Bad boy gone good?
Nearly dropped from his music label, singer Aliff Aziz struggled as a barista for 8 months. With a new album, an Anugerah Planet Muzik nomination & a new girlfriend, he is on the comeback trail
From the high life of fame and full freedom, his showbiz career crashed, and he spent the past year like a "prisoner" in his own home, away from the limelight and detractors.
With no money or direction, local singer Aliff Aziz ate humble pie and held a low-key, regular day job as a barista for eight months.
He worked 12-hour days taking orders, making drinks and serving customers at the Wheelock Place branch of the Spinelli Coffee Company cafe chain and the now-defunct restaurant Delicious at Scotts Square.
Aliff, 24, struggled to learn the new craft, at times getting scolded for being imprecise with the measurement of ingredients. He also braved quizzical stares from the public.
This is a far cry from his time as a singer and an actor popular here as and across the Causeway.
He was well-loved by his regional fans, had numerous radio hits and was in demand for shows.
But his endless controversies nearly snuffed out the career he had been building for himself since he won local Malay reality singing competition Anugerah in 2007.
Aliff told The New Paper in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur: "I screwed up, was nearly sent to jail and felt like nothing mattered.
"I was at such a low point in my life then and I struggled with my day job. To be a good barista is no walk in the park.
"It was a painful but important wake-up call that taught me to be humble, disciplined and to appreciate what I have because they can be taken away from me at any time."
Last year, he earned a bad-boy reputation for his misadventures - from allegedly punching a Malaysian hotel employee in December to stealing two mobile phones in May last year, for which he was fined $2,000.
As a result, he was nearly dropped from his music label Sony Music Malaysia and gig offers came to a complete halt.
Like his career, his relationship with others also suffered.
Aliff admitted that his mother refused to speak to him for some time, and he lost fans and friends.
More than a year later, Aliff is still trying to turn his life around. Things are finally looking up for him.
His fourth album Rebirth is set for a December release and its first single Selayaknya Aku was nominated for Best Collaboration (Song) at annual regional Malay music awards Anugerah Planet Muzik, which was held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre yesterday.
He is presently filming the music video for Dan Lagi Cinta, a song he recorded with Malaysian singer Emma Suhaimi for upcoming Malaysian film Love, Supermoon.
During Aliff's darkest days, his family stood by him.
Late last year, he started dating his girlfriend, Malaysian undergraduate Dayang Ara Nabellah Awang Astillah, 21.
"She, too, was a source of motivation for Aliff to turn over a new leaf.
The couple will be holding their engagement ceremony in Shah Alam, Selangor, on Dec 12.
"The thought of our future together has spurred me on to change," said Aliff.
"I want to be the best man I can be for my family and children. I want to be a responsible and loving family man".
The pair met three years ago at an event but ceased contact after a sour exchange.
The broadcasting and film student at Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College had asked for his help for her assignment then.
Not only did Aliff ignore her despite several text message reminders, he also sent her a rude retort that made her cry.
Last December, they crossed paths again at the annual Malaysian music awards ceremony Anugerah Industri Muzik, where they rekindled their friendship.
Aliff faced the tough task of winning over her parents, who didn't think well of him.
He recalled: "I met them, and we had a long talk about my past.
"I had the opportunity to explain myself.
"They were willing to give me a chance as long as I don't repeat my mistakes and hurt Bella.
"Now, I feel like I have two families - one in Singapore and one in Malaysia - that guide me and whose values I learn and practise. I want to make them proud."
Miss Bella, whom he describes as "patient, kind and supportive", keeps him in check.
"We have an honest relationship and we trust each other," said Aliff.
"She is a good example for me to emulate, influencing the way I carry myself now.
"She has been an extremely positive influence."
Aliff, who is starting to receive acting offers again, is determined to salvage his career and reputation, and to stay out of trouble.
He admitted that he had been "very irresponsible" and "selfish".
"I want to find my footing in the music industry again and be known for positive things, not for the controversies," he said.
"More importantly, I hope to be a better man for myself and for my loved ones."
He knows too well that it takes time to change public perception but that does not deter him from his goals.
"In the past, I kept saying I would change and I don't blame them if they didn't believe me," he said.
"But in time, I hope to prove myself again with the tough lessons that I have learnt - to never take my blessings for granted.
"Right now, I feel extremely blessed to be where I am with my loved ones and to have a good management team behind me."
I screwed up, was nearly sent to jail and felt like nothing mattered.
- Aliff Aziz
She walked out of restaurant when his song started playing
Her parents were so sceptical of her boyfriend, they scolded her and demanded that she stop seeing him.
The first few times they met Aliff Aziz, Miss Dayang Ara Nabellah Awang Astillah's mother refused to accept him, disregarding his presence and looking away when he kissed her hand in greeting.
Fully aware of Aliff's bad reputation, they were concerned about their daughter's happiness.
They also knew he had hurt her three years ago and had maintained their dislike of him.
"When Aliff sent me that rude text message three years ago, I told my family that I hated him and I didn't want to see his face anywhere," Miss Bella told The New Paper in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur.
"I even told my younger sister (singer-actress Didi Astillah) to ignore him if they crossed paths at events.
"It got to the point where we would switch channels if Aliff appeared on TV. Once, we walked out of a restaurant when his song started playing."
Miss Bella even lost two good friends when she stood firm by her decision to date Aliff.
"We were so close, we used to meet every day," she said.
"But they have since blocked me on social media. I suppose both men do not approve of Aliff. I felt really sad and shocked that it happened."
She also had to deal with plenty of naysayers warning her that a leopard does not change its spots. But she chose to stick by her man and is encouraged by the changes she has seen in him.
"Not once has he raised his voice at me or laid a finger on me," she said.
"The Aliff I know treasures and respects his loved ones and is extremely kind.
"At first, even I was sceptical and thought he could be faking his kindness, but it is genuine."
Asked how she felt about being Aliff's guiding light, Miss Bella said: "I have never forced him to change.
"I only asked him, 'How long do you want to be alive but not living?'
"I think that hit him. I've always encouraged him through the good times and bad.
"I constantly remind him not to go back to his old ways so as not to disappoint himself and our parents."
Miss Bella's family have since changed their perception of Aliff, treating him as one of their own.
"Once, he was in cahoots with my mother to surprise me with a bouquet when I returned from a two-month trip to China," she said.
It was also unexpected when he brought up the topic of marriage several months into their relationship.
"I didn't see it coming but I am happy to take the next step with him," said Miss Bella.
"Everything is in the past and we should let bygones be bygones.
"I will always pray that he will continue to be the best he can be."