Presenter Patrick Dunn’s easy-going approach to a fruitful life
by Vivian Lai
For many years, he was best known to TV audiences as an affable host of variety shows and occasional actor. But in recent years, Patrick Dunn has won fame and cult status among the younger generation due to an uncanny resemblance to the Buzz Lightyear character in Disney’s Toy Story. The 54-year-old Dunn treats this quirky development much in the same way he has responded to most things in life — with good humour, and not too seriously.
In person, Dunn is as cordial as his screen persona. Sporting an army overcoat, tartan trousers and a sweater bearing the insignia of the Royal Hong Kong Regiment, he says he does not think he really looks like Buzz Lightyear. But there are similarities; Buzz is an intergalactic space ranger and Dunn was once a real soldier in the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers), who patrolled the Hong Kong borders to apprehend illegal immigrants.
Military life may seem at odds with Dunn’s easy-going, laid-back personality but he is clearly passionate about it, eagerly showing off the photos and medals depicting his service in the regiment. As he looks over pictures of his younger self in camouflage fatigues and carrying more than 36 kg of military equipment, he cannot hide a smile at the memories of the harsh, but rewarding, military life.
Dunn joined the regiment in 1989 and served until it was disbanded in 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to China. He recalls that in the physically demanding annual combat tests — which simulated real battle conditions — he and his teammates had to run 5 km on the ground and then up hill in full gear. “Some exercises were so exhausting that, at one point, I thought of quitting. But once you’ve finished it, you forget the tiredness and look forward to the next training,” he says.
Military training encourages discipline and the mindset of operating as a cohesive unit through physical training. The tough drills forced Dunn to make personal breakthroughs and perform seemingly impossible tasks. Gradually, he developed a sense of self-confidence. “When you can accomplish the high demands of the regiment, everything seems to be easier. It is like constantly challenging yourself,” he laughs.
The conditions of military training were certainly at odds with Dunn’s comfortable upbringing in a wealthy Hong Kong family but it was the realisation of a boyhood dream. Living in Kowloon Tong when he was young, Dunn always saw soldiers and army trucks stationed at the campground next to his house.
As the youngest of three brothers, Dunn was granted a lot of freedom growing up. The family owns two logistics companies in Hong Kong with six branches in the United States and three in Canada. But he did not face much pressure in terms of career expectations, and his parents never stopped him from idolizing soldiers or developing his own interests.
Dunn spent most of his secondary school days hanging out with friends and going to parties. In the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, he failed four subjects out of nine. This prompted his brother to send young Patrick to further his education in the U.S. where he would have fewer distractions.
As the only Chinese student in his school, Dunn had few playmates and therefore focused more on academic work. He also found the teaching methods in the U.S. suited him more, giving him more motivation to study. “Teachers in Hong Kong usually aim to find students’ mistakes. Yet, in the U.S., they tend to tell you what you did correct and this is more encouraging,” says Dunn.
After a year of hard work, Dunn entered Boston University and later completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He then worked as an accountant in his father’s company in Canada after graduation. But he failed to find the same pleasure and interest in accounting that he had at university.
So, he decided to come back to Hong Kong and try something new – broadcasting and entertainment. Dunn never set out to be a TV presenter. His first wish was to be a singer because he had long been passionate about band music. However, after one casting experience, he changed his mind. “Being a professional singer in Hong Kong is no fun. It is too commercial and the genre may not suit you,” he sighs. “And then there is a group of assistants following you around… Is that what I really want?”
Instead, Dunn became a disc jockey at Commercial Radio Hong Kong in 1988, and later a contracted artist at Television Broadcast Limited (TVB) in 1991. He says that when he joined TVB, the competition among artists was not so intense. He was blessed with good timing as not long after he arrived, a few senior TV presenters retired. A year later, he was already the host of big live fundraising shows such as Tung Wah Charity Show and variety shows like Enjoy Yourself Tonight.
The biggest reward of being a TV host is that Dunn gets to meet lots of people and establish a broad network of contacts. He has met many prominent people in his job. For instance, he once shook hands with the then Premier of the People’s Republic of China at the anniversary celebration of the handover, and interviewed a prince from Denmark.
Looking at Dunn’s achievements and experiences on paper, you might get the impression he is extremely ambitious and driven. Yet, he says he never set out to do anything as a means to prepare himself for other opportunities ahead. He jokes that he is a man without any targets. “When you have a target and do things deliberately, sometimes you may not get what you want,” he laughs. “Haste makes waste. Focus on what you need to do now and your opportunity will come. This is my motto as an artist. Maybe this is the reason why people called me ‘Easy Relaxing Patrick’ (輕輕鬆鬆鄧梓峰)!”
The moniker was part of an internet joke where celebrities’ names were used to make up rhyming slang, and it seems apt in describing Dunn. Although Dunn insists he has always learnt new skills out of interest and without career considerations, these “coincidental” skills have brought him further opportunities.
Dunn learnt German because of his fascination with World War II movies and this in turn led to him being hired to host events organised by German companies like BMW and Siemens. His love of aviation pushed him to learn to fly and he ended up playing a pilot in the hit TV show Triumph in the Skies. The drama series about the lives of airline staff was one of the few TV dramas that Dunn was willing to commit to making as he is usually reluctant to sacrifice his leisure time to being stuck on set for weeks and even months at a time.
Dunn places a higher priority on his interests than his career, but even in pursuing his interests, he sees no need to rush. Although he has always wanted to fly, he only got his pilot’s license at the age of 40. He says people often do not have the resources and perseverance needed to achieve their goals when they are young, so there is no need to hurry.
“If you would like to accomplish many goals in your 20s, I think this is wishful thinking rather than really having dreams or ideals,” he says. “So don’t rush! Take it step by step, and you can have more fun!” Following this principle, Dunn became a qualified diver six years ago, adding another feather to his cap.
Throughout the interview, Dunn often says events in his life “just happened”. He is very grateful that he has not forced himself to achieve a lot. He just follows his heart and sees where life takes him.
Dunn is also thankful for the permissive parenting style of his family. His parents gave him lots of freedom and never arranged a tight schedule of extra-curricular activities for him. Neither did they force him to work for the family business. Dunn is the person he is today because he could determine his own path.
As a father of four, Dunn raises his children according to the same principles. He says his parenting style is quite relaxed. He would not force his kids to acquire skills against their will. “You are on your own when exploring interest. There is no need to push and it is not worth it. Give time for them to rest and think. I believe that personal space is crucial for self-reflection,” he says. For instance, Dunn says he would not interrupt his kids when they are using social media because he does not want them to feel they are under surveillance.
Parenting has also motivated Dunn to acquire one more skill. To know more about his children’s personalities, he has taken up graphoanalysis or handwriting analysis. He is very pleased that his kids are mature and hopes they can pursue what they really like when they grow up.
Having entered his 50s, Dunn can say that life has dealt him a good hand. So far, he has managed to achieve success pretty much on his own terms. He puts it down to following his heart rather than any master plan.
He sums up his philosophy of life by comparing it to a game of golf. “Just like playing golf, I can’t see how many swings I’m going to take. Instead I will concentrate on every single swing, and see the natural outcome,” says Dunn. For him, living in the moment is the only way to live.
“The memories and experiences are there when you look back. That is enough for me,” says Dunn with a satisfied smile.
Edited by James Fung