It was March 2003, and the America’s Cup was very much in the news because Swiss team Alinghi was about to make history for being the first yacht club from a European country – a country without a coastline, no less! – to win the “auld mug”, the oldest trophy in sport. I was an assistant editor with Star2, and we had been invited by Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Omega for a trip to the City of Sails, Auckland, New Zealand. Omega was the official timekeeper and was launching a few timepieces in conjunction with the event.
My then editor, Lim Cheng Hoe, picked me for the job, and I was excited as I had never been to New Zealand before.
One of the perks of being a reporter is that this job has afforded me many wonderful opportunities to travel, experience incredible events, stay at luxurious hotels, eat food I would never have been able to otherwise, and meet fascinating people.
This time, apart from sailing the crisp, clear waters of the Hauraki Gulf and luxuriating in the fresh breeze and azure blue skies, I got to schmooze with Omega president Stephen Urquhart and a bevy of ambassadors, including American supermodel Cindy Crawford, Taiwanese pop star/actor Richie Ren, Malaysian singer/actress Ziana Zain, and Singaporean actresses Ivy Lee and Fiona Xie.
I was one of many members of the media from South-East Asia. It was a long assignment, with travel, tasting the cuisine, attending the race, and conducting interviews with the ambassadors, all packed into a week.
We all got to sail on an America’s Cup yacht – the NZL 40 – which was built for racing but had become a hot tourist attraction. We had a go at grinding and halting (turning the pulleys that raise the mast and sails), and I was even paired with Ren at one point (who is still going strong, by the way, and slated for a show in Genting Highlands next month!).
As part of the assignment, the media was also teamed up with the ambassadors for a treasure hunt on an island, and my partner was the delightful Ziana, who was bubbly and fearless, and took on all the driving duties as I was too nervous to drive on new roads then.
There was also some glorious food to savour, at swanky restaurants, and alfresco and bistro style dining venues. I did say in my story, however, that if you were not accustomed to seafood, you may have grown a little weary of snapper, snapper and more snapper. There was also a lot of wine to savour – and I remember being introduced to the rich, refreshing taste of Pinot Gris then.
On race day, the beautiful Crawford had to start the racing clock for the first race, on behalf of Omega, and then jump onto the Omega spectator boat (a luxury boat which housed 30 foreign press and Omega staff) for exclusive interviews. But the model got seasick instead and we were all crestfallen, of course.
But Omega made good on their promise to give us all interviews and, after the race had concluded, whisked us away to a secluded warehouse on the outskirts of Auckland where Crawford was busy doing a shoot for Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
I remember being bowled over by how great she looked in real life, even if her billowy hair was given extra lift by the industrial fan at the shoot. After all, she was seasick just before, but there she was, resplendent in heels, striking pose after pose with her famous smile.
At the press conference soon after, I was so impressed that she was able to field questions all while panning her face from the right of the room to the left so that the photographers were all able to get great shots of her regardless of where they were stationed.
She was professional, friendly and obliging with her smiles and answers. She looked taller and much slimmer in person, and though I was envious at first, I later felt a twinge of sadness for her at Omega’s banquet dinner that night. While everyone enjoyed a luxurious spread, the beaming model settled for a few leafy greens, and no wine. I couldn’t believe it! That night, I was glad I was on the other side of the table!
From The Vault is a new fortnightly series that takes readers behind the scenes of memorable interviews and assignments our journalists have experienced.