The Sultan, my fatherBy Kee Hua Chee
Who would know Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor better than his own daughter? KEE HUA CHEE poses no-holds-barred questions to Tengku Zerafina Idris, 33, his eldest child. She is currently an entrepreneur based in London, selling, of all things, curries to the swanky Harvey Nichols department store and Zadris cosmetics and skincare.
Describe your father
I would describe him as a complex man with many interests. A better reflection of his personality can be gauged by his book collection, which ranges from arts, architecture spanning centuries and continents, and history to military campaigns, biographies of great historical personalities, and business strategies.
And that’s (just) a few categories!
Q: Was he a strict dad or did you always get your way?
He never stifles our interests and lets us discover our own abilities and well-being according to our personalities. He believes each of us should play a part in the community we live in, even if it isn’t in Malaysia. So this attitude of assisting others and being involved in charity work has been inducted into us from a young age.
Q: What are the important lessons you have learned from your father?
Important lessons learned – education is the passport and key to any dream. The options and opportunities after completing my BBA (Honours) from the Parsons School of Design in New York and completing my MBA in London Business School have been tremendous. Without these qualifications, I would not have been able to work in the States, Malaysia and Europe the way I have done or been involved in the multitude of fascinating projects or met such amazing people over the past years!
Q: A personal anecdote?
My father is always keen for his children to have some sporting interests. I remember taking up fencing in boarding school and telling him. So he decided to take up the sport in Kuala Lumpur too. When I returned for the holidays, we used to fence and basically tried to stab each other. Great father and daughter bonding moments! I have also taken up kickboxing, but there has been no boxing ring set up so far.
Q: As eldest child, but being a daughter, you could not become Sultan of Selangor. Did you ever feel your father was disappointed his first-born was not a boy? Of course this was before Tengku Amir was born.
No, my father wanted each kid to be a strong individual and to accomplish our own goals and dreams. I think it wasn’t a question of having son or daughter over the heir issue but wanting us to be as constructive as possible with our time and life. I think what would bother him more is if we ended up more interested in shopping and not doing much else in life. He wanted children who are independent and can cope with any situation to the best of our abilities.
Q: Did you share his passion for sailing and go sailing with him often?
Yes, I have gone sailing many times with dad. Before sailing around the world and embarking on his other adventures, he started with hobby cat sailing. One trip was in Penang. He was sailing and I was enjoying the ride. Then the wind died and we were stuck in the blue yonder for a few hours, missing the flight home and, of course, with no sunscreen. After a couple of hours being grilled and turning red like shrimps on a barbecue, the wind picked up and we returned to shore with raccoon eyes – yes, we were wearing sunglasses. Quite a sight – alas, not a pretty one.
Q: Do you share traits with your father?
The passion for travel. I enjoy travelling with friends to South Africa, Asia and Europe. I did the student backpacking stint on trains and buses across Europe and America. Now I’ve changed to cheap air travel on no-frill airlines. I would like to go to Latin America and visit my friends there. I have a long list of sights and places I want to see. I like boutique hotels, no major chains.
One important thing to me is to visit a place and have a local experience. Sure, see the sights but do the things locals do rather than follow the usual tourist traps. This involves planning but I get an in-depth and unique understanding of the place and people.
Like dad, I love books and am quite a bookworm. I love reading. It’s hard for me to walk past a bookshop and not nip in. My account with Amazon . . . no wonder the share price is going up!
Dad and I love visiting new restaurants and trying something new. We share a pet peeve-– we can’t stand restaurants where the food and service are bad, then being over-charged. I am also a collector and, like dad, love discovering pieces of décor or artwork. Of course he is way ahead in this stake.
Museums! Visiting museums is something both my parents have instilled in us. We are low-key and like to lead the simple life – “less is more” type of minimalist attitude. No high living required for our happiness!
Q: Are there any specific encouragements from your father?
Four pointers – read and be up-to-date on world events and new discoveries. Be gainfully employed. Take up sports and no couch potato behaviour. Keep in touch with friends over the years and from all places.
Q: Does your father mind you working in London and not in Kuala Lumpur?
My father is happy as long as I am working! He was happy when I worked in the States, UK and Malaysia and (will be) as long as I am happy and being mentally challenged.
I worked for two years in Malaysia when he was away sailing around the world. It was my personal choice to work here when he wasn’t around so I could be judged on my own merits and hard work. I must say my work experience here was great as I met so many wonderful Malaysians. I really miss the lunch breaks, of going to the hawker stalls and eating laksa. More so when I left to do my Masters and ended up with soggy sandwiches in London!
Q: Would he mind if you were to marry a Mat Salleh? Or would your father prefer a Malay prince?
My father wants me to be happy in work, play, hobbies and marriage. The most important thing is that I am my own person and that marriage is about my own happiness and fulfilment. So I have to blow my own trumpet and say – super cool, Pop!
Marriage is not to be taken lightly and certainly not for the sake of a big party/wedding, remember my low-key attitude? Or feeling like I have to follow all my pals who are getting hitched.
Q: Why did you choose to be based in London?
I work in London but my team and product development are in Asia. So I get to go back home a few times a year. I think people don’t realise I am around due to my interest in local hawkers’ food, yum-yum.
In KL, work means being stuck in the office, sports and seeing the family. I see my pals who share the same passion for makan. I also promote Malaysia to my foreign pals so they come visit the country – therefore I am a tour guide on some days.
On this trip for the coronation, I have a few friends coming with me. We are going island-hopping, jungle trekking, jogging on the beach and cultural sight-seeing as well as attending the Grand Prix.
In London, the career opportunities are here and I get the tie-in with Asia, plus the multiple direct flights home. I am not in London for the weather and definitely not for the Tube and buses. I do miss the car scenario back home – some creature comforts are not a bad thing.
Q: What does your business deal in?
I am a UK director/entrepreneur of Marebay Ltd and we develop and find Asian products to sell to Europe, the States and Australia. To date, there is Miss Khoo’s Asian Deli, a range of eight curries selling in Harvey Nichols department stores in UK and specialty food retail stores in San Francisco, Australia and, of course, Malaysia. This year, there will be a launch of Zed Kitchen, beginning with three products for fusion and Asian cooking for the overseas market.
There is also a cosmetic range called Zadris, which has been in research and development for the past two-and-half years. It’s unique and very effective. The next phase is to assist as consultants to Asian niche brands or up-and-coming labels keen to enter the export market and understand the strategic directions and trends of the overseas markets. It’s vital for their sales and revenue streams.
I have also been approached to take to the next stage an Asian home shopping network with a base in the UK and US to source for Asian products and get airtime.