Cover Story: Inside Woody Milintanchinda's World In Motion
Popularly known as Woody and blessed with the sort of looks that make both men and women jealous, 43-year-old Vuthithorn Milintachinda is a powerhouse of the Thai entertainment industry and much more besides. Gregarious by nature, the event organiser, radio DJ, TV talk show host and producer says that his peripatetic upbringing helped to shape his outgoing personality and determine his path in life.
He grew up in several countries because his father was with the diplomatic corps. “I followed him around the world. It was interesting because every three or four years I would get to experience a new environment, a new culture. It encouraged me to be open to new experiences, to making new friends,” he says, though he also acknowledges that at times it could feel surreal and sudden. “At that age I would start to think I was going to be in a particular place permanently—after all, three or four years is forever to a small child—and then, wham!” he says with a snap of his fingers. “Suddenly you have a month to pack and move your life somewhere strange and new.”
Not that the periodic upheavals fazed young Woody, who was like a sponge when it came to absorbing life’s lessons. “Singapore taught me order (and Mandarin). New York imbued me with an energy I never thought I possessed. Thailand gave me serenity.” As a result, he says he feels like he belongs to many countries. “In fact, after high school in the States I didn’t want to come back but my parents wanted me to learn Thai, to learn to be Thai,” he laughs. “I had already decided that I was going to be Asia’s first big Broadway star!”
But return he did to complete his senior year at Ruamrudee International School in 1994. “I remember feeling like I didn’t fit in. It was culture shock, especially when I went to Thammasat University. I seemed very American compared to everyone else, much less reserved than my contemporaries,” Woody says, adding almost as an afterthought that he graduated with a degree in economics. “The wrong choice really. I did it because my dad suggested it and was hoping I might try for a career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs like him. But all I could think about was performing, audiences, a stage. I would audition for anything. I even applied to become a guide on a cruise ship. Anything for an audience!” he grins.
Eventually salvation came with a job as assistant to the assistant director of a television series. “I realised then that I loved being on the set. I adored everything about the entertainment business and I wanted to perform somehow.” That opportunity came with some radio DJ-ing for A-Time Media. “Because I was bilingual I would swap from Thai to English sometimes, almost without thinking, and people were shocked by it as they were not used to this. According to research at the time, I was both the most liked and disliked DJ on air, which was a bit disconcerting. But the head of the company said to me, ‘Woody, you’ve made it! Love or loathe you, everybody knows you.’”
It was on the back of this nascent celebrity fame that in 2004 Woody decided to establish his own production company, W Network, which was later rebranded as Woody World in 2009. “I was eager to get into television but in something where I had complete creative and management control. To cut a long story short we introduced the Woody Born To Talk show or Woody Kerd Ma Kui in 2008. It was an in-your-face format in which I asked guests straightforward questions.”
The bold nature of the show struck a cord with audiences and it quickly became a hit. And it wasn’t only local personalities who came to experience Woody’s idiosyncratic style of interrogation—Hollywood stars such as Hugh Jackman, Will Smith and Robert Pattinson faced him in the studio. (Down the years he has also interviewed the likes of HRH Princess Chulabhorn, HRH Princess Soamsawali, the Dalai Lama and David Beckham.)
With his star shining bright, at this point the talk show host and producer began to take stock. “When I started in showbiz it was all about fame and ratings. But I began to realise something was missing. I suppose as I got older I was mellowing—don’t we all? I questioned the formula we were using and decided to change the mood and tone of the show to make it more positive, more loving and not so hard-assed. And that’s when the ratings plummeted,” he laughs.
Disappointment aside, Woody says he was keen not to go back to being a divisive influence on any public medium. He wanted to change perceptions of himself and that began with his physical appearance. “I’d been overweight for a few years and needed to do something about it and I thought why not have some fun and set an example while I’m at it. So I called the editor of Men’s Health magazine—a friend of mine—and told him in no uncertain terms that he would be putting me on the cover in six month’s time.” And so it was. After weeks of strict dieting, gruelling exercise and pumping iron, in October of 2013 a new-look Woody made it onto the cover of the magazine.
Never one to give up, he maintained his fitness regimen and in 2015 entered the annual Mr Thailand bodybuilding competition, placing a credible 14th in the Model Physique category. “I was quite serious about it,” he says. “I realised I wouldn’t win but after all the hard physical work I was proud of the shape I was in and I placed where I placed on merit, not because of who I am.” It was also during this period that Woody entered the event organisation business with a simple pitch to his Woody World team: could they handle a large music festival? The answer was an affirmative and the result was the S2O music festival, which has since become one of Asia’s largest with editions in Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
The following couple of years proved to be bittersweet for Woody. Following a 2016 interview in which he revealed his secret marriage two years earlier to his partner of nine years, he officially came out as gay during an episode of his talk show. “I met my spouse 13 years ago at his brother’s wedding. We were married in Phuket and we made sure there were no cameras present.”
Since coming out Woody has spoken on LGBT issues at the One Young World young leaders gathering in the Hague and has used his influence to establish Live Proud, an initiative that supports and empowers young members of Thailand’s LGBT+ community. The importance of these endeavours helped to soften the blow when he decided to pull the plug on his long-running TV talk show in 2017. But he’s not done with the format yet, having recently signed a rights agreement with Warner Brothers and Ellen DeGeneres to produce a version of her talk show in Thailand. Called The Woody Show, it will be a homage to the lady herself. “Ellen inspires me,” he says. “I love the way she gives back.” He will also be busy launching his own health drink called Woody C+ Lock, produced in collaboration with the Carabao Group.
Doing his bit during the current Covid-19 crisis, the man has been using his Woody World platform to run an ad hoc online programme called Woody From Home. Through it he chats to people to find out what they’re doing, if they need any help and if there is anything he can do to help. “Moral support is so important at a time like this. It’s the least I can do. Like everyone else, I can’t wait to get back to normal living. We all want to be on the move again.”
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