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FIREFIGHTING: Local residents try to extinguish a fire as a helicopter from the Indonesian National Disaster Management is seen overhead in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Sumatra island, Indonesia.
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Champion for cancer awareness

Beauty queen moved to promote cancer research after uncle died from the disease

COURAGE: Vimala Velu shaved her head (above) in 2014 in support of fund-raising event Hair for Hope.
COURAGE: Vimala Velu (above) shaved her head in 2014 in support of fund-raising event Hair for Hope.
Vimala Velu.

She is better known as the winner of beauty pageant Miss Vasantham 2011, host of popular Tamil variety show Jaamai and actress in hit Vasantham dramas like Nijangal, Kalyanam and Vetri.

But the limelight isn't the only thing Vimala Velu enjoys.

She is also a passionate advocate for cancer awareness and aspires to contribute to the field of cancer research.

Vimala, 27, graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with an honours degree in biological sciences this year while juggling ad hoc acting and hosting gigs for Vasantham on the side.

She is hoping to pursue her masters in the UK next year, specialising in cancer-related research.

But the twin roads to stardom and academic success have not been smooth sailing for the beauty-queen-turned-TV star.

Vimala's interest in cancer research was sparked by the death of her close uncle, an "inspirational figure" whom she respected.

He died of stomach cancer when she was about 10 years old.

Citing that period as the "lowest point" of her life, Vimala told The New Paper: "At first there was a lot of rage. I didn't understand why it happened."

She decided to channel her anger and confusion into contributing to the cancer cause, like shaving her head two years ago in support of Hair For Hope, a fund-raising event by the Children's Cancer Foundation.

She said: "I was already on TV so I knew I could reach more people.

"I shaved my head the day I passed the crown to (my Miss Vasantham successor and the winner of 2014 title)," she said.

But nothing prepared Vimala for the sheer torrent of negativity she received on her social media profiles.

Laughing as she recalled the wild assumptions fans made about her baldness, she said: "The public thought (it was) because I was depressed after passing the crown. Some thought I was on drugs.

"A lot of older people also un-friended me on Facebook because they said I was ugly."

But the backlash only fuelled her drive to raise more awareness for the cause.

It is this indomitable spirit of hers that got Vimala through a life littered with challenges and struggles.

THROWN OUT

While studying at Innova Junior College about 10 years ago, her parents starting facing severe financial difficulties. When they failed to make their monthly housing payments, their four-room HDB flat was sealed and their belongings were thrown out.

They moved to a rental room in Choa Chu Kang for a year, where the family of three lived amid stacked boxes of their belongings in a cramped space.

Her father was unable to work because of his heart condition and her mother had also lost her job as a cleaner at a secondary school.

The only child had to take up part-time work and become the sole breadwinner.

Vimala juggled school with numerous jobs, from waitressing to distributing newspapers.

She said: "Some days I would go without food, or I wouldn't be able to go to school because there wasn't enough money in my ez-link card."

As a result, Vimala, who had been a straight-A student for her O levels, found herself floundering in junior college.

She took a year off after her A levels to work, then went on to pursue a diploma in biomedical science at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Things turned around for her in 2011 when she decided to try out for Miss Vasantham in the last year of her polytechnic studies.

The self-professed tomboy and nerd, who preferred football over Barbie dolls as a child, never expected to win the title.

When asked what the hardest part of the pageant was, she joked: "Dancing on stage in heels."

The competition earned her $10,000 in prize money and opened up doors to a slew of acting and hosting jobs.

"My parents are more settled now," Vimala said of her 73-year-old father and 62-year-old mother, who are holding down jobs as a security guard and cleaner, respectively.

Home is now a rented one-room HDB flat in Boon Lay.

Vimala said: "They used to be very protective of me, being a girl. But now I'm the one who protects them. They trust me... and are very proud."

"Some days I would go without food, or I wouldn't be able to go to school because there wasn't enough money in my ez-link card."

- Miss Vasantham 2011 Vimala Velu, on tough circumstances when she was growing up

Desire over desperation

Klopp wants Reds to make better decisions in attack

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Plucky Pep drops Hart

Guardiola's ruthless decision proves why he's perfect for City But England boss coy on whether Rooney will remain as skipper

AVERAGE JOE: That's probably the best assessment of Pep Guardiola on English goalkeeper Hart (above).


AVERAGE JOE: That's probably the best assessment of Pep Guardiola (above) on English goalkeeper Hart.

Pep Guardiola will never let Joe Hart rule his head.

The ongoing debate over Manchester City's goalkeeper is another example of English football's myopia and why the Spaniard is absolutely right.

Guardiola builds his game from the back. Hart's boots are made for walloping the ball as far as possible. It's an unworkable relationship.

A lack of Hart shows that Guardiola has the stomach to succeed.

As City prepare to welcome Claudio Bravo from Barcelona while quietly ushering their current No. 1 through the back door, their manager reveals his indifference to popularity.

He's not administering a Facebook page, chasing likes and adoration. He's running the world's wealthiest club and chasing the Champions League.

The sudden championing of Hart's cause, a goalkeeper who veered between average and awful at Euro 2016, only reiterates the English Premier League's bad habit of excessively trumpeting local talent.

Rather like England's decade-long obsession with Wayne Rooney, Hart's campaigners appear to be blinded by their patriotic insularity, refusing to acknowledge Guardiola's tactical success or read a stats sheet.

Joey Barton, a former Manchester City player, called his old club's behaviour "disgusting", insisting that the management of his time would not have displayed such crass disloyalty (of course they would - and did.)

Gary Neville called on Hart to stay and deal with the media attention that comes with being "a big England player".

As a recent England coach, Neville could hardly say anything else, but the comments came across as delusional, perhaps typical of an English mindset that automatically elevates a member of the Three Lions.

Fortunately for City, Guardiola doesn't suffer from the kind of jingoism that turns England footballers into world-beaters before every major tournament fiasco.

While the hotheads focus on Hart's loyalty, his 347 City appearances, two league titles and League and FA Cup triumphs, Guardiola takes a dispassionate look at the stats.

COMPARISON

When Hart's distribution is compared to Guardiola's goalkeeper at Bayern Munich, Manuel Neuer, he really can't pass the buck.

If he did, he'd probably knock it out for a throw-in.

In Neuer's last three seasons, the Bayern custodian played a total of 2,077 short passes to his teammates. Hart managed just 562.

In an average game, Neuer completed 33 passes to Hart's 22 and was more accurate, too. The German's completion rate was 85 per cent, compared to the Englishman's 49 per cent.

Neville may suggest that Hart could stay at City and improve his passing range. Others may point to the cliched, blood-and-guts nature of the EPL, with pitches played like pinball machines as balls are pumped over the top.

To which, Guardiola is likely to shrug his shoulders and say, "So what?".

His job isn't to redefine the more rudimentary aspects of English football any more than it's his role to rehabilitate a goalkeeper raised in the same environment.

His overriding task is to win the Champions League. City managers lose their jobs when they don't.

And to win in Europe, to overcome the Spaniards, City must play like the Spaniards and that means building from the back with John Stones and, in all probability, Bravo.

Rather than take pity on their exiled, fellow Englishman, City supporters should take comfort in the newfound fortitude in the dugout.

Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini never doubted Hart's shot-stopping capabilities. His reflexes can appear borrowed from a cat pushed from a hot-tin roof.

But there were always mistakes, for both club and country.

Mancini toyed with selling him. Pellegrini dropped him. But Hart always prevailed. His local hero status made him practically invulnerable.

Not any more. Guardiola is interested only in the player, not the passport, postcode or even past pedigree. 

At the age of just 37, he took on the untouchables at Barcelona.

Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o were global giants, but didn't fit Guardiola's template.  So he got rid of them all.

In comparison, Hart is small fry.

Those still defending Hart seem to view Guardiola's ruthlessness as an affront to their patriotism. How could he treat England's No. 1 so shabbily?

But that's the advantage of a foreign manager who also happens to be one of the most tactically astute of his generation.

He brings no emotional baggage or misguided loyalty to a national cause. Instead he brings an innate sense of what a team needs to win.

Unlike Neville, Guardiola doesn't see "a big England player". He sees a goalkeeper who can't pass properly.

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