The waiter serves thick, hot chocolate in a dainty cup with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Our companion, designer-turned-entrepreneur Robert Castañeda, is surprised that the beverage is no longer served in a pot. The waiter explains that his employer, TV host Willie Revillame, insists on serving it in a smaller size to make it more affordable.
“Willie is hands-on in everything,” says Castañeda.
WBR, the initials of Wilfredo Buendia Revillame, is engraved on the back-lit onyx wall of the WBR Wil Bar and Café. Revillame’s undertaking with chef Florabelle Co is at the prime spot in the atrium of the Wil Tower Mall, touted as Quezon City’s toniest address and new destination.
It will be launched Sept. 15.
At 4 p.m., Revillame arrives in his restaurant-bar from his show, “Wowowillie,” at TV5 Delta Studio. He is clad in his uniform polo shirt, cargo shorts and rubber thong sandals.
On some days, the polo is Ralph Lauren or Hugo Boss. For the interview, it’s Zara.
He jokes that his tsinelas are inexpensive, a brand called Armani. We still have to catch him in his Louis Vuitton slides.
He coaxes us to enjoy our merienda and offers us a fresh box of Patchi chocolates, from a fan from the US.
Upon seeing the photographer, Revillame orders the waiters to light the candles on the tables of his restaurant. After the snack, we ride up the scenic, steel-clad elevator to the executive office.
Revillame maintains that his mall is high-end, and he means it. He asks us to take a top shot of the atrium from the executive floor, which highlights Kenneth Cobonpue’s customized Will Chandelier. It resembles an upside-down tree with a hand-hammered steel frame and 1,000 cast acrylic butterflies wired with custom LED lighting.
“The atrium needed a lighting fixture. As most malls go, they are all usually statements of cold granite, steel and glass. I wanted to fuse technology and nature by using RGB LED lamps that change color at will,” explains Cobonpue.
“I have Yoda easy armchairs and dim-sum coffee tables designed by J. Anton Mendoza,” says Revillame.
The words WIRE International Holdings (another abbreviation of his name), Revillame’s holding company, are flashed in bold and classy letters. He explains that it’s the umbrella corporation of his businesses—Will Productions Inc.; Will Fly, a 30-seater Dornier aircraft; Will Events Place along Sgt. Esguerra Street; an upcoming hotel in Tagaytay; and Wil Tower Mall.
In all, he estimates to have a workforce of 300, including the people who take care of his yacht.
Tallest in QC
The Wil Tower Mall, a mixed-use development on Eugenio Lopez Jr. Drive, is a joint venture with former Sen. Manuel Villar’s property company, Vista Land.
“All this came from my show,” says Revillame, referring to his earnings in the halcyon days of “Wowowee” in ABS-CBN.
Designed by the international company RTKL Associates and locally built by Archaus, the mall and 42-story twin-tower condo, the tallest in Quezon City, will be completed next year.
The units range from a 25-sq m studio to a 65-sq m two-bedroom unit. The prices range from P3 million to P8 million. About 85 percent of the units in Tower One have been sold.
Revillame owns the entire fourth floor, 10 units on the 30th floor, three 700-sq m penthouses on the 40th, 41st and 42nd floors, and the helipad with viewing deck.
When Villar made a bid for the presidency in 2010, Revillame campaigned for him. “I did not ask for anything,” he says.
Wanting to put up a mall, he sought Villar’s expertise. The latter saw the opportunity to build a residential component to support the retail.
Architect Bryan Sy Tan, who did the mall’s common areas, exploited rich elements—a yellow- onyx back-lit reception table, granite flooring, travertine-clad columns, black galaxy granite accents, LED walls and intelligent lighting systems.
Revillame says the 14,000-sq m Wil Mall has 28 units of retail, mostly concept restaurants. The tenants are popular—Bench Fix Salon, Italianni’s, Fully Booked, Bench Body, Belo, Beyond the Box for Apple products, Crazy Garlic and Pho Hoa.
Draft, the English pub, will occupy a big space.
Revillame is waiting for his P2-million Walter Knoll CEO desk, conference table and executive chair, for the executive office designed by Joliza Tan. For now, he is making do with a Walter Knoll table used by Ewan McGregor in the Roman Polanski movie “Ghostwriter.”
Around the corner is a small chamber with a bed and floor-length mirrors.
Displayed prominently on his Italian wall system are silver-frame photographs showing Revillame with his former bosses, ABS-CBN Corp. president Rosario “Charo” Santos-Concio and chair Eugenio Lopez III, with TV5 chair Manuel Pangilinan. There’s also a photograph of the contract signing between him and Villar.
The TV host then points to the covered Louis Vuitton boxes and trunks. When he spotted them in Singapore, they were not on display. Revillame pleaded with the store manager, who then made a call to the Paris office.
The trunks will be put on display at the mall opening.
They will share luxury space with the Rolls Royce he has just bought, the first purchase in the Philippines when the store opened here two months ago.
Instead of show biz or glossy magazines, books on Bencab, Cesar Legaspi and Fernando Zobel are laid on the table. On the walls are abstractions by Zobel, Joya, Lito Carating and Ang Kiukok.
The designer furniture from Furnitalia, Living Innovations and B&B Italia, the paintings by Filipino masters, and the luxury possessions were rewards for his efforts.
“Success comes from hard work, sincerity, professionalism and being God-fearing,” Revillame says.
Asked how much he invested in Wil Tower Mall, Revillame keeps mum and says he could be misconstrued as cocky. “What is important is that my life is simple but comfortable.”
Revillame admits he loves sports cars, but his collection, which includes a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, are just parked in his house.
“They’re my inspiration. When I see them, I could say I worked hard for them.”
In previous interviews, Revillame has recalled his unstable childhood: “I was an illegitimate child.”
His late father was a 34-year-old engineer when he met his mother, a 15-year-old waitress.
He never felt maternal love, as he grew up in many households. He witnessed his mother fighting with her husband and having other relationships thereafter.
His father had four wives. Sometimes he would be sent to his father’s driver, a grandmother or an aunt.
He had his elementary education in Cabanatuan City, then at Cecilio Apostol School in Caloocan.
His father sent him to Philippine Christian University High School and later to Centro Escolar University.
Revillame tried out pre-medicine school but shifted to music until he finally dropped out.
He dated actress Maricel Soriano’s sister, Vicky, and got her pregnant. Their daughter Meryll, 30, is now an actress.
He has three other children with different mothers: Louise Ann, Marimonte and his only son with ex-wife Liz Almoro, Juamee.
Instead of going back to school, Revillame learned to play the drums with Jun Regalado and Efren Vitan. He was rejected in band auditions for lack of skill.
To improve his skills, he would open the doors of Vitan’s studio and practice until his fingers were calloused.
“People think I’m mayabang. They don’t know what I went through. Matapang lang ako sa buhay,” he says.
He got his break when he became the first drummer for Gary Valenciano.
In 1982, he met Randy Santiago, who hired him for the Cicada band in a Singapore gig. Upon their return, Santiago tapped Revillame to be his comedy sidekick in the noontime show, “Lunch Date.”
He teamed up with Santiago and John Estrada in the noontime show “Magandang Tanghali Bayan (MTB).” However, their raunchiness got them in trouble with the censors.
The trio was suspended thrice, and he was terminated twice.
One day, Concio asked him how he saw his future to be. Revillame said he wanted to do noontime shows.
In 2005, the launch of “Wowowee,” a noontime variety game show on ABS-CBN, became his turning point. The high ratings, the advertisements and Revillame’s endorsements enabled him to acquire properties, such as the one in front of ABS-CBN.
Rise and fall
Revillame has a metaphor for his career path—like a thread passing through the fine eye of a needle. It was riddled with controversies known only too well now to the public—from the Ultra stampede during his show in 2006 where 74 people were killed and for which he and ABS-CBN top executives faced criminal charges, to his messy departure from ABS-CBN in 2010.
He soon joined TV5.
In 2010, his TV5 game show “Willing Willie” was suspended after advertisers withdrew from the program. Revillame was accused of humiliating and taking advantage of a 6-year-old boy, Janjan, who performed a lewd dance number. He was charged with violating the anti-child abuse law.
About talk that he mistreated his ex-wives, Revillame says, “Only God knows. I would not be successful if I were evil. I don’t think God would give me so many blessings if I did something bad to others.’
Asked how much he earns today, he jests that the Bureau of Internal Revenue could be snooping. Then he pulls out the Inquirer’s Entertainment section (April 20, 2013), which cited him as one of the top taxpaying celebrities. From 2009 to 2011, Revillame paid P89 million, placing him second to Kris Aquino.
Revillame reveals that the ratings of his show “Wowowillie” fell below expectation. He is up against “Showtime” and the 34-year-old “Eat Bulaga.” “No one can beat the rapport of Tito, Vic and Joey,” he says.
The TV host adds that the station’s broadcasting signal is vital to a program’s success. “No matter how good your show is, if the signal is not strong, people won’t watch you.”
As his contract with TV5 ends on October 15, he announced that his last show would be on Oct 12.
Revillame is looking forward to taking a long rest. He hopes to spend more time with his son, Juamee, whom he rarely sees. He will also focus on his new businesses.
“My life was about TV hosting and entertainment. When I talked to Sen. Villar, my perspective changed. You have to be stable,” he says.
“I thought of the future—not just for my family. I want to share my success with the less fortunate. All these,” he slaps the table, “will turn to dust. As long as I live, I want to do something that will make people happy. Life is about giving and forgiving. The world doesn’t have to see.”
He says that he has been sending Janjan to school. There are plans to do values-based projects with humanitarian Gina Lopez in remote provinces.
Revillame admits he has a soft spot for helping the needy. He looks up to the late Fernando Poe Jr. and Dolphy, who always extended their generosity.
Through life’s ups and downs, he cites that the only thing constant is his devotion to God.