2nd Thursday Meeting :: Singapore at 50 with BBC's Sharanjit Leyl


Speaker/ Presenter: Sharanjit Leyl


Event Review by Alexandra Touchard


Walking into Primetime’s Second Thursday meeting this week, I gave Sharanjit Leyl, BBC’s well-known Singapore-based reporter, an excited wave and a supportive smile – forgetting that we weren’t actually friends.

News presenters are a funny breed. You come to feel you know them personally, as they are regulars in your living room and listening to them provokes so many family discussions and debates, sometimes one forgets they weren’t actual participants in the conversation!

Anyway, Sharanjit returned my warm greetings with the slickest of professional smiles (no doubt assuming I was a minor celeb she’s interviewed some years ago), and she got on to welcoming the others.

Her fabulously deep and authoritative BBC-international voice gives her the presence of a lion (a merlion!) – powerful yet warm, dignified yet challenging. Model good looks, poised professional charm, oozing intelligence; she herself is a metaphor of our adopted homeland, Singapore – small, but with an imposing presence, punching well above its weight on an international circuit.

Sharanjit introduced her recent documentary: “Singapore at 50yrs”, her decision to bring to life the national story through the context of her own family history gave the programme much of its impact and emotion. Sharanjit’s family, originally from the Punjab, lived in a mixed Chinese, Malay, Indian kampong on the outskirts of town, but like so many others their lives have evolved massively in 50years. Through a combination of grit and hard work, the government’s development initiatives, an excellent education system and massive opportunities in economic growth the country went from being a third-world fishing village to first-world metropolis in an incredible two generations.

Milestones are moments of reflection as much as celebration. Singapore turning 50years was the perfect opportunity to press PAUSE and consider the past, present and future of our little red dot.

The BBC documentary tried to cover Singapore’s Success Story in a balanced way – showing the extraordinary leaps forward in health, education, business development, corruption/crime under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew and his successors; but the reporting also shone a spotlight on the ‘underbelly issues’. Sharanjit investigated the massive disparities of wealth (interviewing giggling socialite Jamie Chua showing off her sparkling shoes and zillions of designer bags at $30 000 a pop, whilst also interviewing an exhausted looking pregnant lady with her 4 older children squashed into their rented one room HDB, struggling to pay bills whilst her foreign husband was denied a work visa). The documentary also explored the authoritarian political landscape – freedom of speech issues were discussed by a student activist and group of theatre directors, homosexual restrictions and the use of death penalty were also explored. The documentary quoted a recent survey in which a staggering 50% of Singaporeans said they would leave if a better opportunity presented itself (and indeed in Sharanjit’s own family many have left).  It was impossible to cover everything in 50minutes but the coverage was juicy and answered many questions on ‘how Singapore has done it’ – whilst also raising many profoundly important questions for the county going forward.

The tables turned at the end of the documentary, with the famous reporter became the interviewee, and the curious crowd taking great delight in a free-for-all of questioning (with only the next day’s national election off limits). It was interesting to hear the queries and concerns of the many ex-pats in the audience; the increasing difficulties getting work permits and PR status now, how the academic pressure cooker environment will evolve, how the national pride and celebrations of this year (honouring Lee Kuan Yew’s life and the SG50 festivities) will translate into the countries future political direction and international role. But some of the most interesting discussions came from questions on what were at the heart of Singaporean brand values – what does the spirit of Singapore look like in the people now and the future? Beyond shopping and food, kiasu mentality and a constant desire to do better and have more, what is it that will set the red dot on fire with purpose and passion for the next 50years.

Fuelled with PrimeTime wine vouchers it was a great evening of debate and discussion – at the end Saranjit and I said warm goodbyes and I told her how much I would be looking forward to seeing her, probably Tuesday morning (my place).

Alexandra Touchaud

Comms professional, artist and writer.



About the Event


Singapore at 50 with BBC's Sharanjit Leyl


Join us in September for a very special 2nd Thursday meeting with the BBC's Sharanjit Leyl. Sharanjit will be screening her documentary "Singapore at 50" and will be talking to us about her personal journey in producing it.


Singapore at 50: One of the extraordinary economic success stories of the late 20th Century, Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence in 2015. The BBC's Sharanjit Leyl who was born and brought up in Singapore delves into her family's history to explore how the country transformed itself into one of the wealthiest per capita economies in the world.


About the Speaker


Sharanjit Leyl is a producer/presenter with BBC World News. She regularly anchors the Asia Business Report and Newsday from the BBC's Singapore studio. Sharanjit began her broadcasting career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1997. While there she reported for the award-winning show "The Pacific Rim Report". In 1999 Sharanjit moved to Singapore where she had a similar role at the financial news service provider Bridge Information Systems. She joined Bloomberg Television in March 2000 and moved to its headquarters in Tokyo. There she presented its main three-hour newscast, "On The Money Asia", reporting on breaking financial stories as well as major news events such as the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Sharanjit played an integral role in editing and influencing the content of Bloomberg's Asian programming. Sharanjit joined BBC World News as a producer and reporter in September 2003 and has since reported and presented from places such Pakistan, Tokyo and London. Her interviews have included the Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the Prime Minister of Pakistan; former leaders of Singapore and Malaysia and heads of the World Bank.


Born in Singapore, Sharanjit moved to Washington DC in her teens with her family, where her father was a diplomat. There she earned a degree in both journalism and English literature from The University of Maryland College Park. She then moved to Vancouver, Canada where she completed a Masters degree in English literature at the University of British Columbia which focused on post-colonial writers such as Salman Rushdie.


This event took place on 10 September, 2015 at The Rendevous Hotel. To check out other PrimeTime events, please click here.

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