Sharon Au: 'Lee Kuan Yew indulged a silly, giggly girl'

Sharon Au: 'Lee Kuan Yew indulged a silly, giggly girl'
OOPS! Sharon Au holding on to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s hand after shaking it at the Speak Mandarin Campaign event. She recalls Mr Lee burst out laughing at her gaffe.

A black-and-white photo serves as a reminder of the only time former TV host Sharon Au interacted with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

"I was teaching Mr Lee how to SMS a code in Chinese. He was so clueless and cute. (At) that moment, I completely forgot who he was and felt like I was talking to a grandfather I never had," Au, 40, told The New Paper.

Au and Mr Lee were at the 25th anniversary of the Speak Mandarin Campaign at the NTUC Centre in December 2004.

Mr Lee, who was then Minister Mentor, was the guest of honour.

He had started the annual drive in 1979 to wean Chinese Singaporeans off the use of dialects.

The campaign succeeded, with the percentage of dialect-speaking families falling from 76.2 per cent in 1980 to 46.2 per cent in 1990 and 30.6 per cent in 2000.

And over those decades, the percentage of Mandarin speakers rose from 13.1 per cent to 32.8 per cent to 45.1 per cent.

Standing next to Mr Lee on stage for the launch of the campaign had a daunting effect on Au.

"I was awestruck by his presence and aura on stage," she recalled.

"My mind actually went blank at that point and I couldn't really remember what was the actual code to send. When I told Mr Lee, he laughed."

Mr Lee was supposed to send the message "Use More, Speak More, Advantage Galore. Mandarin Cool" in Chinese to 25 guests at the event to launch the campaign.

"Indulging a silly, giggling girl, he said we had to figure out what the code was. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to start the campaign and that would not be cool," Au said.

Mr Lee's use of the word "cool" triggered her memory and she remembered the code. When she told him, he smiled before sending it out.


The campaign launch went smoothly from then on. But Au was to have another nervous moment at the end.

She said: "Another faux pas happened. After shaking his hand to thank him before he left the stage, I forgot to release it. I actually held on, refusing to let go.

"Everyone in the audience held his breath in horror. But Mr Lee burst out laughing."

Au went to Japan to further her studies in 2005 and that precious black-and-white photo with Mr Lee followed her - "from my school dorm in Tokyo, Japan, to my dorm in Lyon, France".

It now has a place on the desk in her office. She currently works as an executive in MediaCorp's strategic development department.

Au said of Mr Lee: "He was a giant when facing world leaders, but he was a dear grandfather to a giggly girl who was his fan.

"I will miss him terribly."

This article was first published on March 25, 2015.
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