Singapore has her own our modern day knight, but the only metal he has on is a medal - the medal of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters). In 1959, this Order was established by the French Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, as a means to recognise individuals who have made notable contributions to French literature and art. Though it originated in France and was awarded mostly to her countrymen, members of the Order need not be French. Singapore’s theatre and TV actor and funnyman Hossan Leong (affectionately known as ‘Singapore Boy’) now joins a star-studded list of international names like Jude Law and Kylie Minogue. With his recent knighting into the Order, he is now a Chevalier français (French knight).
The medal of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
If you don’t know his history, you might think Hossan is as connected to the French as kaya toast is to baguette. But in reality, French culture and language has always been part of Hossan, taking root during his time at the French-Singapore Institute, of which is now present-day Nanyang Polytechnic. “At that time, the school had a lot of French companies putting in money to start the institute and to train technicians because some electronic devices like smartcards were French-made and in order to read their manuals, you had to learn French,” he recalled, and that’s what he did for two years. During that time, he fell in love with its culture and language and decided to take it one step further. “Having learnt normal and technical French, I went on to Alliance Française to continue my diploma before advancing to business French. So at one point of time 20 years ago, I was really quite fluent,” said the once French interpreter.
Hossan and what could have been his uniform
Oddly, the theatre star studied Electronic Engineering for his Diploma, a discipline he knew he wasn’t cut out for. “I can’t sit 24/7 in a lab fixing stuff; I will blow things up! I knew I didn’t want to do electronics so I said to my parents, ‘Let me audition for plays’. I went for my first audition and got it.” Such is the talent of Hossan and fortunately, we can now sit back and be entertained with his stage and TV performances instead of watching him fix our television sets.
His foray into French theatre work here started when he met Nathalie Ribette, founder of Sing’Theatre, a company that aims to bring French and Singaporean arts together. Her first project in 2007 was a tribute to Edith Piaf, where she was director and producer with Hossan as host and narrator. The performance was so successful that they are staging it again this year. “It was quite well received and people went ‘Wow’. It is in Piaf’s name so you don’t play around with an icon like this,” warned Hossan, “She [Nathalie] did a pretty good job with it and from then on, I’ve worked with Alliance Française and whenever they needed help, I would help out.”
During the ceremony
He is the first Singaporean actor to be knighted, which must also mean that the French are certainly impressed with his contributions. Even his knighting ceremony was personalised. “Normally it’ll be combined where 2 to 3 people will be knighted at the same time, so I was really fortunate to have it to myself,” he quipped. The highlight of the ceremony came when the French ambassador gave a speech about his achievements and formally bestowed upon him the medal of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Hossan claimed that it was a “simple ceremony” but knighthood can only beef up his already impressive resume and one can only guess what the newly-knighted Singapore Boy will be up to next. Buy a horse and ride down Orchard Road perhaps?
By Clement Wan