"WHEN­EVER I TELL PEO­PLE THE STORY, THEIR FIRST COM­MENT IS AL­WAYS `FAIRY TALE,'

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features - cur­tain call Dress by Al­tuzarra; Paris Nou­velle Vague ear­rings, bracelet and ring in white gold with di­a­monds by Cartier

says Candy Chuang when asked how she met her hus­band, Neville Kote­wall. “We went to pri­mary school to­gether and he says he fell in love with me on the first day of class.” Al­most 23 years later, in the wake of their idyl­lic wed­ding on Italy’s Lake Como, the love­birds are fi­nally en­joy­ing their hap­pily ever af­ter.

Get­ting hitched to her child­hood crush, how­ever, is just one slim chap­ter in the fairy tale that has been Candy’s life. Blessed with good looks, for­tune and the free­dom to pursue her pas­sions, the only daugh­ter of real-es­tate ty­coon Alan Chuang has at­tracted—and en­dured— the la­bel of “princess” for as long as she can re­mem­ber. Her house on The Peak is noth­ing short of pala­tial, and I’m try­ing to de­cide whether her long auburn tresses, swept whim­si­cally across the nape of her neck and down her right side, are more Ra­pun­zel or the Lit­tle Mer­maid. Glass slip­pers have been sub­sti­tuted for those of white terry tow­elling to­day, but I sus­pect var­i­ous in­car­na­tions of Cin­derella sparklers line her wardrobe. With her newly minted six-foot prince by her side, it would be easy to dis­miss Candy as a head-in-the-clouds ro­man­tic. Amus­ingly, she’s any­thing but.

“When Neville told me about that first day of school, about de­cid­ing that I’d be his wife as soon as he saw me, I told him to stop making things up. Then I said, ‘If you knew that then, why didn’t you tell me ear­lier so I didn’t have to spend years search­ing for my other half!’”

Prag­matic, plain-spo­ken and un­pre­ten­tious, Candy is a far cry from the frag­ile damsels of Dis­ney films. While her friends grew up play­ing with Bar­bie dolls, the pre-teen tom­boy opted for bas­ket­ball with the boys. Strong-willed and straight­for­ward, she says her per­son­al­ity is clos­est to that of her fa­ther, whom she holds in the high­est es­teem.

Hav­ing worked for Chuang’s Con­sor­tium, the man­u­fac­tur­ing and property em­pire founded by her grand­fa­ther, for more than a decade, she has been an in­dis­pen­si­ble aide to her fa­ther in its real es­tate ven­tures. Since 2009, she has been chair­woman of the group’s Trea­sure Auc­tion­eer, which spe­cialises in Chi­nese paint­ings, ce­ram­ics and jew­ellery. She will also soon take up the man­tle of man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mi­das In­ter­na­tional, a listed print­ing busi­ness un­der the Chuang’s Con­sor­tium um­brella.

Candy ap­proaches love the same way she does busi­ness—through the lens of logic. While for Neville it was love at first sight, for Candy af­fec­tion blos­somed in spite of ap­pear­ances. “In pri­mary school I re­mem­ber be­ing in­trigued by Neville be­cause he was the only mixed-race pupil in the class. He was kind of a nov­elty.” Neville, the grand­son of il­lus­tri­ous Hong Kong businessman and leg­is­la­tor Robert Kote­wall, has Bri­tish, Dutch, Ger­man, Per­sian and Chi­nese an­ces­try. “Un­til we were mar­ried, ev­ery time I looked at him it felt very sur­real be­cause I would see that lit­tle face I saw in class. I never imag­ined I would marry some­one I knew as a child.”

When Candy turned 14, her par­ents sent her to board­ing school in Con­necti­cut with her brother Al­bert. Serendip­i­tously, Neville’s par­ents sent him to a neigh­bour­ing school, also at­tended by a close friend of Candy, Rose­wood Ho­tel Group CEO So­nia Cheng. Candy joined the squash and ten­nis teams, which en­sured she got to visit So­nia for inter-school games, and Neville would al­ways be there. Then, mid­way through their teens, he caught her eye. “Sud­denly his height just dou­bled. He be­came so hand­some that I as­sumed he had to be a wom­an­iser. He looks like a model, Neville. You have to be so con­fi­dent walk­ing down the street with him be­cause women just stare. At the time I thought, ‘He’s definitely not hus­band ma­te­rial.’”

Neville made a hand­ful of over­tures for Candy’s af­fec­tions over the fol­low­ing decade but she re­buffed him ev­ery time. “Our friends were al­ways try­ing to set us up. Ap­par­ently I was his lui sen—his god­dess—or some­thing,” she says, rolling her eyes good-hu­mouredly. “But I never con­sid­ered him. I thought he was a trou­ble­maker.” It wasn’t un­til late in Candy’s twen­ties that she be­gan to re­con­sider.

Neville’s per­sis­tence paid off and the two be­gan speak­ing on the phone once a month. Candy was sur­prised how freely their con­ver­sa­tion flowed. “He was very com­fort­able with me and I came to re­alise he was com­pletely dif­fer­ent to what I thought he was. When you meet him, he comes across as charis­matic and charm­ing but in­side he’s ac­tu­ally a quiet, re­served guy. He loves read­ing and he’s very con­sid­er­ate. Ei­ther he’d been hid­ing this softer side or I’d just missed it.”

They started see­ing each other in May last year but agreed to keep the re­la­tion­ship on the quiet. “Hong Kong is such a small place. We have so many friends in com­mon so I didn’t want to tell ev­ery­one we were to­gether un­til things were more con­crete.”

While on hol­i­day in Paris a few months later, Candy bagged tick­ets to a Bey­oncé and Jay Z con­cert—“i heard they were get­ting a di­vorce so I just had to get tick­ets to their po­ten­tially last show.” Af­ter the con­cert, amid the may­hem of ex­it­ing crowds, Neville dropped to one knee and de­clared his love for Candy. “It was a very ad hoc ges­ture,” she says. “The se­cu­rity guards were try­ing to move us along and there he was on the ground, telling me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.”

Al­ways one to keep her head when those around her are los­ing theirs, Candy de­cided they should take some time to con­sider the con­cept of “for­ever” be­fore div­ing in. “I told him that now we knew that was what we wanted, we should work to­wards it and ad­dress some real is­sues. For ex­am­ple, did he want kids? What kind of life did he want?” Over the next few months, Candy in­tro­duced Neville to her fa­ther and en­sured her fam­ily and friends got to know them as a couple. They fi­nally an­nounced their en­gage­ment at the start of the year and Candy threw her­self sin­gle-hand­edly into plan­ning and or­gan­is­ing the wed­ding for Septem­ber.

As we sit in her daf­fodil-yel­low liv­ing room snack­ing on chicken pies and strong puer tea, Candy ex­cit­edly presents some of her wed­ding para­pher­na­lia. In­stead of an email or a printed card, her save-the-date no­ti­fi­ca­tion came in the form of a toy viewfinder that en­abled guests to click through a va­ri­ety of pho­tos of the happy couple. The wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion, which Candy de­signed, was a jew­ellery box con­tain­ing not just the de­tails of the wed­ding, but Lake Como guide books and Ital­ian lan­guage man­u­als, all sourced by Candy. “My friends thought I was crazy, to­tally crazy,” she blus­ters as she emp­ties the box onto the cof­fee ta­ble. “I al­ways tend to mi­cro­man­age, most of the time un­con­sciously, and I make de­ci­sions straight away.”

The same de­gree of prepa­ra­tion en­sured no one was left want­ing for any­thing on the big day. Ev­ery guest re­ceived a wel­come bag that in­cluded per­son­alised lug­gage tags, snack packs and han­gover kits with eye drops, painkillers and Alka Seltzer.

“IT WAS A VERY AD HOC GES­TURE. THE SE­CU­RITY GUARDS WERE TRY­ING TO MOVE US ALONG AND THERE HE WAS ON THE GROUND, TELLING ME HE WANTED TO SPEND THE REST OF HIS LIFE WITH ME”

Choos­ing a venue was easy. Candy’s fa­ther fears ghosts may in­habit Lake Como’s his­toric build­ings, so she had to find a newly ren­o­vated ho­tel, few of which ex­ist in the re­gion. She de­cided on Casta Diva Re­sort & Spa. “I wanted ev­ery­thing to hap­pen in the one place so if peo­ple were jet-lagged they could take a nap; if they were cold they could grab a shawl; they wouldn’t need to worry about taxis; if they were drunk they wouldn’t be vom­it­ing in the car on the way back home—all of th­ese things I thought about.”

The cer­e­mony took place on the ho­tel’s spec­tac­u­lar float­ing swim­ming pool, which Candy had cov­ered with a tem­po­rary floor and dec­o­rated with white and li­lac flow­ers. What she hadn’t fac­tored in, how­ever— per­haps the only thing she hadn’t fac­tored in—were the dozens of speed­boats zip­ping back and forth hop­ing to get a closer look at the grand af­fair. “As we were say­ing our vows we had to brace our­selves to bal­ance. The whole time we were grip­ping each other’s hands not out of love, but be­cause we were try­ing to stay up­right. It was very funny.”

Now that the whirl­wind of the wed­ding has passed, Candy is read­just­ing to quo­tid­ian life. An art lover with a head for busi­ness, she was the nat­u­ral choice to chair Trea­sure Auc­tion­eer when her fam­ily bought a ma­jor­ity stake, and she’s now on a mis­sion to find a new di­rec­tion for the com­pany. “There are just so many auc­tion houses in Hong Kong. To dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self among all th­ese big play­ers you really have to find your own niche. They’re all sell­ing the same things— art and an­tiques—and they’re all fo­cus­ing on the crème de la crème.”

Candy has al­ways won­dered why, in Asia, go­ing to an auc­tion has to be a grand af­fair. “Peo­ple in Hong Kong treat auc­tions al­most like balls or gala din­ners. I see it very dif­fer­ently. I see an auc­tion as a trad­ing plat­form and I think, if done care­fully, this busi­ness model could be suc­cess­fully made more ac­ces­si­ble. Why do auc­tions have to be for items which cost HK$10 bil­lion? Any­thing could be a col­lectible. One per­son’s trash is an­other per­son’s trea­sure.” This new phase at Trea­sure Auc­tion­eer will be­gin with an auc­tion of vin­tage gui­tars. Candy knows a col­lec­tor with 800 strummable gems. In­stead of host­ing a tra­di­tional, “bor­ing” auc­tion, she’s plan­ning to host a gath­er­ing where peo­ple can test out the in­stru­ments be­fore vy­ing to buy. “I want to do some­thing that is fun and ap­proach­able. You don’t want to go into an auc­tion and feel like you have to be some­body else.”

As she charges into the next chap­ter of her life, Candy is de­ter­mined to put her own stamp on the fam­ily em­pire. “In a fam­ily busi­ness there is al­ways so much ex­pec­ta­tion and pres­sure, but I like to think I am con­tin­u­ing the work that my grand­fa­ther started, which has given me such priv­i­lege and op­por­tu­nity.”

Moth­er­hood is a nat­u­ral next step, she says, and she looks for­ward to the chal­lenge of bal­anc­ing chil­dren with ca­reer. She’s got great role mod­els in that re­spect, she says, re­fer­ring to Rose­wood’s Cheng, who has just given birth to her sec­ond child and is a great ex­am­ple of a woman who has fig­ured out how to “do it all.”

“It’s al­ways hard be­ing the boss’s daugh­ter. You’re al­ways be­ing judged and peo­ple con­stantly try to ma­nip­u­late you. You really have to earn peo­ple’s re­spect, do your due dili­gence and fig­ure out right from wrong by your­self. I have my own brain, my own in­tel­li­gence and I really want to con­trib­ute,” she says.

Given that Candy has mas­tered the devil in the de­tails, as ev­i­dence by her metic­u­lous wed­ding plan­ning, she has plenty to con­trib­ute.

“AS WE WERE SAY­ING OUR VOWS WE HAD TO BRACE OUR­SELVES TO BAL­ANCE. THE WHOLE TIME WE WERE GRIP­PING EACH OTHER’S HANDS NOT OUT OF LOVE, BUT BE­CAUSE WE WERE TRY­ING TO STAY UP­RIGHT”

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