In studying Gary V, everything is a lesson about life
This story is from my writing portfolio. I also shot the photograph.
You may not know Gary Valenciano. He is relatively unknown in Thailand, yet in the Philippines, he is a “Gary V,” a megastar. You can think of him as the Elvis of the Philippines. With his recent performance here in Bangkok and other appearances in the United States, his star power is branching out beyond the Philippines.
I met with Gary the day before his performance at the Oriental Hotel. Prestige Magazine, the magazine you are reading now, was having a launch party, and he was the entertainment. When he showed up, he was wearing a knit cap and glasses with thick, dark frames. I actually failed to recognize him right away, and Gary was amused by my embarrassment. He didn’t look anything like his press photos or website presence. I was wondering whether he had disguised himself to keep from being mobbed by fans, but I later realized he was much too relaxed to be worried about that and the cap and glasses was Gary’s normal attire.
The other surprise in the meeting was that his wife, Angeli, was with him. And, as Gary tells his story, I learn that his life story is actually their story.
In 1982, Gary was an 18-year-old skinny kid with bushy hair when he joined a local Manila singing group called Kundirana. Just a summer to spend with his friends, he thought. He discovered that he likes performing. What made this summer more significant was that he also met Angeli.
Angeli was a singer in different group at a talent contest. She recognized Gary’s talent and became his manager. Then, as Gary’s career began to take off, she and Gary fell in love and married. They eventually had three children, Paolo, Gabriel and Kiana. Their children sometimes perform with Gary onstage. His advice to them has always been, “Never hold back. You never know what might happen.”
Together, Gary and Angeli have made numerous albums, music videos and movies. Gary was crowned Awit’s Male Performer of the Year seven times. Angeli was, and is still, a major part of that growing success.
During our meeting, Gary, Angeli and I broke for lunch. On the way to the hotel’s restaurant, we came to a flight of stairs, and Gary bounded ahead to the top, then smiled as he waited for us to catch up, perhaps having forgotten that we don’t have the same energy, nor the same enthusiasm for life.
Over lunch, I asked Gary about being a born-again Christian. The Philippines press is constantly asking him about it, and I needed to ask him as well.
As Gary explained it: beginning in his career, he is becoming ever more popular and still becoming ever more insecure. He worries whether his fans will still love him after the concerts. One day at a press conference, a reporter asked him what would happen if he died tomorrow. He later prayed, “Lord, I do need you. Can you take over?”
Today, because of his faith, Gary is a regular performer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the United States. He is also the UNICEF ambassador for the Philippines. Recently, he also gave a concert to benefit survivors of the Boxing Day Tsunami.
That next night, we watched Gary perform in the hotel ballroom. True to his earlier words of advice, he held nothing back, giving an energetic, dazzling performance. This performance also leaves him short of breath.
Backstage, after the show, we saw that those “Never hold back” words have a hidden and greater lesson. Upon the insistence of Angeli, Gary quietly checked his blood. His sugar level was high, and he needed an insulin boost. Gary has battled juvenile diabetes for 25 years. He could die if he does not shoot the insulin into his stomach.
Angeli and her staff continually monitor his sugar levels. Even so, there have been a number of close calls. One incident occurred only two months ago in Los Angeles. After a concert for a Filipino TV station, his blood sugar level was too low, and he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
He has since recovered. For Gary, just being alive today is an extension on life.
And for Angeli, the angel, she is always there. Always.
This story first appeared in Prestige Magazine (Thailand Edition) in 2005
Photo Credit: Robert Lorimor