Discovering new experiences as a family and raising kids who embrace discovery and adventure give Tiara Shaw a great sense of fulfilment. Yanni Tan finds out how she’s been spending time meaningfully.
With a bagful of treats and a spring in her step, Tiara Shaw leads me into the Singapore Polo Club’s stables to show me the school horses. This weekday noontime jaunt is a rare breather for the busy mother of two, whose days are chock-a-block juggling the schedules of her seven-year-old Victoria, two-year-old Henry, and of course, her husband, Shaw Organisation scion Markham Shaw.
She has already completed her riding lesson earlier in the morning and just spent the last two hours at the club bistro’s terrace chatting with me on life over the past two very unusual years. Clad in a camo-print dress with barely a trace of make-up, Tiara warmly greets various staff who look really glad to bump into her. An entire morning spent away from the family is infrequent for the full-time mum, who, despite appearances, insists she’s no lady of leisure. While the pandemic has created a lull for some hi-so personalities, the opposite is true for her.
Becoming Mrs Shaw
Granted, ever since parenthood beckoned in 2014, Tiara’s life has increasingly revolved around her growing family (that also includes three dogs and a guinea pig), and she has welcomed it with relish. Her world today seems so distant from the early days of her 11-year marriage, when she was embraced by the local society scene, kept an active work and social calendar, and learnt to navigate the world of this tight-knit community – as a new member of one of the most prominent old money empires in Singapore.
With her well-respected other half Mark, they made a popular A-list couple for many VIP and society functions. It’s not like the experience was new to Tiara, though. She was born here to Indonesian parents who had moved to Germany but then relocated to Singapore for work, and growing up, her mum would regularly take her to lavish parties and weddings in Jakarta and Surabaya. She attended school here and only left at 16 for a boarding school in Sydney, where she stayed for her university studies.
Tiara had never met Mark until way into adulthood, despite living in the same district, attending the same Catholic parish church and moving in overlapping social circles since they were kids – a fact they discovered only when putting their wedding montage together. They saw her mum in the background of one of his childhood photos taken at the church. She chuckles at the irony: “It’s like the film Sliding Doors. We’re probably in the same room on so many occasions and there’s actual physical proof because of these pictures but we didn’t meet properly until I was 30!”
Movie references are not uncommon in conversations with her (she likens the expat Indonesian community she grew up in to the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) – cinema is one of her passions and was a big part of her life when she was working for Buena Vista Columbia TriStar in her 20s. Even then, she only had a cursory knowledge of Mark as a film distributor and cinema operator. It would however be one of the things she realised she had in common with him when they met – much later when she moved into banking – through a mutual friend in December 2006 at an after-party.
During their three years of courtship, the couple would discover they are similar in many respects. Both grew up sporty and outdoorsy, and began scuba diving in their youth. While he’s a member of the Singapore Gun Club and would introduce the hobby to her, she had as an adolescent tagged along with her two elder brothers on boar hunts in Indonesia.
Then, there are the life experiences they identify with: “I’m a first-generation Singaporean but also a third-culture kid. Mark’s grandfather Runme Shaw was from Ningbo, China; and while his late dad Vee King was born here, his mum has Chinese, English and Persian ancestry. Mark also lived and studied in Hong Kong and UK for most of his youth.”
In fact, she had just received Australian residency and was about to move back to Sydney for a new job when she was introduced to Mark. This came on the heels of many fruitless matchmaking blind dates with Indonesian prospects set up by her mum. “I couldn’t see a future with someone who didn’t share my adventurous spirit or the two things I have always been passionate about: movies and scuba diving.”
On hindsight, they’d both laugh about how they finally found each other after so long. “Mark likes to say that God has a sense of humour.”
Rock star mum (and dad)
It must be a hoot to be Victoria. At seven, Mark and Tiara’s first-born has already built “ammunition-firing” robots in school, and in her spare time, engages in a wide array of sports and activities – from golf and horse riding to piano and Chinese enrichment programmes. Not that anyone forces her to, and Tiara is as far from a Tiger Mum as one can imagine. It looks like the girl also takes after her dad, who is an aeronautical engineer by training and loves tinkering with things.
“She’s doing quite well in school academically, so I don’t see the need to give her tuition. I don’t want her to be too far ahead in syllabus as you’d get bored in class. My daughter has always been very active – in fact, she’d asked me for most of the activities she’s doing now. She’s very persistent.
“At two and a half, she asked for Capoeira. It’s a Brazilian martial art and I didn’t even know what it was then. She went for the trial in her diapers in a room of older children and held her own. Then it was toddler golf when she was around four, after she saw kids hitting balls with sticks. She’s now in the Singapore Island Country Club Junior Golf Training Programme, and just won another monthly medal. I’m so proud of her.”
Appreciating nature and enjoying the outdoors are some of the things the couple agree on in their parenting. “That is especially crucial nowadays with so much computer use and screen time. It’s important that kids get passionate about sports because it sets them up for the future.”
On the subject of privilege, Tiara reveals that both she and Mark grew up independent and not overindulged. “He was raised to value money and give back to society,” she says of her husband, who is also one of three directors of Shaw Foundation and a strong advocate of hiring Singaporeans, including older folks, who are a familiar sight at Shaw cinemas. “The first time I flew in business class was when I was 30! And I worked until my kids came along,” says Tiara, who currently also manages her own investment and property portfolio.
Her two children are still really young, she concedes, but already the couple is ensuring that Victoria learns to be appreciative and not take things for granted. “We always tell her that if she wants something, she has to work for it. It’s not going to just appear on her lap.”
When I ask her if they do the whole “good cop, bad cop” routine, she says: “I don’t really like the term. We make sure the kids know that we love and support them unconditionally, despite the rules and boundaries. We put a lot of value on our experiences as a family, and we never make a promise we can’t keep. Mark and I work together and support each other as a team so that the kids cannot play one against the other.”
Tiara sums up her approach to parenting with this mantra: “Be consistent and always follow through.” Later, when walking me to the stables, she giggles as she repeats this phrase – but this time, she’s talking about dealing with cheeky horses.
Time of her life
Sharing similar values and beliefs has made parenthood enjoyable, especially when the pandemic has given the young family an opportunity for deeper bonding. “Victoria is quite the catalyst,” adds Tiara, who says the girl roped both her and Mark into her many interests. “Now I play piano duets with her, and Mark has picked up golf again. Mark and I did some horse riding in our youth, but we’re relearning it with Victoria.”
“The silver lining of the current situation is that we don’t miss any part of our kids’ growing up years, and I feel I have the luxury of freedom now to do what I want and spend time with my family. I think I overcompensate sometimes but it’s because I feel like I am living the childhood I wish I had,” says Tiara, whose mum was a career woman whom she didn’t see very much of when she was little.
Indeed, if only you could witness her excitement about her riding journey at the Singapore Polo Club – which Mark also shares. The famously close couple do a lot together, from having regular lunches (he also loves to crash her ladies luncheons) to practising yoga to whipping up a storm in the kitchen (he loves cooking while she bakes). She also accompanies Mark when he travels or entertains for work.
During a recent dinner at their home, Mark shows me a video he filmed from the sidelines of a show jumping training session where Tiara cleared six obstacles. From starting beginner classes since May this year, she has progressed to trotting and jumping. Now, she rides five to six times weekly, coming in second at the club’s elementary-level dressage competition for adults in September. Even though she fell and sustained minor injuries from landing on her buttocks recently, she shrugs them off.
“I discovered that I have a lot more courage than I thought I did,” says Tiara, when I remark on the horses’ size and how scary it must be to slide off them. “I have to remember that everything I do, my daughter watches. You set an example for your kids, right? So when I have a small fall or something, I get back on. I don’t want to show her that I quit easily.”
At the stables, Tiara looks like a picture of bliss handing out treats to the horses she rides regularly, and getting nuzzles in return. She’s expected to be home for lunch but she takes her time, even amusedly showing me how scratching a horse makes its lips quiver in delight. “I do find the company of animals – horses and my dogs – very, very therapeutic. When I do have time, I go for hair spa sometimes, but honestly, I’d rather be spending time here.”
In a week’s time though, she’d be off on a nostalgic couple holiday in Italy, where they had honeymooned. For her, the appeal of the country also lies in its cinematic heritage. She mentions Italian cinecittà, Elizabeth Taylor, and classics filmed there like Cleopatra. And it is this cinematic connection that draws her to Roman jeweller Bvlgari. “The jewels are bold yet very elegant and wearable. They possess an old Hollywood glamour,” says Tiara, who owns several pieces and finds the Magnifica High Jewellery creations she wore during our shoot “very mysterious and alluring”.
The favourite piece from her own collection is a Bvlgari Serpenti necklace with scales made of diamonds and snakewood, which is one of the most exotic and unconventional organic gems used in high jewellery. “I like the way the brand features colourful gemstones and animal motifs in a very organic way. I think snakewood is also sacred to the South Americans,” she adds, as she shows me a picture of the necklace on her mobile phone. “It is unique, sensual and tells a story.”
Even when discussing jewels, the topic inevitably returns to her latest passion. “I was told my lucky stone is the ruby, but I was wearing the gem when I fell off the horse, so maybe not!”
Fashion Direction: Johnny Khoo | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Photography: Cher Him | Fashion Styling: Jacquie Ang | Hair: Christvian Wu/Cinq Studio, using Kevin.Murphy | Make-up: Keith Bryant Lee, using Chanel Beauty | Photography Assistance: Yang Shihui | Fashion Assistance: Jessica Khor | Video producers: Crystal Lee, Sean Tham and Nafeesa Saini | Videographer: Hylman Suwandi | Video Editor: Farhan Zakaria
This story first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.