Category: Entertainment

Sarah Lian

Sarah Lian Prestige Malaysia

If there’s one great thing to be said about recent times is that many have awakened to recognise how mental health and self-love is just as essential as eating well and exercising. Thankfully in Malaysia, the public is finally opening up on programmes focusing on their personal wellbeing, and some recognition for this should be attributed to model, actress and host, Sarah Lian, the founder of Supparetreat, a women-only wellness retreat that has been thriving over the years. 

The Taiping-born, Vancouver-raised Malaysian shares that the idea behind Supparetreat stemmed from a successful workshop she first held with the women of her Suppagood Talent and PR agencies. 

“It was an eye-opener. With the great feedback from my team, we just wanted to take more women on a journey of self-discovery,” says Sarah. 

She then hosted a second by-invitation-only retreat with women from various industries, and it was this gathering that finally affirmed her vision that Supparetreat could grow into something colossal towards empowering the women community in Malaysia. 

Our focus is empowering the individual woman first. We are building a community to help women succeed in life, but it always starts with yourself. Once you are able to fill that cup, only then you can be important to others.

Sarah Lian

Then in 2018, Supparetreat officially held its first three-day open-to-the-public retreat at the Tanjong Jara Resort as a safe space for women to find inspiration, motivation and especially empowerment. 

Hosted by local coaches Hannah Lo, Racheal Kwacz and Sarah herself, the programme encompassed a multitude of self-empowering themes via its workshops, talks, coaching, sharing circles and more. 

“Indeed it was a very fulfilling experience. With Supparetreat we have specific pillars that we focus on,” shares Sarah. “There is Inner Empowerment, which focuses on areas like breath work and journaling; Life Design, which touches on the aspects of our mindset, goals, financial planning; and our last pillar is Intimacy and Relationships, which explores the subject of our ego, marriage, motherhood and other aspects along those lines.” 

Gaining momentum through word of mouth from participants, soon even more women wanted in, so more events were planned and it was time to expand its reach abroad. 

Supparetreat’s first overseas retreat, Ignite, was held in Canggu, Bali last year, right before the pandemic hit. Then it was time to rethink the concept for it to be virtually accessible, at least for the time being. 

“What was great about having the Supparetreat workshops online is that we managed to get so many different types of women who have been looking at what we’re doing and had always wanted to join. But because they live in places like Australia and Singapore, now they finally get a chance to be a part of this community,” says Sarah. “It’s so beautiful to watch it grow and watch them discover themselves”. 

From one to 75 online programmes later, Sarah realised that they have fruitfully tapped into a market that was underserved. So as an area of focus this year, Sarah wants to bring back Supparetreat’s well-received eight-week Remember Her programme, but catered for the virtual space spanning three to four weeks. 

“We had 12 women who signed up last year, and the coaches and participants thought it was amazing. So we’d love to do it again this year and make it more interactive and beautiful via Zoom,” says Sarah. 

That’s not all, once the lockdown eases up, Supparetreat is also looking at hosting retreats in hotels that are more inclusive to both men and women. “It will be a way more fluid programme where participants can bring their children, husbands or their group of girlfriends,” says Sarah. 

With mindfulness and self-love finally getting the attention it deserves, Sarah is fairly positive that the world is on a wave of awakening. “It can be difficult being a woman sometimes, but things are headed forward,” she says. 

“As long as we are in the position to learn, I have an optimistic view on how we’re looking at things. It’s so great to be a woman right now.” 

Ili Sulaiman

Ili Sulaiman

“Cookie?” Ili Sulaiman graciously offers me a selection of delicious golden brown cookies with a delectable strawberry jam filling she had baked the night before. “It’s gluten-free,” she prompts me further as I find myself reaching for seconds. 

The humble home-cook-turned-celebrity-chef shows up on Valentine’s Day to our cover shoot, radiating with positive energy that’s infectious and never without a smile on her face. As an ambassador for Asian Food Channel and Food Network, Ili has plenty to juggle on her plate. Between creating content, on-ground engagement with the public and attending food festivals, she’s well on the right path to reach her goal – placing Malaysian food on the map. Ili uses adjectives such as intense, passionate, fresh, learning, evolving and constant when it comes to describing her long- standing relationship with food. “My love for food is constant as long as I have that innate need to cook for myself or my family,” she says. 

As a public figure, Ili has been forthcoming about her struggle with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). “I was recently diagnosed with PCOS so my theme this year is to empower women by leading honest conversations revolving around women’s health and issues that are taboo,” shares Ili who recently made the switch to gluten-free, pointing out that it is completely manageable if you look after your diet and wellbeing. In conjunction with International Women’s Day in March 2020, she collaborated with Kind Kones, an all- natural vegan ice cream brand to bring light to women’s health and issues. 

Ili Sulaiman Prestige Malaysia
Ili wears a vest from Miu Miu, Cosmos earrings in white gold with onyx and diamonds & Carnelian Rose de Noël clip with diamonds in pink gold, white Mother-of-Pearl Rose de Noel clip with diamonds in yellow gold and Cosmos pendant with diamonds in white gold from Van Cleef & Arpels.

I saw how the power of food can change people. It was initially difficult for everyone to be on the same page but around food, our barriers were lifted and we got to know everyone better.

Ili Sulaiman

It’s been seven years since she made the leap into going professional in culinary. What started as a passion has grown into a full- fledged career for the business graduate who revelled in hosting dinner parties for friends in her small London flat when she was living abroad. “I was just talking about this with my manager and we were reflecting on how I started. I really have no idea how I got here. If you had told me that I would be on the cover of Prestige, signed on with Discovery Channel, get married, being this happy and content while having an amazing team I would have said ‘nah.’” Ili remarks candidly while recalling how a short stint for a non- profit organisation which brought her to travel around Malaysia affirmed her decision to venture into the culinary business. 

“I was working with the ministry of education and the schools and that was when I was introduced to the different cuisines offered by the different states. I saw how the power of food can change people. It was initially difficult for everyone to be on the same page but around food, our barriers were lifted and we got to know everyone better,” she shares. “People think I’m just a chef but I feel I do a lot more. Food really does nourish the body, it changes people’s demeanour or even the way they feel. That’s when I realised I have to focus on my passion,” says Ili who kick-started her culinary career by launching Dish by Ili, a catering business that offered delicious home- cooked meals served in tiffin carriers. In 2015, she clinched the title of Food Asia Hero and went on to host numerous television shows with Asian Food Channel. 

Ili Sulaiman
Ili in a hoodie from Versace; Cosmos earrings in white gold with onyx and diamonds & Carnelian Rose de Noël clip with diamonds in pink gold, white Mother- of-Pearl Rose de Noel clip with diamonds in yellow gold and Cosmos pendant with diamonds in white gold from Van Cleef & Arpels.

While it’s been a whirlwind journey filled with ups and downs, she says, “This process with food is never-ending. I’m constantly learning.” Whether it’s new tips and tricks, recipes, stories and legacies of people’s families and how they eat and consume food, Ili has come to accept that she will forever be a student to the culinary industry. 

As a businesswoman, she has come to learn the hard way that partnerships are not meant for her. “I don’t think partnerships are for me and that’s just a preference. Because I’ve had failed partnerships in the past, I have to take ownership and lead my own projects. That does not necessarily go well hand-in-hand with a partnership. It was a hard and very expensive learning curve, but it’s a learning curve I truly appreciate now,” she opens up. 

In 2016, Ili had teamed up with two partners Basira Yeusuff and Nizam Rosli to launch Agak Agak Initiative, a social-enterprise-driven restaurant that serves to empower underprivileged youth through talent development, training courses and job matching. “When a partnership is not strong enough, it does affect the way a business is successful or not,” Ili addresses the now defunct social enterprise. She notes how sometimes a business or opportunity is also short-lived because of luck. Agak Agak was given two years to kick off, but six months before their tenancy agreement expired, it all went downhill. They suddenly found themselves scrambling to make ends meet and tensions arose due to dwindling customers. “It was a stressful time for us,” she opens up about the turbulent times Agak Agak went through. “When we didn’t have the restaurant anymore, Basira’s role became redundant because she was head of operations. I was in charge of training then and I still had the apprentices but once they graduated, we did not have money to employ more apprentices. We then had to have an honest conversation between ourselves. We really did give it our all but we had to be realistic about our financial situation and question if our goals were still aligned. At that point, we realised we had to say goodbye to the initiative.” 

On the personal front, Ili has also learned that balance is key. “In the beginning, I was very ambitious to do everything on my own. I’m a chef, I create recipes, I’m a television host and employer. Playing those roles took the best out of me and I stopped focusing on the things that make me happy like my family, friends and my health. I’ve learned to say no and be more selective on the kind of projects I do, really taking into consideration the longevity of the project. That’s the reason why I was able to get married last year. I realised I wasn’t investing in myself.” 

As a young girl who grew up around food, Ili’s childhood memories often revolved around cooking in the kitchen with her grandmother who shared fascinating tales about the family’s history. “The process of making food is equally as important as the recipes as it is when the stories of our history come alive as well. I discovered how my grandfather was in the army and his father was in prison through my grandmother’s stories in the kitchen.” She also recalls how her youthful cheeky self often landed in trouble for stealing her neighbour’s long beans, mangos and rambutans while walking home from school. “My mum had to apologise,” she chuckles. 

With no formal culinary training except for a stint at London’s revered Mosimann’s, Ili’s approach to cooking is very much informed by her diverse Malaysian heritage. Describing her approach as soul food, she says, “It’s very real and not pretentious. I’m not a trained chef so how I cook at home is very similar to how people cook at home.” While she acknowledges that she finds comfort in her followers especially the older generation who approach her in public upon recognising her face on television, the term celebrity chef is a title she has embraced and learned to take ownership of.

Chef is probably a word I’m not comfortable with as I would say I’m more of a cook. Anyone now can be famous and accessible because of social media.

Ili Sulaiman

In a digital age where celebrities and public figures curate their content right down to their personal lives, Ili treads on the other side of the spectrum, refreshingly candid about what she shares with her followers. How much of it is authentic though? “I try not to fit into the mould but I have to be because of what the industry requires. However, I try to keep it real when I have control of the content; then I’m as real as I can be. A lot of people appreciate that and if people come up to me to say hi, I’ll say what’s up!” 

She currently manages an all-female team who are equally as capable and qualified, harbouring dreams to be the biggest Malaysian export. At what capacity? “I don’t know yet but I think I’m on the right path. It takes multiple projects and partnerships for me to reach that goal. I want to play a small part in putting Malaysia on the map.” 

This article first appeared on Prestige Malaysia March 2020 issue

Tiara Jacquelina

tiara jacquelina

The word “legend” may be thrown around easily these days, but there’s no doubt that Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina is a true performing arts legend. “You have to be visionary, regardless of what you’re doing, otherwise you wouldn’t stand out. If you’re just doing something that a predecessor has done before, it’d be nothing of substance.” It is precisely this ideology that has led the renowned thespian slash producer to rise above traditions. 

Tiara was always interested in the arts. To her recollection, it was something that was innate within her. “I think I’ve always been like that. Whether it’s a play for school, a performance during Teacher’s Day, I’d always push my classmates to do something that has never been done better. It’s always been a part of me.” 

The famed legend began her career as an actress in 1988. In 1995, Tiara starred with Academy Award winner, Frances McDormand, who played the lead role in the movie, Beyond Rangoon. In the 12th Malaysia Film Festival later that year, she won the Best Actress Award for her role in the film Ringgit Kasorrga. However, despite finding success as an actress, Tiara wasn’t entirely happy with her predicament at the time. “I’ve been acting for the longest time, and I wasn’t quite happy with how things were.”  

Tiara explained it was the less than ideal state of the entertainment industry at the time that prompted her to make the leap to be a producer. “I get really annoyed when people are ‘cincai’ about their work. As an actress, you’re the most helpless person in the entire chain.” Determined to make a change, Tiara felt that there were limitations in what she can do as an actress.

If the producer or the director doesn’t care for the craft, you end up becoming the only person who tries to do the best you can in a system that doesn’t appreciate your effort.

Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina

In 2004, she made her debut as a producer in Puteri Gunung Ledang, in which she also starred as the lead actress. Released to immense critical and commercial success, the film’s incredible success gained Tiara soaring recognition due to her stellar performance as Gusti Putri. “I felt that that story had the potential to be something really special.” said Tiara when she was asked about what prompted her to pursue the project as a producer. 

In addition to being a multi award- winning actress, film producer, musical producer, Tiara is also the founder of Enfiniti (M). Since its inception, Enfiniti has made a name for itself by housing some of the most critically acclaimed projects in Malaysia history, including Ola Bola The Musical and Mud The Musical. 

“With Ola Bola The Musical, I told my team that we are all ambassadors of unity in Malaysia. The big picture is that we are advocating unity to millions of Malaysians.” Regarding Ola Bola The Musical, Tiara believes that it is extremely crucial that the team understands that the project is beyond dancing footballers, but something more. “If any of you don’t believe that we are telling a story that inspires unity, then you shouldn’t be on the team.You have to be visionary, regardless of what you’re doing, otherwise you wouldn’t stand out.

Today, Tiara continues her role is the “chief dream maker” of performing arts company Enfiniti and the founder of Tiarasa, a luxury glamping resort in Janda Baik. Tiara is also the recipient of Prestige achievement award in 2015. 

Fatimah Abu Bakar

Fatimah Abu Bakar

Fatimah Abu Bakar grew up having no notions about gender. The idea that women couldn’t do certain things never occurred to her. 

“I never had that feeling,” she states. “Maybe it was the way I was brought up. Although my father was very religious, he would never discourage me. It was only when I entered ITM, I started to question myself. I became more aware that girls were not supposed to do certain things but they were never there when I was growing up.” 

Nonetheless it was also when she moved to Shah Alam that Fatimah could immerse herself in culture. Her evenings were spent dancing and acting at Panggung Drama. It was also at that time that she met Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba and the late Mustaffa Noor. 

As an actress and more so, as a journalist at New Straits Times, Fatimah was always conscious about the need to portray women in a positive light.

I would not choose any role that were obviously derogatory to women. For example, if a woman is being hit, I would ask, why can’t she hit back?

Fatimah Abu Bakar

“I would not choose any role that were obviously derogatory to women,” she says. “For example, if a woman is being hit, I would ask, why can’t she hit back?”

At the newspaper, she also met other “like-minded” women who also worked to change stereotypes of women. 

“Malay Mail used to have a page 1 girl,” she says. “We fought the idea because it perpetuated the myth that women were merely a decoration. After a while it moved from page 1 to page to 3 to page 5 and eventually it disappeared.” 

This spirit has been passed on to her four daughters, who she says are all very vocal. She jokes that her eldest, Sharifah Aleya often refers to herself as Fatimah’s “eldest son.” Her other children are Sharifah Amani, Sharifah Aleysha and Sharifah Aryana, all actresses. 

At the New Straits Times, Fatimah wrote a column, I Am Woman. The idea behind it stemmed for the fact that a woman carries many roles – mother, daughter, friend, wife. Helen Reddy’s “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore,” also played a part in the title. 

The Women’s section also pushed the agenda of women’s rights. She recalls the case of a high-profile divorce where the woman decided to defend herself, after finding the lawyer’s costs too high. 

“We dedicated a journalist to just follow her case. We followed it until the day she won the case. We put it on the front page, to show that although it was very hard, very tough, if you are really very determined, with the right support, you can help create your own destiny.” 

The objective of the column was to highlight intelligent, creative and brave women. “We felt that this was not reflected in the main newspaper. Every time a woman is featured in the main newspaper pages was when she was robbed, raped or whatever.” From an early age, Fatimah always wanted to be a journalist. It didn’t seem an odd choice for a woman.

I didn’t really know what it was about but in my mind, I thought it would enable me to go places and meet people.

Fatimah Abu Bakar

The much adored thespian, writer and acting coach continues to coach clients in communications and media relations. 

Datuk Dr. Faridah Merican

Faridah Merican

Often regarded as the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre, Datuk Faridah Merican has dedicated her life to cultivating Malaysian theatre in the hopes of showcasing local talents to the world. She co-founded both KLPAC and Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PenangPAC) alongside artistic director and husband, Joe Hasham in 2003 and 2011 respectively. For more than five decades, Faridah is considered a pioneer of the Malaysian theatre industry. 

Her passion for theatre was instilled in her from a young age, and her influence stemmed from watching regular stagings of bangsawan and Chinese opera. Before she became Malaysian Theatre’s First Lady, Faridah was a school teacher, newsreader and radio talk show host. 

“I wanted to become a PE teacher, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t a university graduate, but I did become a primary school teacher. I’ve come to realise that primary school teachers are probably some of the most important people in the education field, because they are the people who lay the foundation for the children.” 

When TV Malaysia found its footing in 1963, Faridah, who was already doing freelance radio work, felt that it was the right time to move on to the next chapter of her life. “After being in radio, TV was like a very natural step to take next. And when it came knocking on my door, I left my job as a teacher. The salary then was ridiculously low. But life then was easy, so the small salary didn’t quite matter. So I became a freelance broadcaster for both radio and TV.” 

Upon reflecting on an era where gender equality wasn’t a priority, Faridah was never shaken by it. “I think because I’m not the kind of person who was actively looking on whether there’s discrimination in my life or not, be it in my personal or professional life.” The doyenne in Malaysian theatre thinks that it’s because she never wavered from her focus in life. 

The arts in Malaysia are still growing, struggling, and looking for ways to do better and be greater—not necessarily to compete with our neighbours, but to express our stories, Malaysian stories. 

Datuk Faridah Merican

“Because I’ve always enjoyed what I do. I enjoyed being a teacher; I enjoyed very much being in the broadcasting industry; I enjoyed being in the advertising industry. My philosophy in life is that if you do not enjoy yourself in doing what you do, you might as well not do it. You always have a choice, you can focus on the negatives, but it may not take you where you want to be.” 

When asked on whether she’s satisfied with the local performing arts scene’s current state, the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre thinks that we could do better. “The arts in Malaysia are still growing, struggling, and looking for ways to do better and be greater. Not necessarily to compete with our neighbours, but to express our stories, Malaysian stories.” To her, it is absolutely vital that the stories of Malaysia get recognised. “It is our image that we want to put forward and show to the world. Unless and until we are happy to say that we are happy being recognised, we have not been recognised.” 

Despite boasting an illustrious legacy, Faridah thinks that it is absolutely important that she stays motivated and passionate in whatever that she does. “I believe that perhaps I should tell myself over and over again; I must continue to do what I believe in, I must improve my skills, I must try to pass down whatever little knowledge I have to the next generation.” 

(Photo credit: KLPAC)

Erra Fazira

Erra Fazira

Erra Fazira first caught the attention of the Malaysian public when she became Miss Malaysia in 1992 at the age of 18. She was entered into the competition by a relative who believed that she could go far in the competition. Erra, a self-proclaimed tomboy at the time, was pretty annoyed that she been entered in the pageant. She hopped on a scooter and headed to the organiser to demand that her name be taken out. 

The organiser, however, pleaded with her saying that he didn’t have enough contestants and so she relented. 

“I am the kind of person who doesn’t know how to say no to people,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s an advantage or disadvantage. Even if I don’t want to do something, I will do it because I feel sorry for someone.” 

Thankfully, she did as it paved the way for her entry into entertainment. And as it turns out, the decision has also given her a place in pop culture history as one of the last Malay women to hold the Miss Malaysia crown. There are no regrets though as she sees participating in the pageant as very much being the “door” to her career. 

She is admittedly a planner but the pageant is something she did on the spur of the moment. 

In every industry there is a double- standard for women but don’t give up. If you see yourself as someone whose place is in the kitchen, then you will wind up in the kitchen. But if you see yourself as someone who has something to contribute, don’t underestimate yourself.

Erra Fazira

“Sometimes when you do things spontaneously, it has the potential of becoming something spectacular.” 

Ever since she was a child, Erra had a feeling that fate would lead her to a career in entertainment. It is that she expected to make it as a singer instead of an actress. But after she was cast in Sembilu (1994), Erra’s film career started to take off. By the time Maria Mariana (1996) was released, her fate was sealed as a leading lady of film. She now has more than 40 films to her name, not including telemovies and several awards, 

“I just went with the flow because I didn’t expect my film career to be stronger than my music career.” 

Now she is taking things a bit easier having put in all the groundwork early on in her career. She is not “dreaming big,” she says. Perhaps, she did when she was younger. Now, she feels she is ready to take a step back. 

“I feel people who dream big are always chasing something,” she says. “For me, I am at a stage where I want to be relaxed. I don’t want to be pressured. When I was younger, yes. But now I need to put a full stop.” 

To aspiring actors and actresses, Erra advises to work on developing one’s craft. 

“If you are static and don’t develop, you will go nowhere.” 

Lina Tan

Lina Tan

20 years ago, Lina Tan had an epiphany. A successful producer at the time, with many commercials to her name, she was in the midst of shooting an ad for a detergent. While trying to get a shirt as white as possible for the shoot, she questioned whether this was what she wanted her career to be. It wasn’t. She walked away from it and went on to form RED Communications, a production house that would focus on issues to do with young women. 

“When I started RED Communications, one of the things that I looked at was that there were really no shows for myself. I was looking for content that I wanted to watch and I hardly saw it.” 

It was during that time that Tan conceptualised a women’s programme that was aimed at empowering young women on a variety of issues. She pitched it to Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and 3R – Respect, Relax, Respond was born, RED Communications most memorable productions.

“It was a pivotal time because 3R ran for 15 years,” she states, explaining that she continues to own the brand. “It was crucial because as a producer back then, nobody owned their own brand. Everyone said it was impossible to own your IP (intellectual property).” 

With her background in advertising, Tan pitched the programme to advertisers, successfully convincing them to form partnerships with the brand. At the time, she asserts, there was nothing for young women. The issues for women were focused on fashion, beauty but there were no discussion on harassment, rape.

It was something that she felt young women would be interested in. Hence, the selection of the hosts—Low Ngai Yuen, Azah Azmin Yusof and Rafidah Abdullah – “real young women that other young women could relate to.” But it was there that she met her first hurdle as advertisers asked for more stereotypically “prettier” hosts. 

“A host with glasses (Rafidah) at the time was unheard of.”

But Tan was adamant that she didn’t want the typical ‘muka seri’ and ‘wajah ayu’ kind of stories that most local women’s programmes dealt with. She was also convinced she didn’t want the word ‘wanita’ in the title. Instead, she believed that Malaysians were ready to take on bigger issues. And she was right. 3R achieved tremendous success, with its hosts emerging as role models for many a young girl. 

“At the time, TV was the only medium and we used to get 10,000-20,000 emails and letters,” she exclaims. “And that’s how we knew we were connecting to the audience.” 

Some of these were pleas for help, detailing accounts of sexual abuse. The team then sought help from organisations like AWAM and WAO on how to intervene in such cases. Tan is also involved in HIV/AIDS and women’s NGO work.

“We took a strong stand,” she asserts. “Rape is rape. It is not the girl’s fault. People recognise the stance we were taking and it made it easier for young people to connect with us.” 

Puan Sri Normala Samsudin

Normala Samsudin

There was a time when the television used to dictate the way one’s day is spent. That was certainly true during the glory days of local TV station TV3. In today’s digital world, it is hard to imagine a time when millions would tune in to watch the news but that’s what happened when Puan Sri Normala Samsudin presented the evening news, Buletin Utama. Sunday afternoons too often revolved around Nona, which she presented weekly. That meant a lot of families were forced to have lunch at home as the women gathered round the TV for their weekly “meeting” with Normala. 

“I didn’t feel I was popular,” she says. “I was just focused on the job of delivering the news to viewers, so it was a culture shock to me.” 

It was after she stopped flying as a stewardess that Normala entertained the idea of working at a television station. She auditioned at RTM but was turned down, leaving her quite geram. It was when she won the TV3 competition Pengacara Jemputan Nona that her broadcasting career was launched. 

“I felt very insecure because I wasn’t from a mass communication or journalism background but I learnt a lot. My Bahasa Malaysia was good and I was able to write good scripts.” 

Over the years, Normala went on to host various programmes on the channel – Seulas Pinang, Warna-Warna Malaysia, Wanita Hari Ini, Malaysia Hari Ini eventually becoming the face of Nona and a coveted spot as one of the presenters of Buletin Utama. 

As a presenter you need to learn a lot, every day, whatever error you make, you just proceed and try to do your best.

Puan Sri Normala Samsudin

Of the various programmes, she enjoyed Warna-Warna Malaysia as it allowed her to travel across the country. It also suited Normala’s sporty nature as it required a lot of physical activity. This set her apart from the other female presenters at the time. The crew often talked about a “hand-gliding scene” during which Normala landed and immediately started talking to the camera, proof of her professionalism. 

But it is Nona which she holds dear to her heart as it allowed her to speak to women all across the country on a range of issues from current affairs to entrepreneurship to fashion. 

“What we wanted to show women at the time was that although we are soft, we can also be tough.” 

Off-camera, Normala was known to be an absolute professional in terms of her craft, while at the same also a friendly face to those around her, setting a perfect example to other aspiring women of television. 

To young women today, she advises, “Be positive in anything that you do. Never think negative of other people. Do good.” 

Sheila Majid

Sheila Majid

In 1990, when Datuk Sheila Majid performed at Stadium Negara, some 14,000 fans turned up to celebrate her jazzy tribute to the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee. A week earlier, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine only managed to pull in half the number. It was an era that she misses, admits the petite artist, who celebrates 36 years in the music industry this year. 

“Everything was vibrant,” she reminisces. “It was my favourite period when CDs were selling, concerts were everywhere. Meriah.” 

When Sheila released her debut album Dimensi Baru in 1985, she brought a new perspective to the Malaysian music scene. At a time when Malay music was largely dominated by ballads and lovelorn themes, Sheila “crossed-over” to an urban audience who were taken by the upbeat sound of the album. From then on, her appeal continued to grow. Warna (1988) experimented with a new electronic sound while Legenda (1990) took on ‘legendary’ status. In fact, as a testament to Sheila’s status, the special edition (Japan version) of Legenda in vinyl is currently worth a couple of thousand ringgit. 

“I did not know that,” she remarks. “I am very grateful that people still value my music until today and there are people who are willing to pay extra to attain it. I am flattered actually. I never thought I would go so long in this career.” 

Being the youngest in the family of eight, you have to get your voice heard to your parents. You better make sense, you better know what you want.

Sheila Majid

Sheila now has nine studio albums to her name, the latest being Boneka, released in 2017. Her entry into music, she says, was just for “fun.” But music was a part of her. She started playing the piano at just four but when she was offered a recording contract at just 17, she had to “strategise” about how to convince her father to give her the go ahead. Haji Majid was among the first generation of Malay gentlemen to be educated at Oxford University. He initially associated the music industry with elements that were “dark” and “bad.” But after he observed Sheila was passionate to succeed, he gave her his blessing, even accompanying her when she performed at the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta. 

When Sheila first entertained the idea of a recording contract, she was just intrigued with the idea of hearing herself on “cassette.” But after Dimensi Baru generated international interest and she was signed on to EMI, things started to develop and then she just “went with the flow.” But although she might not have planned her career, Sheila was pretty adamant that she wanted things to be done her way. 

“I don’t think anyone can control me,” she says, when asked if there were attempts to pressure her to conform to the mainstream. “I had to be tough because this is my livelihood, this is the direction I wanted my music to be!” 

Now the chairperson of Recording Performers Malaysia Berhad (RPM) along with other prominent recording artists in Malaysia in the board of directors, Sheila aims to protect the welfare of today’s artistes and musicians in the face of threats such as piracy. 

Marion Caunter

marion caunter

It may seem inconceivable to some but the young girl who became the face of urban television, fronting 8TV’s Quickie back in the day turned 40 last year.

“It is starting to hit me that I am turning 40,” she says. “I never really paid much attention to milestones but with my friends turning 40, I have started to think about it and I am starting to feel a little nervous. Maybe it is a self- imposed expectation over what I should be doing as marks of achievements, so I am starting to feel some trepidation.”

That she would feel anxious may seem odd to most. After all, Marion has accomplished much in her career and as a person. In her 20s, her rise as a TV presenter was swift as she helmed shows like One in a Million, The Biggest Loser, presented on Channel V and ESPN and scored a first when she became the face of E! News Asia.

On the personal front, Marion is a mother of three – Leia Rose, Lana Rose and Liam Naza. 2020 also see her celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary to SM Nasarudin SM Nasimuddin, group chief executive and joint group executive chairman of the Naza Group of Companies.

“I am satisfied with what I have accomplished,” she says. “I have always wanted to be a mother. I am so blessed to be able to find a man I want to spend the rest of my life with. By the time I was 30, I had done so much in terms of my career.”

Entering a new phase in life has, however, forced her to reflect and ask “what’s next.”

“My 20s was about me, myself and I,” she laughs. “I have been with Nasa since I was 25 so I was in a serious relationship but the focus was really on myself. In my 30s, it was about everybody else but me and I lost a lot of myself. The past two years have been not just about the kids and Nasa but also myself. I feel I am back at being Marion again.”

Mental health is something that I feel very strongly about. I feel that social media is such a powerful tool and while it helps many people, it is also a dangerous place.

What we are going to see emerging is a more self-assured Marion, someone who is comfortable in her own skin.

“I used to listen to people saying that when you reach a certain age you start to feel really good about yourself. I never believed it but I feel so much better about who I am as a person. I don’t feel the need to apologise about what I lack as a person. I am just myself and I really feel that there’s nobody I need to impress.”

Now she is ready to see how she can use her position to affect society in a more positive way. Of late, Marion has observed a trend among her followers who have turned to her about feeling depressed.

“Mental health is something that I feel very strongly about,” she asserts. “I feel that social media is such a powerful tool and while it helps many people, it is also a dangerous place.”

A chance meeting with a friend on “one of those days,” led Marion to contemplate on the negative aspects of social media. Feeling stressed and looking tired, Marion was taken aback when her friend thanked her for “being real,” after she confessed that it had been a difficult day.

“She said she follow mums on social media and they make it looks so easy!” She feels like the worst mother,” Marion recalls. “But no one has it easy.”

And that definitely applies to Marion. In fact, she describes herself as being quite moody. Some days are a struggle, she admits and it is something that she was up front about even with her husband. But those are days that don’t get shared on to the public.

Moved by the encounter with her friend, Marion shared a video to remind her followers to not be influenced by what they see on social media. The response was quite overwhelming which led her to reflect on how she can use her social media presence to counter its negative effects.

The format of this is still being worked out and Marion is not one to speak unless things are certain but it looks like we might see a return to her hosting days.

“My strength has always been speaking,” she says. “I believe people are able to relate when I talk so maybe something along those lines.”

One thing is for certain, that whatever Marion chooses to do, it will have to be on her terms.

“Everything that I do now has to be real,” she says. “If I were to do something in terms of hosting, it would be something I would have to produce myself. Then I would have absolute control.”

marion caunter bvlgari
Marion fashions the Serpenti High Jewelry necklace, ring and earrings in yellow gold and white gold all from Bvlgari.

Truth be told, Marion wasn’t certain that she wanted to announce that she’s turning 40. But then she looked to many celebrities who were defying ageism.

“I looked at all these women who are 50 and rocking it, J-Lo, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman. When J-Lo came down the Versace runway in that dress she looked better than when she first debuted that dress. It wasn’t just about the way she looked, it was the confidence she had, that sense of I know myself.”

As someone who has been in the industry for more than a decade now, Marion is used to being under the scrutiny of the camera.

“I just want to be happy.”

“I am used to seeing my face blown up to epic proportions. I am used to my skin sagging, especially after three kids. I am terrified but what else do I want besides health. I want to age as gracefully as possible.”

Now entering her 40s, Marion is aware that by “god’s grace” she has all that she hoped for. To many it seems like she has lived a charmed life. But she stresses things have not always been easy for her. At just 21, she went through a “dark period” when she lost her father, a loss that still afflicts her today.

She is also rattled by the notion that “luck” played a part in her achievements. Quoting Oprah Winfrey who said “luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity,” Marion reminds that she worked and hustled to establish herself in the industry.

“I was on a plane almost every other day,” she states. “I had to be on set until 2am. On the week of my wedding, I worked until Tuesday, flew back on Wednesday and got married on Thursday. I work hard, I show up and I deliver.”

It has not been easy, she admits, but Marion stresses that she has been blessed. Now on the cusp of turning a decade, she says she “just wants to be happy.”