The power list: 30 people who have shaped Singapore

The power list: 30 people who have shaped Singapore

Artists, architects and the wife of Singapore's founding father feature in the first of our three-part series, looking at the personalities who have helped engineer this country's DNA

Once you've read from 30 to 21 here, click here to see those who make up positions 20 to 11.

Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew

30. Kwa Geok Choo and Lee Kuan Yew: The power couple

With all the attention focused on the Clintons and the Obamas, it’s easy to forget that the original political power couple was the late Kwa Geok Choo and her prime minister husband Lee Kuan Yew. For over half a century, the Lees played a formidable tag team – he, negotiating the political and social quagmire of a fledgling nation, and she, the very capable voice of reason and counsel. That a tiny island like Singapore with no natural resources to speak of, and a former British colony at that, has managed in the space of two generations to leap frog from Third World obscurity to a First World economic powerhouse is proof enough of the Lees’ enduring class act


Shaw Brothers

29. Shaw Brothers: Kung fu champions

Singaporean’s love for the movies owes much to Shanghainese brothers Runme and Run Run Shaw.

At the height of their success, they operated 19 cinema halls in Singapore and used the city-state as a film distribution center -- that meant easy access to the latest movies.

It helped that the Shaw brothers made and produced their own movies. And that they introduced kung fu films to Singapore.

Apart from movies, they also managed two amusement parks: New World Amusement Park and Great World Amusement Park, and created the Shaw Foundation which continues to contribute to local charities.

Najip Ali

28. Najip Ali: Regional wit

Being relevant is important to Najip Ali. And it should be, since it’s his job to keep a 300-million-strong Malay-speaking Southeast Asian audience entertained.

That’s a long way from his early days as the host of "Asia Bagus," a talent search program that aired in the 1990s. His antics, colorful and wacky wardobe and off-the-cuff wit brought him fame that lasted long after the show came to an end.

Today Ali runs two companies and is an executive producer and director. He hopes to one day have a nusantara (Malay archipelago) station called TV:ism, which stands for “TV for Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.”

Success hasn’t gone to his head. “Who I am today,” Najip says, “is because of my community. Thank you for your love and support.” Thanks, Najip.


Dr Kanwaljit Soin

27. Dr. Kanwaljit Soin: Leading lady

Dr. Soin gave parliament a much-needed female presence when she became the first Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) in 1992.

She held the position until 1996 and has since worked to raise awareness of female issues.

She also served as President of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) from 1991 to 1993 and is one of the most well-known names in Singapore when it comes to women’s issues.

She is still in practice as an orthopedic surgeon and retains her ties to the community as the current president of the Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings).



26. WoHa: Building winners

Founded in 1994, architectural outfit WoHa is an acronym for its principals Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, but there’s nothing short-handed about the Singapore-based firm’s work.

Boasting an unusual oeuvre that runs from grand churches and towering condominiums to tropical resorts and train stations, the duo’s bold silhouettes pepper the regional architectural environment in places including Bangkok, Bali and China.

Their 2007 Aga Khan award for architecture was an unprecedented scoop for a Singaporean firm, but with the recent completion of the mammoth School of the Arts, and the Bras Basah and Stadium MRT stations -- alongside a clutch of projects underway in China -- it seems that their best work may be in front of them.

Lee Wen

25. Lee Wen: Yellow power

First a banker, Lee Wen (thankfully) quit the finance industry in 1988 to devote himself to art.

A few years later he propelled himself to fame when he started appearing as the Yellow Man. For this series of installations and performances that today's audiences continue to define him by, Wen covered himself from top to toe in bright yellow paint -- a statement about his Chinese ethnicity -- and appeared in various provocative settings.

The Cultural Medallion recipient still makes audiences sit up with projects such as his new series “Anyhow Blues,” a take on a conservative society trying to be hip. (We're loving the implied irony here). He's also behind a regular performance art night called R.I.T.E.S. and is planning to pull together a solo exhibition in 2011.



Philip Cheah

24. Philip Cheah: Indie prophet

Back in the 1980s, when Singapore was a cultural wasteland and there was nothing on the radio, Philip Cheah and brother Michael started BigO, a now-legendary ‘zine that pushed local musicians and artists into the spotlight.

As director of the Singapore International Film Festival in the 1990s, Cheah's championing of young filmmakers like Eric Khoo led to the revival of Singaporean movies.

Long before "Supporting The Arts" became public policy, he promoted, encouraged and inspired countless bands, directors, writers and artists. Quietly but persistently, Cheah has paved the way for the flourishing of independent music and film.



23. Gerrie Lim: Agent provocateur

When it hit the shelves in 2004, excited crowds ripped open "Invisible Trade," Lim's book about Singapore’s sex industry, like it was a box of condoms.

The pivotal publication explored a subject previously the domain of tabloid journalism in a serious, intelligent yet lively way.

Lim has since delved deeper into the provocative subject, releasing "In Lust We Trust" -- about the porn industry -- and "Invisible Trade II."

While his work has pushed the envelope of journalism in Singapore, Lim does not think Singaporeans are more open-minded now than before he started writing.

"All I can expect is that some people might be willing to alter their perception of things after they’ve read something that has moved them," says Lim.

Up next, a book about Annabel Chong, called "Searching for Annabel Chong."



Thomas Wee

22. Thomas Wee: Class cut-up

A name synonymous with Singaporean fashion, Wee, dubbed the “King of the Jacket” for his precise suit tailoring, is known for his innovative designs and cutting techniques.

Wee's innovative “one-seam detail” technique uses just one seam to create clothes. During his heyday, Wee designed three labels -- Thomas Wee, Mixables and Luxe -- and operated a high fashion boutique, well ahead of its time.

The 1998 financial crisis forced its closure, however, leaving Wee to lecture on fashion design at NAFA for a decade.

He has only recently returned to the fashion scene with a new collection at Tangs.



Ah Meng

21. Ah Meng: Tourism ambassador

Star of the popular zoo event “Breakfast with an Orang Utan,” the late Ah Meng dined with many a celeb, including Prince Philip, Elizabeth Taylor and the late Michael Jackson. Bubbles was not present.

When she died in 2008, more than 4,000 people attended her funeral. A bronze statue now marks her grave on the banks of the Upper Seletar Reservoir.

So significant was Ah Meng that her death monopolized headlines, overshadowing news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who died on the same day.

“Visitors to the Singapore Zoo still ask for her," says Sam, her keeper for 36 years. "It brings back all my memories and my love for her deepens as the days go by. Ah Meng will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Now click here to read part two (numbers 20-11).