Life With Father

Comparing Colette’s protagonist Gigi with her namesake Gigi Chao shows that meddling family members are nothing new

Counterpoints Family

The plot of Colette’s 1944 novella Gigi, and the twist that the life of its modern namesake, Gigi Chao, has taken have something in common: interfering relations. In the book, a reluctant young Gigi is being educated by her grandmother and aunt to become a rich man’s mistress. In the case of Hong Kong socialite Ms Chao, her property tycoon father is ready to fork out a £40 million bounty to any man who can win his daughter’s heart. Cecil Chao’s offer came after he discovered that Gigi and her female civil partner, Sean Eav, had a church blessing for their relationship in France. Sacha Baron Cohen is now making a film, The Lesbian, for Paramount based on the story.

Ms Chao, 33, is dealing with the global feeding frenzy that her father’s offer has engendered with enormous composure and grace, for it is clear she is as good-natured as she is indeed beautiful. Perhaps her playboy papa Chao thought he was being broadminded when he said of would-be suitors: “I don’t mind if he is rich or poor. The important thing is that he is generous and kind-hearted.” But as a man who, while still a bachelor at 76, claims to have slept with 10,000 women, he is no doubt of the view that everyone has a price, even his beloved Gigi.

Moreover, given that he rejects the sexuality of his hitherto relatively private daughter and wants social security for her through conventional married status, he has outed her on a global scale and surely made her a poster girl for lesbians everywhere. 

Ms Chao, who was sent abroad to study when she was just six, has recounted how her father took a hands-off approach in parenting. She saw her father as “a friend more than a father”, although the misguided stunt he has pulled, ostensibly out of concern for how his daughter’s sexuality will be viewed in conservative Hong Kong society, is neither fatherly nor friendly.

The fantastic nature of this scenario has something of the fairytale about it, bringing to mind the near-impossible task or quest set for a suitor to gain the hand of a princess. But here the dragon that must be slain is Ms Chao’s adamant lesbianism and devotion to her partner. This would appear to discount a convenient “lavender marriage” like that of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, who pursued their own homosexual affairs, no matter how much this Bloomsburyesque solution might gladden her father’s heart.

One hopes that Gigi’s life will not be too blighted by the fallout from the old man’s folly, and that the outcome of her story, just as with the fictional Gigi, will be the victory of love over meddling family members.