Coffee House

The Royal Wedding (extended expat version)

28 April 2011

Last month, dressed as a town crier, the head of the British Club in Singapore, Sean Boyle, visited the offices of every major newspaper in the country. Accompanied by an entourage
also in fancy dress, he declaimed that the British Club would be celebrating the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton in a festival that would last 10 days.

The reception to his announcement was warm. An editor of the Tamil Murasu, the newspaper that serves Singapore’s ethnic Indian population, left the
newsroom to return dressed in traditional Indian costume, to pose for photos with Boyle (see above). The team at the Berita Harian, the Malay-language
daily, gave the entourage a standing ovation.

As a publicity stunt, the British Club — a members-only institution whose 10-day jamboree actually marks the first time it’s opening events to the public — couldn’t have
done better. News of its festivities has been featured in all the main newspapers, and Boyle also appeared on regional TV network Channel News Asia, again in town crier gear.

“Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” says Boyle, who is general manager. (Coffee House meets him on an evening when he’s dressed as the Pearly King, ahead of a special Royal
Wedding pub sing-along called Roll Out the Barrel, Roll Back the Years.) “It’s generated lots of interest. We’re getting the right exposure.”

At 10 days, nine days longer than the celebration in Britain, the Club’s festivities may well be the longest in the world. To a non-Briton like me, the list of events seems a strange mixture
of the grandiose and the bucolic. There’s the pub sing-along, and a British-themed pub quiz, and a street party at the Club’s Verandah Terrace. There’s a Ladies’ Champagne
High Tea and a Ladies’ Ascot Night.

Everything culminates on Friday, of course, with 300 people expected for a night of revelry as they watch a live telecast of the Wedding on a big screen. There’ll be a £100-per-head
four-course dinner, where the BBC has apparently booked three tables for corporate guests. Ladies are advised to wear hats.

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Is it normal for the British to wear hats at night, I ask. “It’s a wedding breakfast,” says Boyle. “We’re linking up via broadcast to Westminster Abbey. It’s a
private soirée, a grand affair.”

The 25-year-old British Club (other much older, Brit-centric clubs in Singapore are the Tanglin Club and the Cricket Club) was formally opened by Princess Anne. It has a membership of 2,400, but
because a family is considered as a single membership, the Club probably caters for three times that number in individuals. A little more than half of members are British expatriates, 20 per cent
are Singaporean, and the rest hail from other countries. An individual membership costs about £6,300, with monthly fees of £65. Members get access to a spa, a six-lane pool, a reading
room and library, a video arcade room, a jackpot room, a pub (the Windsor Arms) and restaurants.

Clearly, not all the tens of thousands of British expats in Singapore will celebrate this way. In fact, as the Royal Wedding lies between the public holidays of Easter and Labour Day, many of them
won’t be in town, but golfing in Phuket, bringing their families to the Malaysian Club Med or trekking in the Himalayas.

“I don’t know a single of my British expat friends who’s joined the British Club,” says one. “And I don’t know any who are going to watch the Royal Wedding on
television. My own Fridays are spent catching up on Midsomer Murders.”

Still, even the more cynical among the expats aren’t derisive about the Royal Wedding. It’s as though, faced with the prospect of their words actually being published, they find they
can’t bring themselves to criticize the monarchy.

“I think most Brit expats won’t be doing much, but may join the parties such as the Brit Club for a bit of nostalgia,” says an ex-Londoner with a Japanese fiancée.
“Nostalgia for something they never would have done, if they were actually back home.”

For Singaporeans, the Royal Wedding has been greeted with much interest and goodwill, if not exactly frenzied excitement. This tiny city-state, at once town and country, is preoccupied with affairs
of its own.

An ex-British colony where many streets still bear the names ‘Stamford’ or ‘Raffles’, it’s now in the midst of campaigning for general elections. Opposition parties will be contesting the most parliamentary seats since independence in 1965, but the
People’s Action Party, the only ruling party Singapore has ever known, is widely expected to win.

P.S. Here are a couple of photographs of one of the celebrations:

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Show comments
  • Verity with A Hat

    Eyesee writes, with staggering vulgarity, “I guess. It is also nice to see that the Singaporeans are the delightful people so lacking it seems of post-colonial hatred, which is a left pushed, empty emotion…”.

    You could tell that Singaporeans are “delightful people” from the fact that they were having a drink at a private club in their own country? Lots of Singaporeans belong to the Tanglin Club and the British Club. And the American Club.

    And much as I like and respect them, they are not all “delightful people”, in your dismissive, patronising phrase. Some are real shits, some are provincial, some are petty, some are funny and worldly, some are staunch friends …

    And why would the Singaporeans (and the Malaysians) hate us, given that we prevailed over the Japanese in the Straits?

  • Andrew Fletcher

    Verity – thanks for info – I actually meant a local rag like the Montrose Journal or somesuch rather than Straits Times etc but point taken

  • eyesee

    An excellent article and good to see the respect the event draws. Any British person must be proud of people such as this, unless of course, they lack the traditional British traits of an open heart and humility, I guess. It is also nice to see that the Singaporeans are the delightful people so lacking it seems of post-colonial hatred, which is a left pushed, empty emotion. And brilliant that it is about a love of country and not just eccentrics Brits abroad.

  • Verity

    Andrew Fletcher – I assure you that The Straits Times is not a crappy paper. This article didn’t appear in it. It appeared in The Speccie.

    The Americans have the American Club in S’pore and they all go for drinkies and a bash at 4th July and Inaugurations. And the interior on those occasions is heavy with the Stars And Stripes.

    The French have clubs in francophone countries and on festive occasions, they fly the Tricoleur.

    I, too, am baffled about the point of this article. Brits in India and lots of other countries will have been “celebrating” (an excuse for having a drink a couple of hours early).

    Hint to Fraser, it would have been more worthy of an article if the Tanglin Club and the British Club were not having a bash.

  • Andrew Fletcher

    I’m really sorry but what is the point of this article?
    Brits being eccentric abroad because of royal wedding…? Is that it?
    This is the Spectator not some crappy local paper
    C’mon people!!

  • Oedipus Rex

    @ Andre


  • Andre

    Am I alone in finding this whole Singaporean spectacle vulgar and embarrassing?

  • Nicholas

    If they sing “King Fu Fighting” in the British Club will they be arrested?

  • Verity

    “Last month, dressed as a town crier, the head of the British Club in Singapore, Sean Boyle, visited the offices of every major newspaper in the country.”

    Wow! All the majors? Throughout the whole 200 sq miles?

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