What happened to former pop star Stella Ng? Covid-19 brings her and son back to Singapore after 19 years

PHOTO: Instagram/ stellangsiangyi, Internet

Remember her?

Back in the early 2000s, two young female Singaporean singers forged their way to Taiwan ⁠— then the capital of Chinese pop music ⁠— to try to make their career. One was Stefanie Sun, and the other Stella Ng, who went by her Chinese name Huang Xiangyi.

Then only 19 years old, the pretty baby-faced singer nicknamed Music's Sweetheart went on to launch three albums, star in several local and Taiwan TV dramas and movies, and also front more than 10 commercials. Karaoke fans of Harlem Yu's classic hit Qing Fei De Yi might also recognise her as the star in the music video.

After four years as a popular celebrity (more on that later), a stint as a chocolate entrepreneur, and close to 19 years away from Singapore ⁠— 16 years in Taiwan and two-and-a-half years in Vancouver, Canada ⁠— Stella is now back home in Singapore for the next few years.

With her is her adorable eight-year-old son Ashton, her child with Canadian businessman Armstrong Yeh, whom she married in 2011. Stella and Ashton completed their Stay-Home Notice (SHN) here in late August.

In an interview with AsiaOne, Stella, who turns 40 in December this year, said she planned her big move three months ago when she realised Covid-19 was going to be around for a while.

Moving back to Singapore and converting her son's nationality

"This unprecedented pandemic has made it extremely difficult for me and my family to fly as frequently as we'd like to visit each other. My folks are old and I want to be back at their side during this pandemic," she said.

Before this global health crisis, Stella used to return to Singapore at least once a year to visit her family. She added that she and Ashton will be staying here for at least two years and she doesn't know if they will return to Canada at all.

She has applied to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for a place in a local school for Ashton, but received news that there is currently no available slot for the rest of the 2020 school year. She intends to home-school the boy for the next few months, while she waits for placement for Primary 3 next year.

PHOTO: Stella Ng

She said Ashton is excited to start school and make new friends here, and is also learning to drop his Canadian accent to speak with a Singaporean one instead. Stella called the boy over to the phone during our conversation, where he aptly demonstrated a very local pronunciation of 'grand-mar-dur' (grandmother).

She will also convert Ashton's nationality from Canadian to Singaporean. When we asked about Ashton having to do his national service, she replied: "We don't mind national service at all, we think it's good. I think national service has done wonders for my male friends and my brother."

Living in less exciting Singapore after 19 years away

Stella left Singapore soon after graduating from the National University of Singapore, spending most of her adult life overseas.

"A lot of people judge me on how I look and it can be misleading," she laughed.

"I am not soft or frail. On the contrary, I am a very tough cookie and a go-getter. I believe in women being independent, entrepreneurial, and living life to the fullest! I am always pushing my boundaries and stepping outside my comfort zone in both work and personal experiences, taking on new adventures, simply because that's the only way to deeper self-discovery and to creating a meaningful life."

Compared to bustling Taipei and scenic Vancouver, tiny Singapore must appear much less exciting, we said. But she is optimistic.

"I love Singapore! It will always be home to me. Familiar HDB blocks, delectable hawker food, and our iconic Singlish phrases are always close to my heart wherever I go," said Stella, who listed having wanton mee and kopi O siew dai, and bringing Ashton on a double-decker bus ride as her top must-dos.

"I am excited to move back here again after 19 years of being away, reuniting with friends and family. Singapore is definitely fast-paced compared to the lifestyle in Vancouver, but I hope to bring back here valuable insights of what I have learned living abroad."

Why she left Taiwan showbiz

When Stella left her rising showbiz career in 2004 to plunge into business, it would be reasonable to assume she wanted to be an entrepreneur.

But the reasons were actually much more sinister. Two years ago, she gave an interview to 8 Days where she admitted for the first time that she had left the Taiwanese entertainment industry partly because of sexual harassment.

She told the local publication that there were people who tried to pressure her to sleep with "people with power and reputation" in order for her to make it in the industry.

"That wasn't uncommon at all… I'm glad I never went down that road. And I'm glad I stuck to my principles. And maybe back then, when people said, 'Oh, Stella so wasted [for you to stop singing]!' But I never said anything. And it may have cost me my career advancement and my continuity in showbiz but I'm glad how it all turned out."

Stella also told 8 Days: "It wasn't that I was weak to stand up to it — I felt like I stood up to it in my own sense. I said no when I could say no. And I tried to put off any kind of advances that were made at me. But it's still very scary for a very young woman to be in this situation and when you have nobody to turn to."

She added that she spoke to a few lawyers but it was always her word against somebody else's.

When AsiaOne asked her about it, Stella elaborated: "It was horrible for me and I wished that #MeToo started earlier. Women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace has been around for too long.

"However, with the global media attention that the #MeToo movement has gained, I believe that women are now more likely to stand up against such acts. They are empowered with knowledge, tools and platforms to help them if they face such issues. This change is hopefully here to stay."

Even though she's no longer a pop star, she's never left music. She's in a band called Bossa Baby, where they re-invent children songs in the bossa nova style. Their debut album Bossa Zoo was launched in Taiwan in March and it's available on iTunes.