Paula Malai Ali was on stage in Bangalore doing a press conference with Usain Bolt in August 2014. We asked her what it was like interviewing the fastest man in the world. And her answer surprised us.
Bolt, according to Paula, was not ‘inspirational’.
By saying that, Paula was not trying to be derogatory or controversial. She was simply stating a fact. And the fact is, that Usain Bolt belongs to the 1 in 10 million club, he is one of those people who has been gifted with “tremendous genetic advantages” and what can only be described as “supernatural ability.”
Together with good professional training and the right environment, Usain Bolt is peerless and king of the world in his sport. Normal people, or even talented people for that matter, could never dream of coming close to Bolt’s speed, no matter how hard they train. It is simply unrealistic. Hence, the reason why Paula describes him as being “un-inspirational”.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, is “inspirational” according to Paula. The world number one tennis player reminds us of what we are all capable of doing, when we set our minds to it. “For a start, Nadal has the wrong body for tennis (his physical attribute is made for football), he is constantly battling with injuries and he also possesses a list of vulnerabilities that put him at an advantage. The very fact that Nadal rises to the top and stays there consistently, speaks volumes about Nadal’s tenacity, stellar work ethic and willingness to grind it out,” said Paula.
No doubt, Nadal has been gifted with a certain talent in order to compete at the top, but it is undeniable that a huge part of his success is due to his attitude, correct mindset and indefatigable work ethic. And perhaps this is what Paula relates to so well in terms of her own career story.
From a young age, Paula displayed a natural talent for public speaking and showmanship. At the tender age of nine, she was already emceeing for the school together with her popular twin sister, Jenny Malai Ali. They both had no fear when it came to speaking in front of a group and naturally excelled in the area of art and performance.
As a result, Jenny, who preferred to stay in Brunei became one of the country’s most sought after emcees and deejays; while Paula has had a successful career in the entertainment industry in Asia for over a decade.
Talent alone wasn’t the key to Paula’s success. She recalled eight years ago when she moved from being a popular ‘veejay’ on Channel V to ESPN, she had little knowledge and understanding about sports. She was honest about her strengths and weaknesses, and went in with a relentless work ethic to fast track her knowledge of the sporting industry. Back then, Paula was one of the first few women sports presenters in Asia. Today, Paula is one of the top sports presenters on Fox Sports Asia, covering major sporting events, interviewing the best athletes from around the world.
When asked what does the world of sports teach her about life? Paula said that she is always inspired to push herself to a higher level of fitness especially after witnessing world class players battling it out on the tennis court for five sets. “What is a 20 minute workout compared to that?”, she smiled.
Because of Paula’s grueling and demanding work schedule, she takes her fitness routine extremely seriously. However, she is the first to admit that she doesn’t like going the gym because she thinks that it defeats the purpose of getting a “good sweat out”, that is, being in the gym with the air condition on.
When she is not traveling, Paula usually spends two mornings each week doing a ‘primitive-bootcamp’ which involves stretching, body weight resistance and sprinting. In addition to this, she runs at least five kilometers twice a week and also does kickboxing (she previously injured her wrist from a practice session). And when she is travelling, Paula logs on to her youtube channel and does a 20 minute workout, using the hotel chair and bed as her equipment and following the moves of Gillian Michaels.
Why does Paula place such emphasis on her fitness routine?
She said that working out helps her to switch her mind off, as she tends to over think sometimes and to worry too much. Her exercise ritual also helps her to focus better, especially at work, when she has to perform at her peak level at all times.
She remembers covering her first grand slam tennis tournament, when all of a sudden, she had the opportunity to interview each of the top tennis players for five minutes. Those players included the likes of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Serena Williams. At that moment, she could not afford to get all-nervous and nor could she afford to get it wrong. So Paula had to block out all her thoughts, and “be strong, be confident and just do it”.
She remembers constantly telling herself that the interview was not about her, but about the stars. Needless to say, such interviews are now all in a day’s job for Paula, and a good exercise routine to start the day definitely helps, as it calms her down and keeps her feeling confident and composed during all of her big events.
Paula has one important piece of advice for Bruneians wanting to make it on the regional platform: “Pay Your Dues”.
She started at the age of 19 as a production assistant in the entertainment industry doing basic work such as: ironing costumes, cleaning up, getting the makeup box ready, and providing assistance with the actors’ wardrobes.
She added: “No doubt making a break in the entertainment industry is going to be difficult as there is always going to be someone younger, smarter who is willing to work harder for less.
It is important to be prepared to go the extra mile and to know your value. And when you succeed one day, always remember to be humble and be respectful, no matter how big a name you become, never forget where you came from.” This is a golden rule which is not only applicable in the entertainment industry, but in any industry – if you want to succeed and to remain successful.
Paula Malai Ali is currently the sports presenter in Fox Sports Asia. She is in the process of planning a fitness show about diet, fitness advice and fitness tips for travelers, a subject that she is intensively passionate about.