Inside The World Of The REAL Crazy Rich Asians
By Melissa Twigg Posted on 12 Sep 2018
In my hand was a doll-sized bear made mainly of diamonds, with two ruby eyes staring up at me glassily. ‘You can have it if you want,’ said the tycoon casually, as if he were offering me the last biscuit.
I had been in China for less than a month, working as features editor at Hong Kong Tatler – the glossy magazine that chronicles the lives of Asia’s one per cent. Think billionaires with solid-gold-plated Rolls-Royces, gem-encrusted loo handles and private jets on each of their private islands.
As Kevin Kwan wrote in his best-selling novel Crazy Rich Asians, ‘These people aren’t just everyday rich with a few hundred million. They are China rich.’ Kwan himself was famously inspired by the lavish tales of Parisian spending sprees and champagne-drenched superyacht parties that were chronicled in Singapore Tatler, where his aunt was a journalist. So, it is no surprise that I recognised a lot of what he described in his book – including jets decorated to look like Balinese resorts and climate-controlled wardrobes, where the shoes are kept 15°C warmer than the fur and cashmere.
The film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians brings this dazzling world to life in a fizzy, fabulous way, but as the first major studio picture in 25 years to star an all-Asian cast, it is also ground-breaking. Proving diversity works, it stormed the box office in the US and is set to do the same here when it opens on Friday. The storyline is typical romcom fare.
Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, an NYU professor going to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. Like most great romantic heroes, Nick Young (played by the gorgeous Henry Golding) is exquisitely eligible: vastly rich but burdened with a jewel-drenched family appalled by his American-born, middle-class girlfriend.
Newly arrived, I was as baffled as Rachel. During the diamond bear incident, I couldn’t understand why a polite interviewee I had met 45 minutes earlier was offering me what appeared to be a million-pound present. As I struggled between journalistic integrity and visions of my fantasy house and wardrobe coming to life, his wife – a supermodel – strolled in.
‘I was about to give the bear to this nice English writer,’ said the tycoon, sipping a cup of jasmine tea. I tried not to look too desperately eager. His wife smiled politely and then subtly shook her head at him. Just like that my Chanel suits and Saint Tropez villa faded from sight. Although I was at least driven home in his velvet- plated Bentley – a car so out of touch with reality that one drop of rain on its bonnet would consign it to the scrap heap.
Luxurious forms of transport quickly became routine. One interviewee suggested I hop on her plane and come to the Thai beach she was lounging on, as she didn’t feel like talking on the phone. Another billionaire arrived at our interview in a pale pink Rolls-Royce, followed by three powder blue ones, each containing two bodyguards. As we said goodbye, she offered me a Rolls and a beefy man for the afternoon – together we drove in silence to the dentist and then to one of my Tinder dates. I briefly felt like Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, which was possibly why the date ghosted me a few days later.
Our readers didn’t bat an eyelid at these tales of excess as their lives were equally moneyed. Asia has more billionaires than North America – and its rise to the top of the rich list has been vertigo-inducing. Ten years ago, China was thought to have no billionaires, now it has hundreds.
With an average age of 55, China’s ultra-rich are also a decade younger than their Western counterparts. That – and the fact that they are no doubt railing against the Cultural Revolution-induced austerity of their youth – leads to a life where a Picasso on the private plane is entirely normal.
Weddings are particularly lavish. The plot of Crazy Rich Asians is centred around the marriage of Nick’s best friend. And when his sister Astrid – played by Gemma Chan in the film – gets married, Kwan writes that ‘Sir Paul McCartney flew in to serenade the bride at a ceremony that was exquisite beyond belief.’
This isn’t particularly far-fetched.
There were more famous musicians at the nuptials I covered for Hong Kong Tatler than there are at your average festival. At one wedding, held at the ultra-glam Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in the South of France, the bride had a seven-gown repertoire, the slinkiest of which she wore to dance to the dulcet tones of Chris Martin, who flew in to play the after-dinner set.
When Hong Kong writer and stylist Feiping Chang married Lincoln Li in an elaborate three-day event in Capri last summer, we collectively swooned at the Cinderella-like Giambattista Valli dress, the wedding cake made from 15 kilos of wild strawberries, the thousands of owers and the rework display over the sea.
Ostentatious as they are, these people are far from ridiculous. Their empires are largely self-made and they spend millions on charity causes, while propping up the couture, watch and private jet industries.
I now live in London – partly because my high street dresses and shoes could no longer stand the competition with couture ballgowns. But watching Crazy Rich Asians will no doubt make me nostalgic for the glimpse I had into that world. And while I can’t say I made friends with any of these billionaires, they were all unfailingly polite. Possibly because, unlike Rachel Chu, I never got one of those eligible bachelors to fall in love with me…
Crazy Rich Asians opens in UK cinemas on Friday 14th September.
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