Kids get way more attention from royals

Catherine (left), the Duchess of Cambridge, greets young fans at Gardens by the Bay during her visit to Singapore on September 12, 2012.

I'm no stranger to royalty. I've met Queen Elizabeth II.

Well, when I say "met", we both happened to be at a Toa Payoh event at the same time. But I saw her in sensible, flat shoes and a dignified yellow dress, which was probably not the most subtle choice of outfit on my part.

But in all seriousness, people will try anything to grab the attention of a royal, a celebrity or a member of One Direction (that's my lame attempt to get down with the kids. I still have no idea who they are, but their posters are everywhere, a bit like dengue fever posters.)

Back in 2006, Queen Elizabeth II returned to Toa Payoh to visit the home of a family she had met years earlier (no, it wasn't mine. She never visited my East London childhood home when I was kid.

Whenever anyone in authority ever turned up on our doorstep, it was usually to enquire about some stolen property.)

She was visiting an HDB block that was near mine and there was probably a column in it so I popped over with a friend and we waited in the insufferable heat.

"Here, take my daughter," my Toa Payoh kaki suddenly instructed, throwing his bemused three-year-old girl at me. "Stick her on your shoulders."

"What for?"

"If the Queen sees an ang moh carrying a local Chinese, sure come over."

So we did. But she didn't.

She did smile though.

Six years later, I popped down to Gardens by the Bay to catch a glimpse of the Queen's grandson Prince William and wife Catherine, figuring there might be a column in it.

On Wednesday, I dropped my daughter off at school and informed her that I was off to meet a prince and princess at Marina Bay. She instructed me to bring home the prince - preferably on horseback - so she could marry him after school.

I came home later with neither a prince nor a horse, but a packet of Hello Pandas. Kids are so easily bought, it's scary.

But not half as scary as the scenes I encountered at Gardens by the Bay. There was waving, screaming, shouting and whistling. Some people just cannot wait for a car park space, can they?

In my naivety, I had expected hardly anyone to turn up besides expat schoolchildren happy to stand in front of any grown up not holding a marker pen; bored British housewives and plummy types from either the British Council or the British High Commission called Henrietta or Rupert.

They were all there of course. (In fact, I only come across these guys at such events. Where do they go for the rest of the year? I'm thoroughly convinced that they're cryogenically frozen in Dom Perignon and thawed twice a year to put on a big hat and greet someone rich, royal or British.)

One particularly grating group of Brits near the gift shop appeared to be stuck in the inter-war period. Whenever a Royal was rumoured to be approaching, they threw their children at a young South-east Asian helper and tottered off in their high heels to wave at Prince William's head as he passed by in an NParks buggy.

Fortunately, and to my considerable surprise, more than just mad dogs and Englishmen came out in the midday sun at Gardens by the Bay. Singaporeans were everywhere.

Aunties, uncles, young couples, teenagers and children squeezed themselves against the fences, ignoring the intolerable heat to shout "Welcome to Singapore" or "Kate, you're beautiful" or "wah lao, cannot see my foot is it?"

A local lady behind me tried her luck by suddenly exclaiming, "William, you are so ham-some", which brought back long forgotten nightmares of Orchard Towers.

Meanwhile an uncle insisted on referring to the Prince as "willy".

"Hey, Willy, over here," he cried. "Willy, willy, over here, willy."

In England, the only men who usually shout such things are flashers.

But royal-mania certainly gripped an otherwise quiet corner of Singapore on Wednesday. Even the grouchy cynic got a little swept up in the temporary insanity as I noticed that Prince William and Catherine were heading in my direction.

I needed a distraction. There was an Indian woman beside me comforting her crying daughter. It had to be done.

"Is she crying because she cannot see," I asked, feigning sincerity. "Would you like me to pick her up to see the royal couple?"

"No, it's OK," she said kindly, but firmly, clearly not sure whether I was a Good Samaritan or a danger to the public.

So Prince William and Catherine passed me by, stopping instead to talk with a little brat waving a flag.

That's it. The next time I come into contact with royalty, I'm stealing a kid.

tnp@sph.com.sg

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