Laura Ashley heiress gave up money for love: Poor little rich girl finds her stride

Left: Ms Angeline Francis Khoo with her mother Pauline Chai. A London court awarded Ms Chai $114 million after a drawn-out divorce tussle with tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng. Above: Ms Khoo married Caribbean-born data scientist Jedidiah Francis nine ye
Ms Angeline Francis Khoo with her mother Pauline Chai. A London court awarded Ms Chai $114 million after a drawn-out divorce tussle with tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ANGELINE FRANCIS KHOO

Laura Ashley heiress gave up money for love and has not regretted decision

For the last five years, Ms Angeline Francis Khoo's parents have been in the limelight for their high-profile, multimillion-dollar divorce tussle in a London court.

But less than two weeks ago, Ms Khoo made headlines herself when she revealed that she gave up her sizeable inheritance and defied her father - Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng - to marry the man he disapproved of.

Unlike her parents' acrimonious divorce proceedings in which a London court awarded Ms Khoo's mother Pauline Chai a £64 million settlement (S$114 million) in April, Ms Khoo's love story is one for the romantic novels.

While a student at Oxford University nine years ago, Ms Khoo disobeyed her father to marry Caribbean-born data scientist Jedidiah Francis, which led to her father ending their relationship and ceasing all financial support, she told British tabloid The Daily Mail.

Mr Khoo is best known for owning lifestyle brand Laura Ashley and the Corus group of hotels and is said to be worth well over £200 million.

"I've been fortunate to have that perspective - you can have money and it's a blessing. It allows you to do things and gives you options, but there are also things that come with it, such as control," said Ms Khoo, 34, a fashion designer. "Money amplifies negative characteristics and that can cause problems. To walk away from that was actually very easy. I didn't even consider it."


Ms Khoo married Caribbean-born data scientist Jedidiah Francis nine years ago despite her father's disapproval. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ANGELINE FRANCIS KHOO

Some netizens have praised her decision to follow her heart, exert her independence and build on her own achievements.

"I know it's a privilege, something I was born with and did nothing to earn," Ms Khoo says of her wealthy background, in an e-mail response to The Sunday Times yesterday. "So I try my best to never forget it or take it for granted."

Others, however, had little sympathy, and considerable racist vitriol, for Ms Khoo's decision. One social media user accused her of being "shameless" as "she has a gold mine of a mother to rely on" , another warned that her husband "will leave her 'cos she is no longer rich".

Ms Khoo, no stranger to turmoil going by reported accounts of her father's controlling behaviour, has taken the flak in her stride. According to Malaysian daily The Star, she responded to an online user who criticised her for not knowing her father's net worth by saying it would be "rather odd" for any child to know their parents' net worth.

While she may not have known the extent of her parents' wealth, the divorce proceedings unveiled the lavish lifestyle of a family that split its time between staffed homes in Malaysia, Australia, Canada and Britain. One of these was the £30-million Rossway Park estate in Hertfordshire, which had a 15-room mansion and two lakes on its 405ha grounds.

 

Her life today with husband "Jed", whom she said is "brilliant, kind and has strength of character", appears far more grounded. They live in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Paddington, central London, and are content spending their leisure time on the sofa.

"One of our favourite things to do is binge-watch Netflix," she said. "When The Killing was first released, we lost two days of our lives."

According to News Americas Now, Mr Francis, head of data science at online fashion retailer Asos, holds a doctorate in statistics from Oxford University. He had in 2006 obtained a first-class degree in biology and business management from Queen Mary University, London, on a scholarship.

His wedding to Ms Khoo was reportedly a modest affair held in the chapel of Oxford's Pembroke College, where he worked. Costing only £1,500, it was attended by 30 guests, with no one from Ms Khoo's family present.

A BLESSING AND A CURSE

I've been fortunate to have that perspective - you can have money and it's a blessing. It allows you to do things and gives you options, but there are also things that come with it, such as control. Money amplifies negative characteristics and that can cause problems. To walk away from that was actually very easy. I didn't even consider it.

MS ANGELINE FRANCIS KHOO

She may have walked away from her father's financial legacy, but Ms Khoo still carries with her his business acumen, honed from her teenage years when she spent summer holidays working in various departments at Laura Ashley.

So it is little surprise that she set up a retail venture of her own three years ago - rosieonfire.com, an online boutique selling kimonos.

The company aims to hire "marginalised people" - women at risk, low-income families and autistic individuals - in manufacturing and order fulfilment, processes best suited to their skills.

"I can't do anything about the privilege I have, but I can do my best to be responsible with it," said Ms Khoo.

She is the fourth of five adult children. Her older brother Alfred has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary tics, while her older sister Angelina and younger brother Alex are on the autistic spectrum.

She, together with her other older brother Andrew and her mother, help care for the three siblings.

 

In a letter to the judge presiding over her parents' divorce, she had detailed how her father allegedly refused to provide financial or medical assistance to two of her brothers when they were living in Canada, forcing one of them to apply for welfare assistance.

She had said: "He told me he expects them to work and support themselves because that's what men do."

The letter also described how one of her brothers worked at McDonald's but could not hold down the job because he could not keep up with the pace, and often got his arms and fingers burned.

"My siblings are on the autistic spectrum and based on that fact alone, I can see how our lives have diverged," said Ms Khoo.

"Because of that, one of my core motivations in life is to provide opportunities for people who haven't had the same chances I have had."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Poor little rich girl finds her stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe