Why MasterChef star Poh 'broke out' of the Mormon church

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·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read
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  • Poh Ling Yeow
    Malaysian-born Australian artist, actress and chef

MasterChef icon Poh Ling Yeow has opened up about leaving the Mormon church and changing her name in a wide-ranging chat with Jessica Rowe.

The pair covered a lot of personal topics on Wednesday's episode of The Jess Rowe Big Talk Show on LiSTNR, including her two ex-husbands, her approach to ageing and her disastrous MasterChef audition.

Poh Ling Yeow poses wearing a blue and pink floral dress at the Harris Scarfe Spring Summer 2019 Season Launch on July 29, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Getty Images.
MasterChef star Poh has opened up in an in-depth podcast with Jess Rowe. Photo: Getty Images.

Poh's name change

Poh, 48, explained how she was given the first name 'Sharon' by her parents when she was born in Malaysia.

She went by her Western name right up until she was 24 when she discovered that it wasn't actually on her birth certificate.

At that point, her then-husband Matt Phipps suggested she return to her Chinese name, Poh as he 'felt weird' about calling her Sharon.

"I was given [Sharon] at birth but then at age 24, I found out I wasn't on my birth certificate," Poh said.

"And my husband Matt said, 'Hey, I've always felt really weird calling you Sharon. Why don't you go back to your Chinese name?'"

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A childhood portrait of Poh Ling Yeow as a three-year-old. Photo: Instagram/pohlingyeow.
Poh shared this sweet childhood snap of herself as a three-year-old. Photo: Instagram/pohlingyeow.

Poh was initially unsure as she was starting her painting career and worried that switching back to her traditional name would be seen as 'pretentious'.

Matt, a filmmaker, took the decision out of her hands when he named his prize-winning short film, Poh Ling and listed his wife — who starred in and was also the art director on the film — as 'Poh Ling' in the credits.

"After that, everyone from that industry just called me Poh, and then [Matt] said, 'Let's just do it now'. And I was like, 'Okay, let's try it' and everyone just latched on to it really easily. So that's how that happened, and then I just ditched Shazza," she laughed.

Leaving the church

Poh's first husband, Matt was also the catalyst for another big change in her life. Poh and Matt met when they were aged 24 and 27 respectively as members of the Mormon church, with Poh describing their time together as 'very formative'.

"The reason why we had such a strong friendship was because we found solace in being able to talk philosophically and discuss freely our philosophical issues with being in the church. There weren't many people around that we could do that with."

Poh credits Matt — who she was married to from 1990 to 1999 — as helping her 'break out' of the Mormon church and, later, to defy her parents' expectations and pursue a creative career.

"I credit so much of the things that I do now to him just pushing me all the time philosophically. He's got quite a bombastic personality that is also what broke us," she laughed.

"But... if he hadn't had that sort of personality, I would have just stayed in church and not wanted to upset my parents and probably just ended up doing something really sensible, like graphic design instead of visual arts."

Poh Ling Yeow and Jono Bennett arrive ahead of the 6th AACTA Awards Presented by Foxtel at The Star on December 7, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images  for AFI)
Poh and her second husband, Jono Bennett at the AACTA Awards in 2016. Photo: Getty Images.

Moving on from marriage

Reflecting on her divorce from Matt, Poh told Jess the fact that the couple did not have children together allowed the split to be 'really clean and adult'.

She also touched on how she reacted when Matt got together with Poh's best friend of 20 years, Sarah Rich, saying that it was, in a way, 'like a gift'.

"When they got together, everyone always asked, 'How do you not have an issue with that?'"she said.

"Matt and I were already in not a great spot and we didn't know how to break up so it was almost like a gift to me," she added.

Poh explained that the pair had spent the final three years of their marriage 'living like housemates' and were really only staying together due to 'obligations and family expectations'.

"If I chose to react to it in a way that was negative, I would have been lying to myself because I think in my head I had already really wanted the relationship to end, both of us did.

"I just processed it in a really sensible way. I thought I would be pretending to hang onto something that I actually didn't want."

MasterChef season one winner Julie Goodwin and runner-up Poh Ling Yeow. Photo: Channel 10.
Poh with MasterChef season one winner Julie Goodwin in 2009. Photo: Channel 10.

Split from Jono

Both Matt and Sarah, who are now married, are still a huge part of Poh's life. The trio — along with Poh's second husband — run Jamface Cafe together at the Adelaide Central Market.

Matt is also Poh's manager and they have 'tonnes of projects' on the go right now. "He's really taken my career to a really amazing level," she said.

"We talk to each other every day. It's a really very precious relationship that I have in my life."

Sadly, Poh's second marriage to Jonathan 'Jono' Bennett came to an end back in February after Poh's appearance on MasterChef: Back To Win.

The pair were together for 12 years, six years of that as husband and wife.

"Straight after MasterChef [Back To Win], I came home to that [the breakup] which was a bit tough, but again, I'm so happy for Jono," she told Jess.

"He's moved on and got a new partner and again, we have managed to preserve a really lovely friendship. I've even called him for dating advice!"

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