Consort of Selangor Sultan drove herself to secret wedding, new book reveals

(From left) Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, his consort, Tengku Permaisuri Norashikin Abdul Rahman, and his son, Tengku Amir Shah, arrive at an awards ceremony to celebrate the state ruler’s 71st birthday at Istana Alam Shah in Klang on Dec 11, 2016. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Writing about Malaysian royalty has always been tricky because it tends to feel like tiptoeing through the tulips. And because royal family members have always been bogged down by strict protocol and rules, literary works on them invariably end up being stifling and bureaucratic affairs.

That results in the writing becoming stiff, rigid and lifeless, and most of us easily get lost in the monotony of these almost cut and paste, "safe" articles.

But last week, a refreshing read on Her Royal Highness Tengku Permaisuri Norashikin, made its appearance.

The book - My First Year Journey - From TV News Anchor To Permaisuri Selangor: An Anecdotal Experience - offers surprisingly interesting insight into the life of the new royal member, which I'm sure caught many Malaysians off-guard, even her former colleagues in the newsroom at Angkasapuri.

Fascinatingly, Her Royal Highness was an award-winning news presenter who joined RTM in 1996.

But here's the gem: On Aug 31,2016, she drove herself to the mosque at Istana Alam Shah for the solemnisation ceremony, or akad nikah, where the Sultan of Selangor was awaiting his bride.

Both wanted the ceremony to be private and intimate, and His Royal Highness even ordered the news to be embargoed until Sept 2 - just before the couple left for their honeymoon in Mauritius.

Official press releases and photographs had to be held back for two days to ensure there were no leaks.

Norashikin, who came to the palace mosque as an ordinary, working journalist, had by then left the wedding venue officially as the consort of Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Al-Haj, but mum was still the word.

Upon the ceremony's conclusion, the Tuanku joined her and the children to return to his Istana Mestika palace in Shah Alam, and then, incredibly, she went back to work, and became the first Permaisuri to read the 8pm prime news.

She parked her car at Angkasapuri, reported to the news editor, had her makeup and hair done and was at the studio news desk by 7.45pm waiting to be on air, which was just part and parcel of her daily routine.

Her main worry was the cat getting out of the bag and having to end up reading her own carefully guarded secret, and should that happen, how her body language, expression and voice would appear.

But nothing of the sort happened. No one at the newsroom had an inkling what took place earlier in the day, and when the programme ended, she received a text from her sister with the teasing message: "Your diamond ring is blinding my vision. Cover up your finger please!"

A week before the big day excitement, she submitted a leave application to her news editor, requesting a two-week break from Sept 1 "to settle some personal matters" - which meant time off for her honeymoon, moving into Tuanku's house and running the errands of any newly wed.

The reply from the editor was a curt "I will think about it", but fortunately, she wasn't rostered for work in the first two weeks of September.

She left RTM for the last time as a news presenter then and began a new life and journey.

"I contemplated continuing to work while being the Permaisuri of Selangor. I know it might be hard to believe, but the Tuanku had said he would ask the Selangor Council of the Royal Court to hear their feedback," she said.

"Unfortunately, the Royal Council was not in favour of my request. As hard as it was, I just had to respect their decision and accept it."

Her Royal Highness also shared her experience, candidly and honestly, of her first official function, on Sept 17, 2016, at the prestigious Royal Lake Club to mark its 125th anniversary.

She spoke of how she wasn't sure whether she had to stand or remain seated so, when the toast was made, "I followed Tuanku's cue".

"Tuanku stood up for the first one and I followed suit. I gave Tuanku a quizzical look for the second toast, and he signalled that I should stand up for that one while he remained seated, as the toast was for him.

"For the third toast, I watched Tuanku and stood up when he did. What a relief I didn't mess up!"

And when the evening came to its end, the royal couple made their way out of the hall, where they met and greeted the guests. To her surprise, her secondary school headmistress from Convent Bukit Nanas was waiting. It was the first time they had met in 27 years, and the older woman looked nearly the same.

"Did she remember me? To my relief, she didn't at all. Imagine if she had recalled all the times I misbehaved in school. I would have been in hot water," she said, adding that those days were well behind her.

Her first official visit was on Sept 22, 2016, where she and Tuanku visited the senior citizens home funded by the Lembaga Zakat Selangor, or the Tithe Institution of Selangor.

It is home to 36 senior citizens above the age of 60 from the lower-income group.

The visit was a memorable one for her. As the visit came to an end, a resident gave her a huge smile and said: "You have the same name as my granddaughter. Her name is also Norashikin," making the trip a perfect one for her.

Her Royal Highness also shared her experiences visiting flood victims on Oct 19, 2016, at a hall in Klang, where she and the Raja Muda (a son of the Sultan) served food to the people.

"Once everyone had been served, it was our turn to eat. I grabbed a bottle of mineral water, washed my hands, then the Raja Muda and I found a good spot to sit down and eat with the rest of the flood victims.

"I really enjoyed eating with them that night and the food tasted even better because we were eating with good company."

But the interesting anecdote for me was her revelation of having a trace of Indian heritage from her father's side and some Chinese blood from her mother's.

Her involvement with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Selangor (SPCA Selangor) is well known, and she is also the Royal Patron for the Stray Free Selangor campaign.

The Tengku Permaisuri, who keeps 25 cats at home, is a strong advocate for the well-being of animals, especially cats and dogs.

"Stray animals are a very common sight in Malaysia. My heart goes out to all of them, cats and dogs alike," she said.

"They never asked to be born. As a developing nation, Malaysia is still far behind in championing animal rights, although all religions emphasise the importance of caring for all beings."

My favourite chapter in her book is about her decision to drive Tuanku to her mum's house without police outriders, while having HRH seated in the passenger seat.

"I took the steering wheel. Oh well! It sure felt good to be free to do whatever I want sometimes. And I did just that! Driving to my parents' house as I always have during Hari Raya," she said cheekily.

The best wrap-up in the 183-page book is her revelation that while she can no longer move around as freely as she used to, having become a public figure, there is at least one person who still has no idea who she is.

"I am very relieved that the hairdresser who did my hair on my wedding day still does not know who I am, even to this day. I still go to her sometimes to get my hair done, but with no entourage.

"She still greets me with the usual 'Hello! How are you? Busy ah? Long time no see!'"

The book was put together by her sister, Datin Dr Norely Haji Abdul Rahman, who has done a commendable job recording HRH's first year journey.

Educationist Dr Norely is a good storyteller who has successfully kept her readers engaged and would like people to keep turning pages to read more.

It's a skill not every writer has, not even some professional journalists. She surely has the flair for writing and has rightly chosen simple words and clear sentence structure to make it an easy read.

She drew inspiration from her favourite writers, Mary Schneider and Ellen Whyte, both columnists with The Star, and has excelled at this project.

The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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