Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever

By Nilanjana Roy

in FT Weekend

In January, exactly 150 years ago, the first instalment of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone was published. It came out in All The Year Round — “A Weekly Journal Conducted By Charles Dickens” — and was well received by readers, who gladly paid 2d to read the latest book “by the author of The Woman in White”, along with the other delights of Dickens’ popular journal.

One of Collins’ characters neatly summarises the plot: “Here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond — bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose on us by the vengeance of a dead man.”

It was held for many years that The Moonstone was the first true detective novel. The poet TS Eliot, whose literary tastes were eclectic, was a champion of detective novels, and The Moonstone in particular. He endorsed it with the kind of praise that makes publicists salivate: “The first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels . . . ”

His high opinion of the novel was echoed by the detective fiction writer Dorothy L Sayers, who wrote in her 1944 foreword: “The Moonstone is impeccable . . . What has happened, in fact, is that The Moonstone set the standard, and that it has taken us all this time to recognise it.” They had a point: The Moonstone introduced both an amateur detective and a trained police investigator, pulled off a country-house mystery, and laid a perfect trail of clues and red herrings.

Purists argue that Collins was not really the first to write a full-length detective novel in English, and technically they are correct — Charles Felix published The Notting Hill Mystery in serial form in 1862, but it never exercised the outsize influence that The Moonstone had on subsequent generations of crime fiction writers.

It begins on a rousing note of exotic adventure. “I address these lines — written in India — to my relatives in England,” says the narrator. He is a soldier whose account of the storming of Seringapatam in 1799 explains the history of the diamond known as the Moonstone, stolen after an act of murder witnessed by his cousin.

There is a curse on the jewel, and legend has it that three guardian Hindu priests, whose successors keep a patient eye on the travels of the Moonstone down the centuries, biding their time until it can be restored to its rightful place, adorn the head of a statue of the god Vishnu.

When the Moonstone is bequeathed to Miss Rachel Verinder in 1848, the three Indian descendants see an opportunity to steal the diamond back. Collins apparently wrote the first part with a kitten “galloping over” his shoulders, and the rest of the book in distress — his mother was dying, he was crippled by rheumatic gout, taking high doses of laudanum to combat the pain.

A key character in the novel, Ezra Jennings, probably bi-racial, with “piebald” hair, is an opium user and references Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Parts of The Moonstone have a heightened, nightmarish quality that feels curiously modern. Collins had in mind two famous existing diamonds — the Koh-i-Noor, and also the Orlov diamond.

The latter is supposed to have been stolen in about 1747 by a French soldier who deserted, professed to have converted to Hinduism, and plucked the diamond out from the eye of a deity in the Srirangam temple. Given the heated passions of the post-1857 decade, Collins’ depiction of Indians, and the British in India, is surprisingly even-handed.

He includes a long passage on the looting and excesses of the British army, and while his three enigmatic “Hindoos” are suitably exotic, their mission is presented with sympathy. Eliot complained that The Moonstone had “led to a great deal of bogus Indianism, fakirs and swamis” in crime fiction, but noted, “Collins’ Indians are intelligent and resourceful human beings with perfectly legitimate and comprehensible motives”.

Despite long digressions, slow build-ups and occasional melodramatic flourishes, The Moonstone was nevertheless ahead of its time. Collins presented a country house from the point of view of its staff, who paint an unflattering portrait of the gentry, and he anticipated the troubled politics of colonial cultural artefacts, the question of whether property belonged to the looters or the looted.

In the final section, the “Yellow Diamond” gleams once again in the forehead of the deity. As the narrator writes: “After the lapse of eight centuries, the Moonstone looks forth once more, over the walls of the sacred city in which its story first began . . . You have lost sight of it in England, and . . . you have lost sight of it forever.”

The Moonstone feels surprisingly contemporary, both in its Indian sections, and in its disruptions and invasions of an imaginary, idyllic, secure England.

Margot Henderson on Wellington’s Culinary Arts

Chef Margot Henderson on Wellington, New Zealand

Where to find great restaurants, fresh fish and chips and a delicious flat white

By Margot Henderson

Home is where the heart is, and Wellington has my heart — with its harbour, skies and hills, it’s just so beautiful. — My husband Fergus [founder of London’s St John] and I always plan our trip so that we fly into Wellington in time for lunch, and our first stop has to be Nikau Café (above), a superb restaurant attached to the City Gallery.

Lunch there is always a giddy moment, meeting up with family and friends to eat the most delicious food. Their kedgeree is a must — be sure to wash it down with some great New Zealand Pinot Noir.

The owners have also just opened a new restaurant in the Aro Valley called Rita, which has a fresh, bright feel. It’s a place where everyone makes you feel at home.

Moore Wilson’s on Tory Street is an Aladdin’s Cave for foodies. It’s a bit like a cash and carry, selling everything you could want for your kitchen or restaurant from utensils to fresh crayfish, whitebait and the best veg.

Wellingtonians take their coffee very seriously — the whole city oozes with roasteries and coffee machines. It’s all flat whites, smoothies, sourdough and avocado at the Seashore Cabaret, where tattooed darlings enjoy coffee and breakfast, looking out over the beautiful harbour.

You have to cross a busy road to get to it, but John’s Fish Market serves fantastically fresh fish and chips. Just choose a piece of fish and they’ll fry it right up for you. Make sure you get a potato fritter too.

The Petone suburb of Wellington is full of interesting food shops, from La Bella Italia (above), which serves good-quality Italian produce, to The Spice Rack, with its excellent range of fresh spices.

New Zealand-born Margot Henderson is co-founder of Rochelle Canteen, Rochelle ICA and Arnold & Henderson;

We’re fans and regular readers of the Financial Times, London, particularly the wonderful FT Weekend.

Write on: Alexandra Touchaud at the Singapore Writers Festival

The Singapore Writers Festival: Through the eyes and ears – and pen – of Alexandra Touchaud

Diversity and identity in a “very good” Writers Festival

Twenty years in the making: the Singapore Writers Festival seems to be turning on a bigger and brighter show each year.

Whilst Singapore is often criticised for not supporting the arts, this year’s anniversary edition was a real celebration of the increasing power and relevance of the written word in our Little Red Dot.

The success of the two-week festival came from the combination of a diverse line-up of speakers and well attended sessions.

Whilst many participants were attracted by the line-up of top international writers (including poets Li-Young Lee and Simon Armitage, and writers Junot Diaz, Edouard Louis and Tash Aw) equally many were lured by our own home-grown talent (veteran poets Anne Lee Tzu Pheng and Edwin Thumboo, writers Catherine Lim, Meira Chand and Shamini Flint, and playwright Haresh Sharma amongst others).

Many events were packed. It was dramatic to see the hallowed Chamber Hall at the Art House stuffed full of plastic fold-out chairs, and standing-room-only crowds squeezing into the back of many sessions. There was the usual crowd of art aficionados and aspiring writers, but also an increasing mix of students, curious passers-by, and fans who’d come to see a favourite author and ended up popping in to other discussions and finding new interests there.

The ancient Tamil word ‘Aram’ was the theme this year. A word that invites us to contemplate what it means to be good: to explore the universal meaning behind doing good, living ethically, exploring ideas on what constitutes a good life, and how we go about building a good society. It was a powerful theme and led to a huge array of related panels and debates between the 340 creatives on the programme.

Origins and Identities

One of the stand-out panels was entitled ‘The Responsibilities of Origins and Identities,’ with poet Li-Young Lee and novelists Lydia Kwa and Xu Xi.

Though all three are ethnically Chinese their identities are markedly diverse – born in Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong respectively they’ve all moved and taken on different languages, passports and cultures in the course of their lives. So how do they identify themselves?

Li-Young gave a suitably poetic response. In his lilting honey & treacle voice he talked of a certain restlessness of the spirit, how he doesn’t really feel ‘at home’ anywhere, in any place, in any time period, even in his own body.

The audience seemed to lean in, curiously discombobulated, yet empathising – is this something many of us travellers in the world can relate to? He continued with a quiet intensity explaining his belief that we all have a composite nature and a primal one. He suggested that we’re made up like a jigsaw of our family history, our gender, race, and humanity; and through these pieces we project our differences – but also our sameness. Yet like Odysseus, we’re trying to get home – home to our primal selves. For Li-Young the very practise of art, or writing his poetry, is the door through which to access this primal self.

The fabulous and feisty, mediator (and crime novelist) Shamini Flint interjected, “I don’t feel comfortable anywhere. I feel like a fraud. I don’t belong.” A powerful confession that resonated around the Chamber and was picked up by a nodding Xu Xi. “All of us have multiple origins and identities – how and why do we need to be loyal to any one of them?”

Rather than looking for external societal confirmation, is the very idea of identity not born of private reflection? For her the concept of ‘home’ shared a dual meaning – an emotional as well as a physical place. Like Shamini, she had always felt “like an outsider, but art and writing became my escape: I feel at home in my fiction.”

Xu Xi explored the idea that concepts of identity and home can also evolve over time, “Age makes a difference, ‘home’ becomes more important – because I ask myself: where do I want to die?” For Xu Xi the answer to that haunting question had been answered: “In the woods.” She has found a place in the US (not too far from the ocean that reminders her of her childhood in Hong Kong), a quiet place in a forest where she plans to build her home.

Lydia Kwa has also faced challenges in identifying just who she is and what home means.  “My identity was unexamined – until I lost it,” she explained how leaving majority-Chinese Singapore and moving to Canada made her suddenly realise she was different and caused her to question who she really was. “I was forced to find ‘home,’ then slowly realised that this was not an external place but an internal one: the only place that is unconditionally accepting is within. I am home.”

The audience and other panellists fell silent. A powerful truth.

Shamini tried to turn the conversation to the idea of ‘responsibility’ – the obligation that comes with identity but the panelists seemed unconvinced. The idea of responsibility has very strong Asian overtones – where life can often be seen as a series of obligations.

Lydia Kwa explained the dominant narrative of her youth was filial piety, but it was also overlaid with ‘commonwealth traits’ where it was aspirational to speak English and take on Western ways. She found this paradox “unhelpful and limiting.”  She mused “is an origin a rupture – like a birth?” She felt under pressure to confer to the dominant social structures – are we accountable, do we owe the state, or are we (as writers) responsible to a higher sense of value?” She posed the question, but no-one responded – maybe the earlier discussion on identity (“I am home”) had already provided the philosophical answer.

The responsibility of identity and origins is the writer’s own internal exploration of authenticity as they go about finding out who they are and where they belong.

Sons and Daughters

One doesn’t naturally associate comedy with writers’ festivals but one of the most surprising and well received events in the line-up was the ‘Sons of Singapore. Daughter of Singapore’ stand-up comedy.

The beautiful, foul-mouthed hostess, Sharul Channa, set the tone with her boast that “comedy is now a ‘proper’ art form” – being centre stage at such a highbrow literary festival. She’s magnetic on the stage; looking sweet and demure one moment in her full length gown, before yanking it up and flamboyantly swashing around the stage riling and reeving up the audience.

Her warm-up also set the tone for the three comics to come – clearly nothing was to be off limits. In fact everything that nettles and festers, rankles and chaffs, all the Singaporean cultural quirks and political angst were dragged out of dark corners and held up in a blinding spotlight for teasing and ridicule, ribbing and taunting.

At first the laughter was really nervous chuckling masked by waves of polite coughing – the audience seemed to find it all a bit shocking (was the Singaporean cultural censorship police going to suddenly leap out like Ghostbusters to obliterate the feisty free speech?); but the almost guilty giggles of the audience quickly morphed into chortling, then full blown laughing and belly clutching hooting.

With a fabulous sense of irony the emphatically politically correct lineup (an ethnically Indian female hostess, with Chinese, Indian and Malay male counterparts) held court with a most politically incorrect show. Jinx Yeo was perfect to start as he was probably the tamest in his delivery – sticking very much to the (hilarious) differences between the Chinese / Malay and Indian approaches to life in Singapore. Fakkah Fuzz upped the ante – luring the audience along with increasingly risqué jokes.

He has tremendous good fun on stage and has the audience in the proverbial palm of his hand as he bounds around the set, laughing and cheering at his own jokes, thumping his thighs and clapping his hands in contagious hilarity. He’s a master of self-depreciation to comic effect.

To the audience’s delight his jokes would snowball to take the mickey out of himself and then everyone else – but especially his own Malay people. The audience was filled with Tudung covered heads bobbing in laughter as he often broke into Malay – it’s curious, looking back, that despite few in the audience being able to understand his words they were clearly so funny that the rest of the crowd joined the applause equally enthusiastically.

Rishi Budhrani like the others before him picked up on the recent report in The Straits Times headlined, “Most Singaporeans prefer children and grandchildren to date Chinese and Caucasians in inter-cultural romance.” The comic material in the article was obvious and brilliantly brought to life on stage.

After the show there was a brief dialogue about the craft of comedy writing – with audience questions. It fell a little flat – as the mood shifted and the audience tried to suddenly be all sensible and grown up again after the silliness of the first part. But the comments were pointed – it is so refreshing to laugh at ourselves. The comics agreed that audiences internationally are often more comfortable with boundaries being pushed far further. In Singapore, where stand-up is still in its infancy, audiences are a little more cautious, and so too are the comics who take the attitude ‘you go as far as you can – till you get fined!”

If the audience reception is anything to go by comedy will become increasingly popular here. They discussed that they are not in any way challenging the government, just acknowledging that with much frustration here – comedy can help “release the tensions”. In reality, they seem to stick to pretty innocent material, pushing boundaries are far as they can, often sticking to stories and jokes based on cultural and ethnic truisms. The aim of their satire isn’t political, they’re clearly just having a rollicking good time – and the same could be said for the audience!


More from and about Alexandra here:




Established in Singapore in October 2017 – where Ken Hickson first started his communications consulting work 34 years ago to the month for Singapore Airlines – THE HICKSON TEAM is focussing on being the best editorial content provider for business and for media.

Not a PR business per se, as the Team is keen to supplement and support PR/Communications practitioners (corporate and consultants) by giving them what they are often lacking in time and talent to provide themselves.

We have a team of writers with expertise and experience in every sector imaginable.

We say we cover the Asia Pacific, but really the world is our oyster!

We start with a strong focus on what makes up the acronym TEAM – Travel, Education, Arts and Media – but already we find ourselves being asked to produce and curate content for other important sectors, including e-commerce, property, pharmaceutical, animal welfare, hospitality and the food industry.

We will continue to produce the two online magazines we are well-known for: The Avenue for Creative Arts and ABC Carbon Express (now in tenth year).

You will continue to find The Avenue content here – –  along with all past issues and additional articles since we started in early 2015.

ABC Carbon Express will continue as a “mostly monthly mail-out” and most of its past content is accessible on one of our other sites:

Where appropriate, content produced by HICKSON and co. for a diverse range of organisations, could well find its way into one or both of our own media outlets.

We are also finding ourselves as contributors to a wide range of other online, print, broadcast and social media.

In recent years we have had articles appearing in all sorts of media, including Eco-Business, Blue and Green Tomorrow, ANZA Magazine, Access Asia, Gaia Discovery, Foreign Investors on India, Journal of Communication Management, Social Space, Petroleum Review, Ana Shell Media, e2 Singapore, CEI Asia, among others.

We are also extremely active in and through dozens of groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Expect more. With our depth of media experience in-house and on-tap, we have already offered – or been asked – to provide content for a number of magazines.

As content providers, our work doesn’t start and end with the written word. This year – and previously –  we have worked with video producers, photographers, artists, designers and producers. We expect more to come.

A few months ago, it was announced on this site, that “By popular demand – or at least from one or two requests! – Ken Hickson has started to provide a service to the arts, artists, writers, arts organisations, publishers, galleries and arts events.”

What started then has now morphed into THE HICKSON TEAM. A creative content agency. Based in Singapore but serving the region and the world. A collective of creative expertise.

We are in the process of getting ourselves established with our own brand identity, our own website, emails, business cards etc. We are registered as a business entity in Singapore as THE HICKSON TEAM PTE LTD, with a registered office in Tanglin Mall and a bank account with UOB.

We haven’t forsaken our interest and commitment to sustainability and its four E’s: Environment, Energy, Economy and Ethics, as set out in the book “Race for Sustainability” and as practiced by the Singapore-based consultancy Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA), which started seven years ago.

That continues under Ken Hickson’s chairmanship and management, but expect to see some developments there and the influx of even more “energetic and effective expertise”. The website continues to showcase its work, its output and its people.



While Ken Hickson’s communications industry career began in Wellington, New Zealand in 1962, as a cadet journalist with the afternoon metropolitan daily newspaper, the Evening Post, he has worked in, and with, all sections of the media since.

Besides the country’s capital city, he has been based in Hamilton, Auckland and Christchurch, reporting for radio and television, editing magazines and contributing a collection of newspaper titles.

He also made his mark in public relations in Wellington, working for the CORSO-Freedom from Hunger Campaign and in Hamilton for the Waikato Public Relations Foundation.

In Auckland, he worked in house for Air New Zealand, he ran the PR department for one of the country’s largest advertising agencies, and then set up his own consultancy – his clients included the Australian Tourist Commission, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) and Kaiser Stuhl (wine) – before he joined forces with a PR veteran to form Cleal and Hickson.

In Christchurch, it was mostly media. At TVNZ, he worked in news and current affairs, as well as enjoyed three years on the Science Express programme, which included a month-long assignment reporting on research in the Antarctic. He somehow managed to find time in Christchurch to be the founding editor of two magazines – Topic Air and Villa – and produce two books, “Flight 901 to Erebus” and “The Future South”.

His first Singapore sojourn started in October 1983 and lasted until the end of 2000. After his important public affairs work for Singapore Airlines, he established a PR consultancy in mid 1986 with Ian Batey to take on an international contract for the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.

That became Hickson Public Relations and garnered a team of local and foreign talent to manage work for clients like BMW, DHL, Canon Sime Darby, Jardine Matheson and Cold Storage. It wasn’t long before its influence spread throughout Asia Pacific, through establishing and managing a network of independent agencies in 15 countries.

In mid 1996, the world’s largest independent PR firm, Fleishman Hillard, swooped on the ten-year-old Hickson PR to acquire the business. Ken agreed to stay on to manage the business until the end of 2000, helping FH expand its client base and presence from one to ten offices throughout Asia Pacific.

During his ten years in Queensland, Australia – from end 2000 to October 2010 – Ken lectured in communication studies at the University of Sunshine Coast, where he was made Associate Professor Adjunct and started Australia’s  first undergraduate course on “International Communication”.

He undertook assignments for a couple of Brisbane-based consultancies, then established ABC Carbon in mid 2007 as an advisory firm, before he started work on his encyclopaedic work “The ABC of Carbon” (published 2009) and abc carbon express, which began as a weekly e-newsletter in March 2008.

His sustainability showcase started in Brisbane in 2010 when the Minister of Climate Change and Sustainability for the Queensland Government, Kate Jones, asked him to bring together a collection of firms, organisations and individuals involved in the “sustainability sector” for a one-day exhibition and forum at Parliament House.

Around the same time, he worked with the University of Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre and the National University of Singapore’s Office of Environmental Sustainability to stage the first National Sustainability Conference in Singapore in July 2010. He was one of the keynote speakers and his book “The ABC of Carbon” was provided to all delegates.

Two months later, in September 2010, he established the sustainability consultancy SASA in Singapore and returned to his favourite tropical city full-time by the end of October.

The rest is history!

18 October 2017 



Stories from The Avenue for Creative Arts Issue 20

Galleries Galore with Glorious Art – It’s not enough that Singapore’s National Gallery has just finished with its record-breaking crowd-pleasing exhibition of the eye-catching works of Yayoi Kusama. They’ve just announced that the best of Musee D’Orsay – the exhibition entitled Colours of Impressionism – is coming in November. Meanwhile, Gillman Barracks just marked five years as a new/old centre for the arts with galleries like Sundaram Tagore showing why they’re still on top. Opera Gallery not only displayed the best of Spanish art hero Cabeza Dorada inside, but lined Orchard Road with some of his big sculptures too. (See above). Then Miaja Gallery gives us two “Faces of China, while Bruno Gallery gives the Singaporean father and son an art outing.

Best of British – Yes, we admit we have a British bias, and in spite of the impending Brexit, think highly of the art in situ and exported. The Art of Travel aficionado Dave Hickson draws our attention to Cornwall and the famous sculptures of Barbara Hepworth located in St Ives. He also visits the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – which is soon to have an off-shoot in Dundee, Scotland – as well as taking in the works of Henry Moore and the London Design Festival. What’s the British Council got coming up? How about the British Theatre Playhouse’s “Tea with the old Queen” at the British Club and The Stage Club’s staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Absurd Person Singular”? If you missed it, here’s the interview we did with that famous English scriptwriter Lord Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame.

Writers in Festive Mood – It’s the love of Irish writers which puts them on centre stage at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival, which runs from 3 to 12 November, even though the theme is decidedly Asian – Indian Tamil in fact – with the word “Aram”. Read what Helmi Yusof says about it in the Business Times. Expect a host of Irish and Indian writers, but beyond Singapore’s shores, there are also wordsmiths coming along from China, UK, France, US, Australia and New Zealand. Meantime, there are literary events of note elsewhere. In the UK – Cheltenham Literature Festival 6-15 October; in Bali, Indonesia – Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 25-29 October; in Canada – Vancouver Writers Festival 17 to 22 October; plus Hong Kong comes up with its international literary writers showcase same time as Singapore.

For more of The Avenue go to the latest issue!

Creatively Bringing Histories to Life for Stage and Screen

Interview with Lord Julian Fellowes in Singapore when “Downton Abbey the exhibition” was launched at Marina Bay Sands. By Ken Hickson for The Avenue for Creative Arts

Creatively Bringing Histories to Life for Stage and Screen

Will Julian Fellowes ever weave his own fascinating Asian past into a screenplay?

A secret past with a naughty foreign connection? Yes, there was one or two in Downton Abbey, but this one is from the real-life history of the creator of what’s regarded as one of the world’s most popular television series ever.

Yes, Lord Julian Fellowes revealed to me a little of his distant Asian family history.

Admitting that he’d never been to Singapore, or anywhere in Asia for that matter, he then let it slip, quite deliberately, I might add: “I certainly want to go to India, as I have a past to unravel there”.

Tell me more?

It all started a long time ago – in the 1790s – when a very British gentleman called Fellowes was in India and developed a liking for local girl. She became his mistress and a baby appeared a few months later.

According to the latter-day Lord, the baby – not sure about the mother – was bundled off to England and became very much part of the aristocratic family.

When photographs were inspected over the years, the very “English Rose” members of the family did wonder about the distinguishing features of “a dark lady” and her subsequent offspring. As was the practice in those days, it was put down to perhaps a little Latin influence – Italian or Spanish perhaps? – not unlike Shakespeare’s “dark lady of the sonnets”, who was in all likelihood a real person of Italian extraction.

It must be tempting for such a creative mind as his, to find a way to weave such a fascinating first-hand family history into one of his dramas.

Maybe he will, for despite of his massive current workload and past play-full portfolio, he has never yet ventured to include Asia or Asians in his episodes. There was mention – an appearance in fact – of a very British Ambassador to India. But that was about it.

There are, of course, some other very good reasons for Lord Fellowes to delve into Asia, and India in particular.

His wife, whom he joined in holy matrimony on 28 April 1990, was Emma Joy Kitchener, born 1963, a Lady-in-Waiting to HRH Princess Michael of Kent and also a great-grandniece of Herbert, 1st Earl Kitchener.

So significant was his wife’s maiden name, that on 15 October 1998 it was officially arranged to change the surname from Fellowes to Kitchener-Fellowes.

A little bit more relevant history: The very same Lord Kitchener was of course appointed Commander-in-Chief of India in 1902 and immediately began the task of reorganising the Indian Army. He had an illustrious and at times turbulent military career, serving in Africa and Egypt. He was also the face – they say – of the memorable “your country needs you” poster in the war years.

We could go on, as there’s so much more to the life and times of Julian Fellowes (as he insists to be called) and his distinguished career and family.

Wikipedia might be able to sum this up in a few lines: “Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, DL (born 17 August 1949) is an English actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter, and a Conservative peer of the House of Lords.”

But we must try to concentrate on more recent prodigious products of this man of letters and secrets. Even though it’s hard to know where to start (or finish) with someone as versatile, creative, multi-talented and aristocratic as Lord Julian Fellowes?

When in Singapore for the launch of the “Downtown Abbey, the exhibition”, at Marina Bay Sands, it’s only right and proper we should be discussing that, but he’s as eager as anything to talk about all the other things he’s working on – or seeing the fruits of his labours- on the West End stage or on the screen.

He turned down the chance to hob nob with the elite while in Singapore for the annual Queen’s Birthday party at Eden Hall, still the historically significant residence of the British envoy here, as he had to be back in London to see some of his “creations” on the stage.

Four productions, which he had quite a lot to do with, are all concurrently doing time on the West End or some other stage in the UK.

There’s “School of Rock, the musical” which he worked on with Andrew Lloyd Webber. Then comes “Half a Sixpence”, which he helped revive to very positive reviews. And if that’s not enough, there’s the timeless “Wind in the Willows”, which he helped turn into a musical.

If you’re lucky, you might still find the musical adaptation of the ever-popular “Mary Poppins” popping up somewhere at a theatre near you, with a Fellowes credit or two.

On the subject of Downtown Abbey, which is still wildly appreciated and acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic and in many other places in the world.

To be precise, it’s been seen in 220 countries and territories.

Singapore embraced it – and broadcast episodic repeats a few times – so that was one very good reason why the exhibition started its world tour here. It is certainly a wonderful way to bring television viewers into a very life-like studio/museum experience.

People around the world are still able to catch various episodes of Downton – there are 47 in total, plus five specials,  in the mammoth mix. Then there’s the relatively minor movie matter – what comes next?

Besides taking the wonderful museum-class exhibition on tour – Sydney, New York, Shanghai?  – there’s also the much-vaunted movie to visit the cinema screen.

Yes, he and the producers from NBC Universal International Studios and Carnival Films – all in Singapore for the exhibition lunch –  did confirm that there will be “Downton Abbey, the movie” and work is expected to start on it next year.

The six cast members who visited Singapore for the Marina Bay Sands Oscar-style Red Carpet treatment, were just as curious – even intrigued – about the movie plans, along with the inquisitive Singapore media.

Of course, cast members are all hoping that their own special Downton character will be written into the movie, which is expected to pick up where the sixth television series left-off – around 1926.

But it must be noted, as it was by the screenwriter Fellowes, that many of the cast have been very gainfully employed since getting worldwide attention from the TV series exposure, so they might have to be written out of the movie if they aren’t available when shooting commences.

Yes, he has written a Downton movie screen-play of sorts, but that’s expected to evolve more once the production team sits down to talk it through.

There were many questions to be asked and answered. And he was more than happy talk on, well over the appointed half hour.

As he’s never been to Singapore before, he certainly wanted to make the most of it. He was trying to see something other than the hotel and the vast Marina Bay Sands complex, so he did check out at least some of the “Colonial quarter”.

He was pleasantly surprised to see ample evidence of the British influence in the buildings and streets, still named after a Monarchs past and present, like the Victoria Concert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Walk.

He certainly wants to explore more of Singapore and Asia, as he can knows there’s so much more to see and appreciate. And he’s been agreeably surprised over the years, by the massive global fan base that Downton has garnered, even in China!

There so much more we could write about, but it’s best to just encourage you to see the exhibition, see all the episodes of Downton Abbey – and even if you have already, watch the repeats – it’s just as enthralling the second or third time around.

We can also recommend links to other interviews and reports on this special person, who we believe will be recognised – one day, if not already – as the most illustrious and prolific creative contributor to stage and screen, literature and the arts, in British entertainment industry history.

And we can only hope that his own past – spurious and/or genuine family connections included – might in fact inspire at least one more television series, film, book, musical or play.

We could imagine an Indian Downton Abbey. How about using the wonderful Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay (Mumbai) or the Taj Mahal monument to love itself?  Or perhaps one of the many wonderfully grand homes of Maharajahs dotted around the sub-continent.

Meantime, you’ll have to settle for one of the many creative outpourings of Lord Julian Fellowes at a theatre, on a book shelf or a television screen near you.

And expect more – much more – from this seriously addicted (and addictive) storyteller. He did admit that there’s at least one new novel that he’s coming up with.

If you would like to hear more from Julian Fellowes listen to this recent radio interview with Graham Norton:

Or visit Wikipedia or see an even more complete biography here:

There’s also much more in print in Singapore in the Straits Times or Business Times, plus Channel News Asia:

Art in Black & White on Temenggong Road


Living Tropics at Home for the Arts

by Ken Hickson

It is always a pleasure to see art in appropriate surroundings. And there is nowhere better than in the glorious black and white houses on Singapore. Isn’t it great that so many of these distinctive colonial “homes” have been conserved and put to such good use.

In Temenggong Road, five of them have become “home to the arts”, thanks to the Temenggong Arts in Residence – a not for profit arts charity – and the work of Henri Chen KeZhan who  started it and keeps it going.

That’s where you can see the latest exhibition by one of its resident artists – Dang Xuan Hoa from Vietnam. His “Living Tropics” exhibition is there until 4 June. Be quick as its not often art lovers can visit this fabulous green setting on Mount Faber and see art and architecture at its best.

At the exhibition opening on Saturday 27 May, NUS Museum Curator Chang Yueh Siang gave a very meaningful and insightful introduction to the work of Hoa and the artist-in residence-programme and location.

Chang Yueh Siang – Living Tropics Opening Intro

For more, get a copy of the programme – where most the art exhibited is also shown.

On hand to officially open the show was Parliamentary Secretary  in the Ministry of Youth and Culture Mr Baey – a former PR man – pictured above at at right, with the artist Dang Xuan Hoa, the centre of attention and Ms Chan on the left, delivering her welcome address.

You can support the work of Henri and co at the Temenggong Artists in residence programme by going to this site.


A Feast of Film: 11 Days in May

A Feast of Film: 11 Days in May

By Ken Hickson

The European Union Film Festival  represented a visual feast – 27 films from 27 countries – while a 28th film slipped in, making it two from Germany.
When launching the event, Mr Michael Pulch, EU Ambassador to Singapore, had this to say: “This is especially significant as we mark the 60th anniversary of the European Union this year. With the 27th edition of the EUFF, we celebrate the diversity and pluralism of Europe and continue to reinforce the cultural cooperation and collaboration between Europe and Singapore.”
The festival certainly demonstrated “Europe’s contemporary creativity, its diversity of cultural expressions and multifaceted artistic vision”. This was reflected in the selection, ranging from dramas to thrillers, comedies to animation.                                                                                               With films hailing from across Europe, it offered audiences in Singapore an opportunity to access a variety of films that rarely receive commercial screenings outside Europe thus becoming a cultural bridge between Europe and Singapore.
Thanks to the organisers – Deepika Shetty in particular – we were invited to see five films: The Murmuring Coast (from Portugal), Problemski Hotel (Belguim), Soul at Peace (Solvakia), Ivy (Turkey) and Young Sophie Bell (Sweden).
The first and the last for us were stand outs.
“The Murmuring Coast” gave us some unexpected insight in the past colonial mistakes in the 1960s of Portugal in Africa. It was honestly and convincingly acted and filmed.                                                              “Young Sophie Bell” was the star attraction for us. Beautifully filmed and portraying some excellent acting, most notably by Felice Jankell, who won the Guldbagge Best Actress Award (Sweden’s Oscar equivalent) for playing Sophie.
The National Gallery provided a fitting venue for the film screenings but you would think in this technological age, there would be a way to manage the climate in its small but well designed “cinema”.
We know Singaporeans and visitors continue to freeze in the super cooled public cinemas in the city, but such a select cultural institution like the National Gallery – which involved the superb architectural transformation of two colonial gems (the old Supreme Court and City Hall) – could have made sure the air conditioning was managed so patrons didn’t need to come armed with coats and scarves. Maybe it was on purpose to create a European atmosphere to go with the films!
Other than that, the Festival was a big success and it was such a welcome touch when various embassies – and Ambassadors as well – fronted up and offered appropriate drinks and snacks to festival goers prior to screenings. Thanks to Portugal and Sweden in particular! All adding to the festival atmosphere. More films from Europe please. – Ken Hickson

Inaugural Cities of Love Award (COLA) launched to honour sustainability efforts

Inaugural Cities of Love Award (COLA) launched to honour sustainability

Singapore, May 22, 2017 – A new award – called the Cities of Love Award (COLA) – to recognise and honour the sustainability efforts of ordinary individuals, businesses and communities has just been launched in Singapore.
The brainchild of Mr Tai Lee Siang and his wife Ms Valerie Ang – joint authors of the book Cities of Love – both directors of Inception Pte Ltd, a creative consultancy, focused on developing unique creative projects that benefit individual, communities, and cities.
On the COLA objectives, Mr Tai said, “Awards for sustainability are often given to prominent figures such as government or business leaders who have helped to implement large-scale transformational projects. While this has made important impact on cities, we must not ignore the contributions of the individuals or the smaller organisations. The Cities of Love Award or COLA is therefore an award to recognise the efforts made by the ordinary person or enterprises – especially those that have shown much innovation, care, and love for the communities they live in. For us, no project is too small or insignificant. So, if your actions have made positive impact in any way, we welcome you to take part in the award as we believe that every positive effort should be given a chance to be appreciated and recognised.”
Mr Tai is also the current Chairman of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Honorary Advisor of the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) and a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission of the Design Business Chamber of Singapore (DBCS).
The inaugural Cities of Love Awards 2017 builds on the sustainable roadmap laid out by Mr Tai’s recently-launched book, Cities of Love.
The award is also open to all entries from small homegrown projects to large-scale corporate developments, and comprises three categories: Social Sustainability, Economic Sustainability, and Environmental Sustainability.
Social Sustainability aims to highlight initiatives, actions or organisations that will sustain their social group or community in the long-term. The criteria that these awards will be judged on include: Administration, Communications, Community Bonding, Community Care, Education, Family Support, Finance & Financing Operations, Parental Assistance, Social Services, and Others.
Economic Sustainability highlights business models or actions that balanced growth with contributions to the local economy and the welfare of the workforce who helped achieve it. The judging criteria include: Administration, Communications, CSR, Finance & Financing, Human Resource, Marketing, Operations, Organisation, Products, Services, and Others.
Environmental Sustainability highlights actions that create a sustainable and friendly environment, or help to protect or maintain existing environments. The criteria for judging include: Building, Construction, Design, Gardens, Landscape, Maintenance, Materials, Operations, Products, Services, and Others.
The Award is in support of SG Cares, a national movement dedicated to support the goodwill of Singaporeans and guide them to help those in need. The supporting partners include Green Living, Reed Exhibitions, Design Business Chamber of Singapore (DBCS), Raffles Design Institute, World Scientific: Connecting Great Minds, Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, Institute of Parks & Recreation Singapore, Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA) and Media partners such as Green in Future, ABC Carbon Express, The Avenue for Creative Arts and Fifth Avenue Media & Editorial Services.
The awards are open to all residency in Singapore. Corporate entities must be registered in Singapore to qualify for the business application.
The entry fee for the awards are S$100 for individuals, S$300 for community groups and S$300 for businesses, and is now open for submission at The closing date is on 31 July, 2017.
Ms Valerie Ang said: “Amidst trying times and an uncertain economic climate, we need heroes – people we can look up to as examples of inspiration. They are people with insight and foresight who look beyond the confines of the norm to set a new and better benchmark of quality living. These are significant changers. The awards are our way of providing a platform for new heroes to lead by example towards a green and sustainable future.”
The Cities of Love Awards 2017 Ceremony will be held at Marina Bay Sands on 22 September 2017. Winning entries will also be displayed at the 2017 Green Living exhibition at Marina Bay Sands in September. For more information, please visit

Inception launched the COLA Awards 2017 to recognise ordinary people who do extraordinary things that contribute to sustainable issues. Besides prominent figures such as government or business leaders who have helped to implement large-scale change, Inception aims to show that no project is too small, no step is too insignificant – if actions have made a positive impact in some way, they should not be discounted.
Inception was formed in Singapore in August 2010, by Valerie Ang and Tai Lee Siang, out of a passion to transform lives, environments, and societies. It believes that everyone has the capability to bring change. Inception hopes to be a vehicle of change through holistic creations that promote sustainable living. Its long-term vision is to develop a basket of diverse creative projects that could include products, publications, multi-media productions and even gastronomic experiences. By introducing new innovations and perspectives that are sustainable and economically feasible, it hopes to contribute to harmonious and peaceful living on this Earth we call home.

Online Access to Arts and Culture Attractions

Mobile App Draws Tourists from Ten Countries
To Book Singapore Attractions

By Ken Hickson

Making it easier for tourists in Singapore to see more attractions and attend more events – and save money at the same time – is the objective of a new mobile App (application) called TravelEase, a local start up with its tech savvy eyes on regional expansion.
With close to 5000 registered users in ten countries, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, the TravelEase App which started in September 2016, is going through an expansion phase this month, adding more categories and attractions for Singapore, as well as moving into Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Up until now, TravelEase has offered 45 attractions and events in different categories, the most popular being Gardens by the Bay and Universal Studios, but this month sees five new categories, with another 20 places and activities to book in Singapore.
Arts and Culture, along with food and drinks, are expected to be the new categories to attract the most interest, says TravelEase General Manager Arvinder Singh.
The other three new categories are: tours and sightseeing, attractions and shows, and fun and activities.
“With our focus on providing a hassle free travel experience and competitive prices, means tourists can actually see and do more while in Singapore. By being able to search, select and pay in advance online, before they even arrive in Singapore, bookings are automatically stored in their own online itinerary and they can add more activities as they go along”, Arvinder explains.
As all TravelEase tickets are paperless, all the user has to do when arriving at an attraction or activity is show or scan the booking kept on his or her mobile phone. Reminders and directions are incorporated in the App to it make it even more convenient for the independent traveller who might be on a first Singapore visit.
TravelEase was conceived and developed by four well-travelled Singapore-based entrepreneurs who could see that the digital economy was putting control, access and payment into the hands of individual travellers, armed with their mobile phones.
“What we’ve shown in a relatively short time is that there is definite market demand for our mobile App in Singapore and regionally,” Arvinder says. “Our users are happy and we’re getting more and more local businesses on board with attractive offerings.”
So it’s a growing business that’s good for the tourist, the travel industry and the economy. So much so that TravelEase is already eyeing even bigger markets after Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Tokyo and Taipei are next in line.

About TravelEase
TravelEase was launched in Singapore in September 2016 as a mobile App (application) for tourists to search, book, pay, store and redeem e-tickets for visits to attractions and leisure activities. Started by an enterprising group of Singaporeans and foreigners who have travelled widely, TravelEase leverages technology to disseminate information and make transactions, enabling 5000 subscribers in 10 countries (as at 1 May 2017) to have bookings automatically stored in their own online itinerary. The user, who joins for free, is also able to securely store their travel document details and any other planned events/meetings, get reminders of bookings, including syncing with their Google calendars. TravelEase users receive attractive discounts at attractions, along with a paperless record of their bookings and payments, all on their mobile phone. Starting with Singapore, TravelEase is now adding other Asian destinations, with Hong Kong and Bangkok coming online this month (May 2017), followed by Tokyo and Taipei in June 2017. More info:

Ken Hickson, Managing Editor of The Avenue for Creative Arts and ABC Carbon Express, writes about TravelEase and has agreed to spread the word through Fifth Avenue Media and Editorial Services, the Arts and Education publishing and communications division of Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA).