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How a Penang-born Singapore MP fell in love in bonny Scotland.

Date: 2007-02-12

WHEN news broke recently that Singapore's Tampines GRC (Group Representation Constituency) MP Irene Ng was getting married, excited friends from all over Singapore called to ask about the engagement.“A neighbour’s husband even joked that this means he has ‘no chance’ now’,” says Asmah Atan, a long-time grassroots leader at Ng’s Tampines ward.

Asmah learnt about the good news when the MP announced it to her grassroots leaders during a recent event.

“Someone pointed out to me that Ng was wearing a diamond ring,” she says. ”Then Ng said, ‘Tell you a secret. Even my mother doesn’t know this yet but you all are like family to me. I’m getting married’. We were so surprised.

“I teased her that she must conduct a question-and-answer session but she ran away before we could grill her.”

Ng – originally from Penang and the only daughter of a former school principal and a housewife – will marry Scotsman Graham Berry in July.

The 42-year-old met him while she was on a three-month fellowship at the Univer-sity of Edinburgh last August. Berry, 62, is chief executive of the Scottish Arts Council.

This is one of the island’s sweetest love stories involving a public figure in a long while: Ng is the first Singaporean MP in more than 20 years to get married while in office. (The last MP to tie the knot was Ibrahim Othman in 1985).

When contacted, Ng and her husband-to-be both declined to talk further about this matter. Appealing for privacy, Ng explains that “marriage is a very sacred and private thing between two individuals, and we would like to keep our personal relationship personal”.

However, this much is known based on an earlier interview with Singapore newspaper The Straits Times: Cupid struck on Aug 17 last year when the couple met for the first time at a reception hosted by Berry.

A day later, he asked her out to lunch, saying he wanted to discuss “collaborative ventures” between both countries. A date was set for Aug 24.

It was only when he quizzed Ng on personal things such as her love for writing and why she joined politics that she realised “he wanted to get to know me better as a woman, and not so much as an MP”.

“We found that we have many things in common – jazz, sports, books, a love for nature. I sensed a good man in him.”

Graham then invited Ng to a Berlin Philharmonic concert, followed by more dates. Love blossomed as they shared walks along the windswept coast, hikes up the spectacular Scottish hills and attended several more concerts.

“During all those dates, I made clear to him how much I loved Singapore and how seriously I take my service as MP to my constituents. I talked to him about grassroots work and how that was an important feature of my life,” Ng says.

“He also told me about his life and passions. I was particularly impressed that for 12 years, he was a volunteer in a civilian mountain rescue team which rescued people lost or injured in the Scottish mountains.”

According to the Scottish Arts Council website, Berry has been with the arts body since 1989. A trained accountant, he has worked for accounting giant Price Waterhouse, the Scottish Council for Educational Technology and the University of Stirling. His hobbies include climbing and photography.

He proposed just before Ng left Scotland in October. But she said “yes” only after he visited Singapore and her constituency in November. “It was important to me that he loves both,” she says.

Berry visited Tampines Changkat at the end of last year and, among other things, toured a wet market and watched a Chinese orchestra performance. Grassroots leaders say no one suspected anything then because everything was done in a strictly professional manner.

Berry has since tendered his resignation and is now serving six months’ notice. He will settle in Singapore although it is still unclear what he plans to do.

He did have this to say exclusively to StarMag, though: “I will support Irene in her work as an MP because I know it is important to her and it is part of her.

“In fact, that’s why I am attracted to Irene: not only because of the many interests we have in common but also because of her commitment to her work as an MP and the people she represents, particularly those who are less fortunate.”

The couple will marry in Scotland in July on the once-in-a-lifetime date of 07.07.07. The church ceremony in Singapore will be held on July 28 at the Church of Singapore in Marine Parade. The celebrations will culminate in a dinner for relatives and friends in Penang in November.

The bride will be wearing a wedding gown designed by Francis Louis Ler of Amor Meus, a boutique in Singapore that specialises in cheongsams and kebayas.

For the MP who wrote in a 2001 newspaper column that, “I still hope to tie the knot one day”, it is a fairytale ending. As she said recently: “He is a wonderful man. He brings out the best in me, and I hope I do the same for him.”

The whirlwind romance took many Singaporeans by surprise, including members of Singles Connect, a support group for single people which Ng started in 2001. She has asked Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef, 40, to lead it.

Its secretary, Irene Foo, who is in her 40s, says that the executive committee members were “delighted and very happy” for Ng when they heard the news.

“Ng is synonymous with Singles Connect and we are sad to have her step down. We hope to carry on the good work that she has left behind,” says Foo.

That Ng has consistently spoken up in Parliament about the problems that singles on the island face has added buzz to the event.

Former Tampines MP Yatiman Yusof adds: “I hope she doesn’t stop fighting for the rights of single people. Marriage doesn’t mean that she should forget about them.”

The former journalist with Singapore’s The New Paper and The Straits Times was one of three single women to be elected in the 2001 General Election.

Their entry into politics was considered a ground-breaking move then because it was the first time that the ruling People’s Action Party had fielded single, female candidates.

Over the years, she has voiced the concerns of single people in Parliament, and has pushed for tax relief on the foreign maid levy and questioned why pro-family measures were not extended to single mothers with adopted children.

Her romance has undoubtedly given hope to many singles still looking for love, particularly those aged 35 and above. There are about 102,600 single men and about 101,800 single women over the age of 35 in Singapore.

“Ng has proven that it is never too late to meet the man of your dreams,” says Violet Lim, 26, founding director of Singaporean dating agency Lunch Actually.

She adds that singles can learn from Ng’s experience as she “unknowingly created many great opportunities to meet potential Mr Rights” by being involved in various causes. – The Straits Times /Asia News Network

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