How do you write about a star who just won’t behave like one? A star who won’t stamp her delicate foot, pout and complain, or brag about her achievements?
Naturally charming Emma Suwannalat exemplifies the kind of person you’d like to have coffee and a chat with. A best friend, a sister – these are real life roles you can imagine her playing to perfection.
But a successful model, actor, and ambassador to Thailand for Baume & Mercier? You wouldn’t guess so from her modest behaviour.
Emma, who is of Thai-Irish parentage, is unfazed by the success she admits she never had ambitions for.
“A few years ago I was at university in England, living an ordinary student life. I didn’t care about makeup or looking good – that sort of stuff never interested me,” she says.
Her rise to fame began when the English Thai community organised a pageant as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s ascension to the throne. She agreed to make up numbers by entering – and won.
Agents approached her to come to Thailand to work after her photo appeared here. And still it wasn’t the lure of fame or fortune that attracted her.
“I’d been studying for a while and wanted a break. I wanted to visit my relations and explore Thailand,” Emma explains.
Some break! Emma entered Miss Thailand, came first runner up and went on to win Miss Asia Pacific in 1997. Since then she hasn’t looked back, winning modelling jobs and making a successful move into the world of Thai soap operas.
“After I won Miss Asia Pacific, a number of producers approached me. I had never trained in acting, and didn’t really have any great interest in it. But certain producers kept on calling me, so eventually I thought why not? And it was like a bug.”
Emma is now working on a soap opera called Angkor, in a role she enthusiastically accepted two years ago. “You get so many scripts coming in – but you want to do something you can relate to. This was a character I really wanted to play – a Cambodian refugee who comes to Thailand.”
Another career boost occurred when watchmakers Baume & Mercier approached her to be their first ambassador to Thailand. “I was interested, so I went to see them. I really liked their stuff and we got on well. Now I represent them, which means doing some modelling – and wearing their watches!”
To top things off, Emma has returned to her studies, switching from history and sociology to marketing. “I’ve met a lot of people since I’ve been working, and seen life from a different perspective. I’ve studied humanities for a long time but I’ve never touched business subjects. I wanted to become a more well-rounded person.”
Emma confesses that there are some aspects of the modelling business that bother her. “When you work in this industry and you see behind the scenes, you realise it’s all about money-making. There’s a lot of falseness about it… But I’m working in it, and doing well out of it, so I can’t complain.”
The permanent move here wasn’t smooth, despite her previous trips to Thailand with her family. “At first I hated it. The traffic here in Bangkok really got to me. I wouldn’t drive and I didn’t want to eat food off the street. Now I love it! You really do adapt. I love the people, I love the variety of food, I love the colour, I love the lifestyle.”
Turning to romance, and specifically Valentine’s Day, Emma laughs when I ask her what her ideal romantic day would be.
“Well – IF I had a boyfriend – it would definitely have to be somewhere where there’s just the two of us! I’m a very romantic person. It would need to be idyllic – I like seasides, so maybe somewhere in the south of Thailand. There would need to atmosphere, dinner, candles, champagne…”
She grows a little serious as she reveals that she has never been in love or had a serious relationship. “ Growing up, I was never really interested in boys. I was good at sports, I focused on study. And then at 18 I came out here, and I’ve been working, working, working!”
But Emma is certainly content as an independent woman.
“For me, it’s not necessary to have a boyfriend. I think women should learn to love themselves – you don’t need a man to make your life full. In just the last three years, I’ve done so much, and I didn’t need some guy there helping me out. Of course, in the future, I would love to have a husband and family – but for now, things like that are taking a back seat.”
If she had her pick of men – and some might say that she does – would she prefer someone from Thailand, or a westerner?
“Well – I don’t know. I’m not fussy! Having grown up in Europe, maybe I would prefer a European guy. But at the end of the day, when you meet someone and they’re for you, it doesn’t matter where they are from.”
If she meets the right guy, he needn’t worry about making the first move. “It’s definitely okay for the woman to make the first move! In Thailand, it has to be the guy, and it has to be really slow, if it’s traditional. But for me, it can be the guy or the girl – whoever, so long as somebody does!”
And as for the future?
“In ten years time, if I see myself anywhere, it would definitely be travelling – South America, India, Africa – or maybe living on a different continent. In terms of career, though, I’m not sure. Before, I tried to plan, but nothing has turned out as I expected. I’m doing things I never dreamed of doing.”
If personality, manners and attitude have anything to do with it, Emma Suwannalat may well keep living beyond her dreams.