Irene Ang: My neighbours thought I was going to become a prostitute...
Behind her upbeat personality lies a painful past.
But that past gave local comedian and CEO of talent agency FLY Entertainment, Irene Ang, the strength and drive to succeed.
During her childhood, Ang and her brother sometimes had no roof over their heads.
Her home life was extremely unhappy.
Ang's mum and dad were both addicts – the former to drugs, the latter to gambling.
Their vicious quarrels and fights often meant Ang's mother storming out of the house with the kids.
Ang said she would sleep at bus shelters.
Ang recounted her difficult childhood at the press conference for the Fairy Godparent programme last Friday (June 12).
The initiative by The Yellow Ribbon Fund and Industrial and Services Co-Operative Society (ISCOS) helps children of ex-offenders acquire a good education and positive life skills.
For Ang, 47, being able to speak at this event (below) was special for her as her mum went to prison in the 1980s because of her drug addiction.
Arguably most famous for playing Rosie in local sitcom Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, Ang said she wanted to inspire young people in similar circumstances to combat the odds like she did.
In an interview with The New Paper, Ang gave her advice to children facing similar struggles.
"Never, never, never give up! Never, never blame your parents!
Indeed, throughout the press conference, there was no blame aimed at either parent.
But Ang readily admits that the escaping from her embattled circumstances was not something that she could have done alone.
"I’m taking this opportunity to thank all my uncles and aunties who took over in bringing me up," she says.
"And I’m also thankful I have an amazingly protective brother, Spencer. God’s gift to me above all, I had an incredible granny."
The comedienne also said that she was in some way fortunate that she grew up in an era of bigger family dynamics.
"In those days, we had large families. My father has nine siblings so we could all chip in to help each other."
"Nowadays, families are a lot smaller so through ISCOS’s Godparent programme, we can help these families."
As a Co-operative for ex-offenders, ISCOS helps members with their reintegration into society and extends support to their families as well and the event acknowledged two of its major sponsors - Trafigura Foundation and Goldbell Group.
Ang's mum's battle with drugs such as heroin started from the 1970s.
Her mother, a former nightclub singer, would take Ang to drug dens. There she would have to wait for her mother, sitting in rooms with burnt foil and other discarded drug paraphernalia.
She recalled how in 1976, her mother had wanted to put her in a girl's home because Ang had become a burden to her.
As Ang describes it, caring for her daughter meant less time for her mother's drug habit. The drugs came first.
For Ang, this was how she discovered that she was a fighter. If she really wanted something, she would have to fight for it.
She resisted her mum's decision, yelling and screaming until her mum relented.
Ang joked that in the process, she also discovered her talent for projecting her voice, something that would help in later life when she took to the stage.
The combination of her mother's dependency and father's gambling meant studies were a struggle.
She says: "I had to take my A-levels and I didn't have money to pay for the exam.
"My dad didn't give me money as he was often out gambling. There were days he wouldn't come home at all."
Ang has yet to pass her A-levels.
"Even after I earned my own money when I came out to work, I still failed my As after taking them three times.
"I told myself that one day I will take them and pass them. That is one thing I hope to achieve in this lifetime."
The former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (Kellock) primary school and Outram Secondary School student said that she often asked her beloved late grandmother why she had to be born in "such a family".
It was only in later years that she realised the adage had come true – that what didn't kill her had made her stronger.
Ang credits her success now to the fact that she had grown up during trying circumstances.
"If I was born in a normal family, I wouldn't be as hungry, as driven or as resilient as I am today.
"Instead of crying (about my circumstances), I went in the opposite direction.
"So I didn’t cope. I thrived! The fact is I can’t change who I am, where I’m born into. I can’t choose my parents.
"I decided to be the change I wanted to see in my life."
Ang's mum went through a transformation. She had spent a decade in and out of prison.
In 1984, she was discharged from prison and has stayed clean since.
Her turning point?
Ang said that her mother finally gave up drugs after Ang wrote her letter in 1983 to say that if she were ever to be incarcerated again, Ang and her brother would leave her for good.
Ang's mum admitted that she was terrified of growing old without her children, so she did what she had to do.
Through Ang, she told TNP:
"I was suffering inside and Irene asked me to pray.
"It helped me deal with the situation I was in. When I was released, I didn’t go back anymore which made Irene really happy."
In 1984, Ang's parents also got divorced which Ang says was one of the happiest moments for her and her brother.
It meant an end to the fights and quarrels that she and her brother could no longer stomach.
She and her brother "celebrated" the occasion by toasting each other with French fries and a chocolate fudge sundae at McDonald's.
Not only is Ang boss of her own entertainment company, both her parents are currently in her employ, though not together.
Her mum works as a cook and her dad works as a driver for the businesses that she owns.
They also manage to be civil to each other at family gatherings.
Ang's drive has helped her family recover.
"When I was young, I kept hanging the medals that I won at school sports on my gate.
"I hung them there so everyone could see that I wasn't a good-for-nothing and that I was going to make something of myself someday."
Her determination and refusal to sit back and accept her circumstances is what she hopes young people in similar circumstances will emulate.
"You know what my neighbours said about me last time? They said that I was going to turn out to be a drug addict like my mother, or a prostitute.
"I proved them wrong."