From Running Away From Home to Becoming a Valedictorian, This Is Hannah Tan's Story

"I think it’s important to identify why you wake up in the morning and do what you do." - Hannah Tan

Hannah Tan is so much more than someone with a pretty face, a killer sense of style, and an enigmatic personality: she's an intelligent, fierce woman that will go toe-to-toe with any challenge that comes her way.

Hannah Tan has had one singular goal since she was a teenager: to do her very best in everything. It was this intense drive that led her to become a valedictorian and even a merit scholar; it was this fierce desire to improve herself that led her to become FHM Malaysia's Most Wanted Woman in both 2006 and 2010; and so, so much more.

Here are a few of the many amazing achievements that Hannah Tan has worked hard to earn: she received two music diplomas by the time she was only 13 years old, she earned a top honors degree in Computer Science, and she even released an album in 2007; the album, Crossing Bridges, was a huge hit in Malaysia and the United States.

And of course, there's Hannah Tan's much-beloved beauty, which is not only on the inside but the outside as well. Hannah Tan's beauty and strong presence have led to a highly successful career in modeling and advertisement. Hannah Tan has become one of the most recognizable faces in modern advertisement campaigns, which included LUX, Maybelline, Nescafe, and Celcom to name a few.

Her entertainment talent isn't limited to stationary modeling, either: she's even hosted television shows, such as the highly-rated 8TV's What Women Want, the exciting Astro's Motorsports@Petronas, and the fun and engaging TV3's Ringgit Scene.

But it should be noted Hannah's success did not come without hard work. When she was only 16 years old, she made the choice to run away from her home. She was on hard times but blamed everyone (and everything!) for her own actions.

After quitting high school, she spent a year working odd jobs just to get enough food to eat and have a roof over her head. At 17, however, she made a decision that changed everything: she wanted to take her public high school examinations but as a private candidate. She passed, gained a scholarship, and then found out that she had to maintain a 4.0 GPA and maintain an extra-curricular portfolio in order to keep that scholarship active.

She had to work tirelessly to achieve this, but she did it. She graduated as a valedictorian in her college and took that first step on the path to success. She faced more challenges by the time she was in her mid-20s when she had run out of her life savings and felt depressed by the many challenges--including health-related problems--that had come her way.

But through it all, Hannah Tan has persevered. Her enormous success did not come easily. She had to fight against challenges, she had to fight against her own doubts and fears, and she had to work tirelessly to go from being a runaway 16-year-old to the successful, well-loved, highly intelligent adult that remains one of the most popular entertainers in the world today.

We were given the chance to have an exclusive interview with her way back in 2012 when we first started WOM (Hannah was our 1st Anniversary Woman Of The Month magazine cover!) and here's how it went like:

Published from previous WOM website (2012):

WOM: Congratulations on the continuous success of your career! At what age did you start being active in the entertainment industry? What makes you want to be in this line?

Hannah: I still have a long way to go but thank you very much, you’ve been very kind! Well... I joined a pageant... Um, it’s quite embarrassing actually (laughs) that was in 2001 so yeah I’ve been in the industry since then. Gosh, that shows my age! And the thing I like about being in the Malaysian entertainment industry is that it gives entertainers a platform to be able to reach out to young people and to be able to give positive influence because the media has a really huge reach, and now we’re talking about social media so I think the opportunity of being able to impact lives and touch hearts at the same time with what we are passionate about is something that keeps me going.

WOM: What is/are the current project(s) that you are working on right now?

Hannah: This year I’m trying to focus more on my first album as an independent artist and I’m really nervous about that! Because it was a really bold step, you know, as an independent artist it means that in terms of funding, you’re on your own. But what I like about it is the creative freedom and the opportunity to do what best represents you as an artist. It’s taking a longer time than expected because you know, every time I go into the studio and I record something and go back and listen to it I said “Woah I wanna do that part again and re-record again”, but the great thing is that you set your own time frame so it’s been very organic because I’ve been writing songs but I haven’t had the chance to actually record it. What I’m learning is to actually strike the balance between a songwriter’s composition and trying to make it commercial, something that’s digestible to the mainstream audience so ultimately, we wanna do our own content but we still wanna have content that sells right? So that’s what I’m focusing on right now. Few other charity projects, we ventured into a new business this year and it’s a social enterprise and that’s what I’m really excited about, being able to help people to get healthy and for the people that have financial stress, to be able to help the young people today to start businesses that could potentially generate RM30k – 40k a month in revenue within less than a year, so I think that will change a lot of lives. And at the same time, if underprivileged kids can benefit from that, why not?

WOM: How do you find time to balance yourself between your work and personal time with friends and family?

Hannah: Well that’s a tricky one because we are each given only 24 hours in a day, I’m one of those people that always say “Oh why can’t we have 48 hours? And why do human beings need to sleep right?” (laughs) So that’s a tricky part because we need to ‘cari makan’ but you still have priorities for your family and friends. I try to incorporate work and play at the same time so we started a business that friends and family can get involved as well so as we spend time making money and doing what we love, we have the people that we love around us, it’s all-in-one so I think that’s the ultimate, ultimate dream.

WOM: What do you do to keep yourself motivated each day? Any personal tips that you can share with us?

Hannah: I think it’s important to identify why you wake up in the morning and do what you do. The ‘why’ of a person is very important and for me, I think it’s a basis of what keeps me going because if we don’t have a strong enough ‘why’, then there’s basically no reason why we should work so hard or wake up in the morning to an alarm clock. So I believe it’s really important to be able to identify what you want in life and set clear distinctive goals, measurable goals with a timeline, and for me, knowing exactly what my goals are and actually sticking my ‘why’s and goals on my walls and mirrors is a driving force and basically the fuel that keeps me going every single day to work 18 to 22 hours a day. But the thing is, I enjoy it and I’ve got a reason to do all that so the stronger the ‘why’, the harder you push and the further you go, the faster you hit your goals.

WOM: Do you consider yourself a confident person? Why?

Hannah: By nature, I’m actually an introvert! (Laughs) But it’s great to have the people around you and it’s the team that gives me the confidence because I can’t do everything alone and my capabilities, my skills, and my talents are all very limited so that’s why I choose to work with the best of the best. They give me confidence because they are pros at what they do and I cannot live without my team. Period.

WOM: Lastly, is there any personal message or advice that you would like to share with all the young women out there in Malaysia?

Hannah: I always believe that the dictionary is the only place where success comes before work. I believe everybody has a dream and it’s a matter of identifying why you wanna do, what you wanna do, your ‘why’s are very important. Then you go to ‘how’s and your ‘what’, how am I going to get there and what am I going to do to get there. I meet a lot of people and people that have big dreams, but they give up along the way so I guess the key is back to basics, just three very important words: don’t give up. And it’s all about what you have up here (points to the head), so I’d like to encourage everybody, especially the women of today to invest in this (the mind), invest in books, read books, attend seminars because you’re working so hard for most people to achieve the fortunes that they want to be able to retire with. But remember that your money will always shrink to the size of your mindset, like Jane Marrone said, “If you would’ve given a million bucks to someone, give it to a millionaire because chances are he’ll know how to keep it. If you give it to a child, it’ll disappear within a year”, so you know, invest in this (the mind) and everything here (money) will come in.


Which do you prefer

Coffee or tea?

Hannah: Tea Pink or purple? Hannah: Pink! Flats or heels? Hannah: Flats Love or money? Hannah: Love Spicy or sweet? Hannah: Oooh...sweet! Sports or shopping? Hannah: Shopping! Eat or sleep? Hannah: Eat! Ryan Reynolds or Gosling? Hannah: Okay I had a hesitation between the two... but after Shafiqah showed me a 'memorable' picture of Gosling, I pick Gosling for sure! Usher or Timberlake?

Hannah: Umm...USHER!

Photographer: Nick Dorian (Candid Photography)

Wardrobe: Madukara Suteramas

Make up: Jaja Radzwan


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