Gigi Chao: 'My father wants me to live in the closet and marry a man'

Tycoon's £40m offer to any male suitor who can 'turn his daughter straight' has made her a reluctant icon for lesbians

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Gigi Chao is in the awkward position of being the most famous lesbian in Asia, if not the world, now that her billionaire father has offered a bounty of £40m to the man who persuades her to marry him.

It was an undeniably eye-catching response on the part of Mr Chao to the news that back in April, Ms Chao, 33, and her female partner, Sean Eav, 45, had received a church blessing on their relationship. Offers of marriage from would-be suitors have flooded in.

Ms Chao admits to being taken aback by the sheer volume of responses. "Both Sean and I have been so surprised at the speed it became a viral phenomenon," she says. "Basically, my father has been a staple in Hong Kong newspapers for a long time, so the press took his comments at first as something light-hearted, but then it went round the world."

Mr Chao, a 76-year-old playboy property developer, told The South China Morning Post that he was being flooded with replies from hopeful men, half of them from overseas.

Ms Chao, the eldest of three children, seems relaxed about her father's record with women. "We laugh about it," she says. "He's really happy that he's slept with 10,000 women. I mean, he definitely sees it as a good thing."

She has also described her father's bid to find her a husband as "sweet", but is also down to earth about his motives. "My father … wants me to live in the closet and marry a man to promote my social status, and he thinks marriage is a prestigious thing," she said. "Hong Kong is a long way from even talking about legalising gay marriage but we need to change first social perceptions so the word 'gay' doesn't immediately cause blushing and embarrassment."

The immediate effect of Mr Chao's announcement was to bring his daughter's lesbianism to global attention, though she has been discreet about it herself. It came as a surprise in Hong Kong society when she let it be known last week about the church ceremony in France – the announcement that precipitated her father's dramatic offer. "Due to my parent's high public profile, I don't flaunt [my sexuality]", she says. "And that's a very Chinese cultural way of life. We accept people in the closet. In Europe, one could say to be gay is cool, but in Asia we're far from that."

Ms Chao has been a staple of Hong Kong magazines, though not as a lesbian. "I had boyfriends in the past," she says, "but never labelled myself as gay or straight or whatever. I'm true to my heart as to what I found attractive. At the moment I'm quite sure I'm gay but it's a very personal experience."

Ms Chao, the eldest of Mr Chao's three children, also says she has never felt the need to be a gay icon. "I believe gay pride should stem from a proliferation of successful members of the community. I hadn't … envisaged us becoming the face of gay Hong Kong but to change public perception one has to be honest and live with integrity."