being a female celebrity for Choi is the constant criticism, especially on her appearance.
"Whatever you do, you feel like you're not enough. I think that's true around the world, and I have experienced that too, with all the online comments and press."
The pressure also resulted in mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Things as simple as facing people became a daunting task.
"As a performer, I needed to face the public and a lot of people most of the time, but I was actually very afraid to be in crowds."
She would often burst into tears after big events. "The moment I got into my car in the car park, I would start crying because I had to let that fear out," she recalled.
Luckily, with the support of friends, she has been getting better every day. "I don't think I have overcome it - I am still learning. But the most important thing is that you have to learn to love yourself."
Even so, Choi has never regretted embarking on the journey of becoming an actress. "I don't really regret a lot of things in life, because I believe in the process," she said.
"Everything is meant to be and how it should be, and everything has its time. Everything I went through was necessary, and without those things, I would not be me. Ruin leads to transformation."