Society / Profiles

Inside the Crazy Rich Asians-Style Life of a Dallas Philanthropist

Natalie Chu, a Singapore President's Granddaughter, Reflects on Her Journey

BY // 04.30.20

Call me an Asian pea in a pod with this month’s Bomb Girl, Natalie Chu. I first encountered Natalie in 2005. She was always chic and in-charge — I knew I needed to know her.

Natalie Chu was born in Singapore and moved to the U.S. to attend college, first at University of North Texas, then Southern Methodist University. “I left Singapore to escape the rules, the security, the matchmaking, and the fake people,” she tells me. “I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me. I wanted to know that people liked me for me.” You see, Natalie is the granddaughter of Wee Kim Wee, the president of Singapore from 1985 to 1993.

After college, Natalie met Wilson Chu, an aspiring lawyer, who would eventually become her husband. Later, they had a daughter, Lexie, who is now a film major in her senior year at the University of Southern California.

As a way to get to know people, Natalie did volunteer work, which is how she met Gloria Godat Snead, whom she lovingly calls her Dallas mom. As most people know, finding entree into some of the most cliquey charity circles can be challenging. Not for Natalie. “Gloria trusted me and thought I was worthy of ‘exalted’ positions. That began my long love affair with volunteering and giving back to the community,” she says. Natalie was part of the first Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) Style Council in 2002 and was also involved with WRR, Lucy Billingsley’s Chiapas Project, and the AT&T President’s Council.

Natalie and Wilson Chu in Dallas

This Bomb feature wouldn’t be complete without some references to Kevin Kwan’s wildly popular book and blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians. Kwan, like Natalie Chu, was born in Singapore and later moved to Texas. The wedding scene from the movie was filmed at the strict all-girls Catholic school The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, which Natalie attended for primary and secondary school. “When I saw CRA, I had a flashback — chapel nightmares,” Natalie says. “They used to lay dead nuns on the altar and make us walk around and say Hail Marys.”

For this column, Natalie begged me to select a photo depicting a blonde moment from her past. I won the argument, so you won’t see blonde Natalie here, but I promised her I would share with the world that bubbly time in her life. Before moving to the U.S., she discovered American television: Charlie’s Angels and Hawaii Five-O were two of her favorites. Natalie was convinced that she needed to be blonde with perhaps more ample curves — “assets or gifts from God,” as she puts it.

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Fast forward to her time on the DIFFA Style Council, when she booked herself a long hair appointment. In fact, it was a series of long appointments to finally achieve Natalie Chu’s version of blonde nirvana. This phase lasted for a few years until she realized the damage she was doing to her locks. Natalie returned to her gorgeous natural dark hair more than 15 years ago — but just like a Charlie’s Angel, she often still flips her hair when chatting in her role as the life of any party.

Approximate date of this photo.

1985.

The occasion.

It was my kong kong’s [phonetically, the Hokkien word for grandfather] birthday. He was president at this time, and I remember this day vividly.

What were you wearing.

A shocking pink blouse and my mother’s pearls.

What price fashion.

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where I did not want for much.

Why this is a Bomb.com picture of you.

This picture sat in my grandfather’s dining room, where it had pride of place among framed pictures of family, friends, and sometimes favorite dignitaries. What a ride it was, from his days as an ambassador to his term as president. I was only four when he was first posted to Malaysia as ambassador, and I was the only grandchild who consistently flew unaccompanied, even at my young age, to hang with them at embassies.

As I started my new life after marriage, there were moments that gripped me as only a few would understand. Like the time in the early ’90s when George H.W. Bush’s motorcade whizzed past me in Dallas, and I had to pull over to have a real good cry. As much as I ran away from it, I missed my home, my family, my past life that included riding with my grandparents flanked by his motorcade of outriders. When they arrived to escort us for an official function, my grandmother always threw their precise timing off by insisting on feeding them. The kitchen staff was sent scurrying out with trays of hot noodle soups. I think I inherited that stubbornness and love of feeding people from her.

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