NDP showstopper Emma Lee: A career-driven woman who regards Singapore as home

Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade.
Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN
Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade.
Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN
Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade.
Emma Lee, 29, became a local Internet sensation after appearing numerous times on camera during the Aug 9 National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN
Ms Lee on camera during singer Kit Chan's rendition of Home.
Ms Lee on camera during singer Kit Chan's rendition of Home. PHOTO: YOUTUBE
Ms Lee on camera during singer Corinne May's performance of the 2010 NDP theme song Song For Singapore.
Ms Lee on camera during singer Corinne May's performance of the 2010 NDP theme song Song For Singapore. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - In person, Ms Emma Lee looks every bit the smiling, flag-waving National Day Parade (NDP) spectator who charmed television viewers with her eye-catching looks.

That she managed to hog the Internet spotlight - and had the media scrambling to uncover her identity - in the NDP's aftermath has made the experience even more surreal for the Chengdu native.

"It's been a crazy couple of days for me," confesses the affable 29-year-old, in a mixture of English and Mandarin, to The Straits Times in an exclusive face-to-face interview.

"I never expected to become one of the talking points of such an important event in Singapore's history."


ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Ms Lee was a constant muse of broadcast crews at the Padang, appearing at least five times on TV throughout the two-hour-long extravaganza on Sunday.

Dressed in an elegant red ensemble with matching white pearl necklace, she was also spotted waving the Singapore flag enthusiastically and singing along to National Day theme songs.

Netizens have likened her impact to now-famous South Korean newscaster Jang Ye Won, who became an Internet sensation when she was caught on camera at last year's World Cup in Brazil.

But Ms Lee is keen to dispel the notion that she is merely a pretty-faced foreigner with no substance.

The managing director of SinMetal International Pte Ltd is every inch a modern, career-driven woman who regards Singapore as her home.

Can you tell us more about yourself?

I came to Singapore in 2011 to pursue an MBA under the MDIS-University of Wales programme. I have two siblings (an older sister and a younger brother) who are living in China. My family will usually come over to visit me, particularly on special occasions.

Why did you choose to come to Singapore?

I was supposed to study in the UK, but I decided to come here as it is nearer to China. It is also a very safe country, and one whose harmonious multi-cultural, multi-religious society appealed to me. The country has really grown on me.

Tell us more about your work

I set up SinMetal International Pte Ltd, an aluminium products trader/supplier about two years ago. It has always been my ambition to start a company here, as Singapore has a good business environment with a talented pool of skilled labour to tap on. It is also very supportive of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

My company currently has five employees, including three Singaporeans. I plan to expand the company in the future, by bringing in new products related to the construction industry, but it will still be based in Singapore.

Why did you choose to work in a male-dominated industry?

I'm someone who is independent, driven and not afraid to pursue my dreams. My peers are sometimes surprised to see a young woman among them, but I like proving people wrong - besides, it's not bad being the poster girl for the modern career woman!

What was your NDP experience like?

It was my first time at a National Day Parade, and it was a real privilege to be given the opportunity to do so on Singapore's 50th birthday. I was invited by my Singaporean friends and attended the parade along with my mother.

August 9 this year was also extra special to me as it was my Chinese lunar calendar birthday, although my actual birth date is July 31. People in China usually celebrate their lunar birthdays and it falls on different dates every year.

What was going through your mind as you were singing along to Kit Chan's song Home?

A few people have pointed out to me that I was on TV as the line "This is where I won't be alone, for this is where I know it's home" was being sung. My mum, who was beside me, asked me what the words meant and we both had tears in my eyes as I explained it to her - the words were so apt. Singapore is virtually my home now and thinking back, it was the right choice to grow my roots here.

Were you surprised at the attention you received?

I was overwhelmed by it! I noticed the cameras but the thought never crossed my mind that they were focusing on me. The attention is flattering but I would prefer not to be labelled just a pretty face. I've received over a 100 friend requests on my social media accounts (Facebook and Weibo) but I've rejected them all.

There was a report which stated that you were seeking a Singaporean partner to settle down with...

That's not the whole truth! I was asked if I would consider dating a Singaporean man and I said I'm definitely open to the idea as I'm single right now. But if it happens, it happens - I'm not going to force the issue. I am focused on my career at the moment.

What are some of your hobbies?

I'm like any Singaporean who loves local food, especially chicken rice, satay and oyster omelette. I also enjoy durian - I recently went on a durian-eating trip with my Singaporean friends and it was a blast.

I love music and playing golf, and in my spare time I volunteer regularly at community organisations and homes for the elderly.