“Something like zis?” says Sharon Au in a charming French accent as she tugs at an outfit while stepping out of the changing room. The former actress cuts a cheery figure at this photo shoot, her last before she returns to Paris after a three-month vacation here. She moved to France in 2018 and is currently an investment director at a private equity firm.
The 46-year-old chatters away as our fashion team fusses around her to put the ensemble together. It’s evident that who she is on her Instagram page (and on TV, if you remember her from back in the day) is who she is in person: She keeps things light-hearted and brims with energy. She’s also full of positivity, which is inspiring to see, given how she not only had a difficult childhood, but was under scrutiny for most of her adult life. In fact, with 130,000 and growing followers on IG, she is still heavily scrutinised and often on the receiving end of negative comments.
So how does she manage to stay so upbeat? Why did she give up a cushy life here and uproot herself? Did she ever regret the move? Why does she upkeep her presence on social media if she’s no longer in the entertainment industry? Sharon reveals all during our hour-long interview.
Let bygones be bygones
Sharon didn’t have the happiest upbringing – her dad walked out on the family, her mum was hardly around, and she was shuttled from foster home to foster home. But to her, it is exactly this trial by fire that made her realise at an early age that there’s a silver lining in every situation.
“Because I was taken in by my principal and teachers, I had no choice but to focus on my studies – but this is how I became proficient in Mandarin. And because I didn’t have money, I’d wear second-hand uniforms and use old textbooks – but those tattered books came with notes and helped me score As for my exams,” she explains. “I learnt very quickly that something good can come out of something bad, so I never felt very pathetic.”
It was only when she was 18 that she started seeing more of her mum, but she never once resented the latter for her absence. If anything, she attributes her positive disposition to her mum.
“She had suffered a lot, and I’d think to myself, ‘She’s such a poor thing’. But I was very enamoured by her strength – she has always remained joyful and happy-go-lucky. It definitely influenced me and shaped the way I am.”
Now, mother and daughter are very close. So close, in fact, that up till a week before she left Singapore for Paris in end August, Sharon was struggling with the idea of having to leave again. But true to her penchant for making lemonade out of lemons, she decided to “create moments to replace sadness”.
“I was feeling sad about having to leave again soon – I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time with her. But I refused to keep feeling that way and booked a four-day, three-night staycation for the both of us. We had every meal together and visited every restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. It was so funny because we overate!”
Nobody to somebody
While Sharon didn’t have an easy time growing up, her life changed when she got talent spotted to become an actress at the age of 19. She went from not having much to having a lot. “I started making money, so I started splurging on things like bags. I had built good connections and was treated like a queen. If I was at a restaurant that was fully booked, they’d die-die put together a table for me,” she recounts.
However, in 2005, at the peak of her career, she decided to take a break to pursue a degree programme on a scholarship in Tokyo. “Much as I loved the attention, I thought to myself, ‘If you keep living your life this way, you will just be a brat. So when I was 30, I decided I didn’t want to win any more awards and live in a fairy tale. That was the reason I moved to Japan, a foreign country where, at that time, I didn’t speak the language.”
She returned to serve her scholarship bond in 2011, taking up an office executive position. However, it wasn’t long before “it started happening all over again”.
So after she finished serving her bond six years later, she decided it was time to up and go again, this time, to Paris.
“We’re very insulated here. While Singapore will always be home, the world is so, so big, and there are so many things to be challenged by. When you’re out there, you experience things like racial discrimination and wrong ideas of your country. This, in turn, jolts you out of your own assumptions and state of being.”
In a rare glimpse into her personal life, Sharon reveals that she had to give up on a relationship to move to Paris, and that it became a decision that would haunt her for a long time.
“I was devastated. Given my stage in life, it felt like all my chances of having a ‘happily ever after’ vanished. I started to doubt my decision and had to go through a whole process of forgiving myself. I had to tell myself, ‘It’s OK to make a wrong decision at that time. Just make the best of your life,’” she lets on.
To get over the break-up, she made it a point to be “one with nature” and spent a lot of time at vineyards and in the mountains. It took her some time, but she eventually managed to make peace with her choice.
It’s probably clear by now that Sharon isn’t the sort to wallow in her sadness excessively and allow herself to perpetuate a cycle.
“When I’m sad, I let myself simmer in the emotion for a while, but not for too long because it just becomes a waste of time. Life is already so fragile – it is important to me that I overcome negative feelings, and by force if I have to,” she says.
Scroll through her Instagram page and you’ll spot a pattern of positivity: Her posts are uplifting and often contemplative. She makes a concerted effort to not express any negativity on social media.
“Things are already very challenging for many people. I can’t imagine them looking through IG and seeing more negativity. It’s just not me to spread that kind of message,” she adds. One wouldn’t expect her to have a very strong following since she’s no longer in the entertainment industry, but Sharon says her follower count “increased exponentially” instead after her move to Paris.
“Most of them didn’t know I was on TV. I realised that many people are actually interested in my life abroad. In fact, they also wish to leave Singapore, so they follow my page to see how things are going for me,” she explains. “They DM me, and I share with them the pros and cons of relocation. I try to help them see the reality of moving.”
She also makes sure to remind anyone looking to move that they have more to learn from trying and failing than not trying at all.
“I always tell people, ‘If you don’t like your life after moving, you can always come back.’ People tend to forget that. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and you’ll always be left wondering how your life would have been like. So I always say, ‘Please try.’”
Naturally, in still being active on social media, she still gets pummelled by negative comments. However, unless someone else is dragged into the picture, she doesn’t ever delete them – a testament to how she takes things positively.
“For example, someone left me a comment that said something like, ‘Stop showing off that you’re always travelling.’ At first, I was upset, but then I realised, yes, I was showing off and I wasn’t sensitive – I forgot that not everyone is in a happy place. I want to share beautiful things, but may instead make others feel rotten about themselves. So when these things happen, I will sometimes reply, ‘Thank you for highlighting this to me.’”
The adventure continues
So what’s next for Sharon? If things go her way, you’ll hear about her moving to Copenhagen next.
“Out of the many cities I’ve visited, it’s the next one I want to dwell in because it has a very creative culture. Its sense of design is very strong, and whatever you see there you will probably only see in other parts of the world five years later. It’s an inspiring place. Every 10 steps you take, you’ll stop and say, ‘This is unusual’,” she says.
And no, she’s not afraid of making another wrong decision – especially not when she has the exceptional ability to always see the bright side of things.
“Don’t discount yourself, your friends, your environment or your circumstances. People tend to give up or fight back when bad things happen, but that will just perpetuate a vicious cycle. Face up to your challenges with utmost positivity and take to them with a matter-of-fact approach. If you don’t give up, you have a chance of winning.”
5 things you didn’t know about Sharon Au
1. Her pet cat is named Rudon
“I adopted him in France as a kitten – he is one year and five months old now. I wanted to name him Udon, but in France, there is an allocated alphabet for pet registration every year. The letter happened to be ‘R’.”
2. Her current job is “unsexy”
“The firm deals with educational and technological investments, but given the nature of our industry, things are not only confidential, but also boring, so I no longer post about work.”
3. Her comfort food is bread with red wine
“I’ve been very fortunate that the countries I move to always have good bakeries and wine shops. I love to eat, but to me, eating with the right company is even more crucial than the food itself. There’s nothing like bonding over a hearty meal with lots of wine.”
4. If she could go back in time, she wouldn’t have been an actress
“I would have furthered my studies instead of joining the entertainment industry. I would have pursued medicine. I always wanted to be a doctor.”
5. She takes violin lessons from Siow Lee Chin
“I play the piano and have been playing the guitar since March this year. During my recent quarantine in Singapore, I picked up the violin. I have lessons over Zoom with Lee Chin, our very own violin maestro.”