Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pampering Tiara
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Pampering Tiara

Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina Eu Abdullah has a new role, one she is looking forward to with relish.

IT'S a role she's been dying to play. As ambassador of Pamper Zone at the posh Starhill Gallery, it’s her job to go for facials, body scrubs, pedicures and any other treatment she wants.

You’d think that such luxuries are routine in the life of Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina Eu Abdullah. But as glamorous a figure as she is, she ain’t no tai-tai.

As a working mother with a Cabinet Minister for a husband, she hardly has time for herself. Even Puteri Gunung Ledang has to wash her own hair when she can’t make it to the hairdresser.

“I can finally give myself the pampering I feel I deserve,” she says with a laugh. “No. Honestly, it’s a great honour to be considered worthy of being the face of this prestigious floor.”

It’s more than just prestigious, it’s the first centre of wellness and beauty of its kind in the country. Twice the size of Harrod’s Urban Spa Retreat, there is a wealth of services to spoil you from head to toe.

She has no idea why she was chosen but she says a lot of things have fallen into place for her after the success of Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical, which she produced and starred in. It is the first local film turned hit musical done in the grandiose style of West End and Broadway productions.

Before her appointment as ambassador in May, she had not had a facial in over a year.

“It’s just one of those things that I totally forget because work is always a priority,” she says with another laugh.

Her infectious laughter is the first thing that strikes you about her. Tiara laughs a lot. And you got to love her charming candour.

Age? Aiya, no need to mention. Height? She likes to think she’s 167cm; her biodata reads 162cm but she’s actually 160cm. The latest on the second run of PGL:TM? It’s official. It’s on for sure.

“Ladies will be happy to know that Stephen Rahman-Hughes (who plays Hang Tuah) is definitely on,” she says. “We’re recasting one character for sure. By the way, did you catch it?”

“No, I couldn’t get tickets,” I reply.

“OK. The interview is now over,” she says, slowly turning away from me. Then she stops and turns back to face me. “Just kidding!” she says with laugh.

Clearly, she’s in a relaxed mood. With sparkling eyes and hair that falls way below her shoulders in cascading curls, she’s a picture of loveliness. Seated at the VIP room in Signature Snips Salon, her entourage waits patiently outside while she gets ready for a photo shoot.

“The feedback on the announcement of the re-run is very positive. At first, we had doubts whether we could re-stage so soon,” she says. “But if things fall into your lap, I’m the sort who will go for it.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she and her team promise an even better run this time. From backdrops to lines in the script, everything that needs to be strengthened has been improved on.

On the show touring Japan and Singapore, she says: “We are finalising talks with Singapore. We haven’t discussed any details with Japan. But yes, if we’re going to tour beyond Malaysia and Singapore, we’d love to bring the show to Japan as part of an international tour.”

How much revenue did the entire PGL project generate? “From ticket sales, not much,” she says. “It’s mainly because a lot of people expected free tickets.”

It’s something she feels so strongly about that this time around, the ticketing office at Istana Budaya is going to be more firm about issuing free tickets.

“It’s not fair,” she says. “We lose out, you know. And the people who ask for free tickets are the ones who can afford to pay.”

What’s worse, some freeloaders asked for up to 20 tickets and then turned up with only six people.

On which she is better at, acting or producing, she says she can’t judge her own acting but knows as a producer, she can make things happen that others probably can’t.

Her biggest challenge as a producer is putting together a dream team that no one else would have thought of. Her strength is in spotting people with different talents and then combining them with spectacular results. To go beyond the expectations of the audience is something she always strives to do.

At St Mary’s Secondary Girls’ School in KL, she says, she would be the first in class to volunteer for a play or debate. “I started out performing in school concerts but eventually ended up organising them. I was also the head cheerleader.”

Smiling, she reflects that she uses the same combination of skills in her role as producer. “As the cheer captain, you say: ‘Come on guys, we can win!’ As a producer, you say: ‘Come on guys, we can do it! As good as the Phantom of the Opera!’”

Tiara and her husband, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Effendi Norwawi, have a six-year-old son. She has a daughter, nine-year-old Mila, from her previous marriage to Hani Mohsin, actor-turned-TV host. Her husband also has children from a previous marriage.

Having a blended family isn’t a problem as long as members themselves don’t feel blended. She describes the situation as relaxed and talks about the surprise birthday celebration she and her family recently held for her former husband.

“My daughter’s so sweet,” she says. “She ordered a plain white cake and decorated it herself. She talked everyone, including my husband, into turning up.”

Her little son who doesn’t know any better, calls Mila’s dad “ayah” because that’s what his sister calls him. He calls his own father Daddy. So, at the top of his voice, he happily sang: “Happy birthday to Ayah!” recalls Tiara with a laugh. “My husband just smiled. As long as you bring them up not to be prejudiced, the children have no problems.”

She has come a long way. She’s now one of the most high-profiled women in the country and a new force in the local entertainment industry. And as a Cabinet Minister’s wife, she’s part of the engine that runs the country. Does she feel she belongs?

“Well, this is how I see it. My husband is part of the Government that sees to the well-being of the country. My contribution is in a different context. Someday, I would like to see myself contributing towards the betterment and flourishing of the arts and entertainment industry.”

That’s the kind of impact she wants to make. In her own right, as her own person. As just Tiara, without the title or political attachments.

She juggles her roles as a minister’s wife and showbiz personality by being two separate people. “When it’s him in the limelight, I act as the support system. But when I’m the star, he does the same for me. As first he got annoyed when people came up to us to get a picture taken with me. But now, he even offers to be the photographer!”

What do your enemies say about you? After a long pause, she bursts into laughter.

“I don’t know actually,” she says, still laughing. “Sceptics said it wasn’t possible to turn a film into a musical. They also said things like ‘go on then, show us your Hang Tuah from the West End’. But I like to prove people wrong. I like to prove myself wrong too because at times I’m skeptical of my own abilities. That’s why I push myself to put in that extra effort.”

Take two, just as good

WHAT wasn’t new about this just-concluded second run of Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musical was its box office success, which was just as emphatic as the first season’s (early this year, also at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur).

What was new? Minor changes to the set enhanced the atmosphere. For instance, a sail appeared on stage to depict the Javanese princess, Gusti Puteri Raden Ajeng Retno Damilah, fleeing to Gunung Ledang in Johor after learning that she had been betrothed against her will to Malacca’s Sultan Mahmud Shah.

The scene in which Hang Tuah and his fellow warriors are captured by the creatures that protect Gunung Ledang was also strengthened with some pretty deft silat moves.

The chemistry between the two leads, Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina and Stephen Rahman-Hughes, was better this time around.
A sail was added on stage in the second run of Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musicaland beautifully evoked the princess’s flight away from Sultan Mahmud. – Photos by LOW BOON TAT
The actors, obviously, were more comfortable in their roles. Stephen Rahman Hughes was certainly more at ease as Hang Tuah. He appeared more boyish and playful this time around. His silat moves had also improved, obviously benefiting from lots of practice.

The chemistry between him and Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina’s Gusti Puteri appeared greater (there was quite a bit of girlish giggling and coyness) as did the disdain between her and the arrogant and somewhat smarmy sultan, played to perfection by co-director (with Zahim Albakri) Adlin Aman Ramlie.

Taking over from Sukania Venugopal as the Bayan was Ida Mariana who appeared to be overshadowed by her predecessor. Or perhaps Ida simply looked too young to be somebody’s nanny – Sukania had a maternal quality that came across clearly.

But one can get too settled into a role. There were times the actors seemed a little too comfortable, to the point that some scenes lacked intensity. For instance, the energy in the scene in which the princess makes her demands didn’t match the scale of what she was asking for.

But, all in all, Tiara and gang should be very proud of themselves for silencing so emphatically all the naysayers. I mean, 30,000 tickets sold the first time around, 26,000 the second? That’s success however you look at it.

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