Top Image: S Iswaran / Facebook
Glitzy musical theatre and football matches? S. Iswaran’s pretty much living a life out of High School Musical. Like Troy Bolton, former Transport Minister Iswaran unabashedly embraces his love for musicals and sports.
The difference is that the latter is a 61-year-old public servant facing corruption charges. What’s ~soaring~ and ~flying~ must come down.
Back in July 2023, Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) announced that then-Minister Iswaran was assisting with an investigation. The then-West Coast GRC MP had been arrested by CPIB the day before. Six months of radio silence followed before Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing revealed that the CPIB probe into Iswaran was completed and under review by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Earlier this week on January 16, Iswaran resigned from the People’s Action Party (PAP) after being handed 27 charges—two of which are counts of corruption. Iswaran is also accused of 24 counts of obtaining items with a total value of more than $200,000 from property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, who is also part of the CPIB probe. These ‘items’ include tickets to musicals, stage plays, football matches, and the Singapore Grand Prix.
It’s strangely exciting to see the tickets he allegedly obtained because it’s such a rare glimpse into the very personal lives of high-flying ministers. Thanks to the high wall of curated public relations surrounding Singapore’s politicians, we often forget that they have lives and personal entertainment preferences too outside of their duties.
It’s unfortunate that it took a corruption probe for a cabinet minister like him to finally be relatable.
The Two Wolves in Iswaran
Iswaran arrived at the State Courts this week flanked by his legal team, which includes Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
Iswaran maintains he isn’t guilty and is claiming trial. In other words, we’re locked in for a public showdown. The fact that Davinder Singh—a veteran litigator and former PAP MP who represented both PM Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew before—is on Iswaran’s side means that there’s a high chance of getting his name cleared in court.
It’s too early to cast judgement since it’s an ongoing case. We don’t even know for sure whether Iswaran attended these plays and matches. And it’s unclear if Iswaran truly is guilty of corruption.
But for now, at least, the only judgement we can cast is on the cultural tastes of a former minister facing 27 charges by reviewing the tickets he is accused of obtaining. Ministers—they’re just like us! They like to party and have guilty pleasures, too!
For this sexagenarian, it’s sports and the theatrical arts. At the end of the day, his love for both cost him everything. Were the tickets really worth it? With the salary he rakes in each month as minister and MP, why didn’t he just dole out the cash for them?
And what do the tickets he (allegedly) got for free tell us about the man’s identity? Everything points to one thing—Iswaran’s a sensitive jock with two wolves inside of him: sports and musical theatre. He’s the Troy Bolton of ministers.
Thriller – Live (November 2015)
Who doesn’t like Michael Jackson? As it turns out, quite a number of people, but 2015 was years before Leaving Neverland came out, mind you. Like the rest of the world’s population who were front and centre with the King of Pop, it’d be hard to resist watching a staged spectacle that runs through the history of the man—from The Jackson 5 to his starry solo career.
But to actually sit through two-and-a-half hours of unironically replicated Jackson hits? Iswaran must really like ‘Smooth Criminal’.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (November 2015)
Gotta give it to Iswaran’s dramaturgical tastes; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an artful stage adaptation of a beloved book. He got tickets to the show in the UK, so that means he got to see it in its original format with British actors.
With most of the charges he received mostly based around incidents in the UK, it begs the question—did the minister have a lot of free time to gallivant in London? If he did, he’s basically every Singaporean tourist trying to squeeze in every single outing in one trip.
Everton vs West Ham (November 2015)
You never know what’s going to happen in an English Premier League football match. But avid football fans would most certainly have skipped this particular match-up. The match would have been seen as low stakes—it happened relatively early in the season with teams traditionally not considered title contenders.
The match, which was held in a stadium in East London, ended in a 1-1 draw. While that might be the case, we will eventually see that the man does have an affinity for football in London.
Arsenal vs Tottenham (November 2015)
It could not get more London than the North London Derby, which is widely considered to be one of football’s fiercest rivalries.
At this point, it doesn’t seem like the former politician held a special place in his heart for any particular team. Just the fact that he was watching football in the city of London. Vibes.
Five outings at the F1 Singapore Grand Prix (2016-2022)
As media personnel who’ve been invited behind the scenes at the Singapore Grand Prix before, let us tell you that it is an absolutely atas experience (that we could never spill thousands of dollars for). On one hand, what’s not to like about enjoying an air-conditioned panoramic view of the Marina Bay Circuit with free-flow booze and gourmet bites at The Green Room? On the other, it’s about $5.5K a pop.
If (and only if) the charges were true, Iswaran must have really liked the VIP experience—he is accused of obtaining a total of 36 Green Room tickets since 2016.
You’d think he would have automatic clearance across the entire circuit grounds, being Minister for Trade and Industry and all back then. But all those tickets (116 in total across six years) to the Grand Prix he was said to have obtained demonstrate otherwise. Either he’s super into motorsports, or he really loves hoarding.
Also, who are all these tickets for? And how can we be invited to Iswaran’s inner circle of F1 party kakis?
Book of Mormon (December 2017)
Book of Mormon is the acclaimed musical comedy created by the very same minds behind South Park. As a musical satire of organised religion, we can’t imagine a more subversive production for a former cabinet minister who’s on trial for subversion (of sorts). Man’s got an edgy taste, at least.
Chelsea vs Southampton (December 2017)
As it stood in December 2017, Chelsea were miles ahead of Southampton. And Chelsea, traditional title contenders, looked set to win. Especially after Southampton’s poor run of form. The match, which was held at Stamford Bridge in London, ended 1-0 in favour of Chelsea.
Third time’s the charm because, by this point, Iswaran is essentially shuffling between different football stadiums in London.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 and 2 (December 2017)
We did not have Iswaran pegged as a Potterhead, but he must be if he did sit through over five hours of magical shenanigans. Maybe that’s why he’s supposedly in London so often.
The show follows the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy as they attempt to turn back time and is perhaps better known for its special effects than its plot. It’s an odd choice considering Iswaran’s (alleged) penchant for other theatrical classics like Hamilton and Book of Mormon.
Honestly, you’d have to pay us to watch this Harry Potter play in its full, unabridged glory.
Arsenal vs Liverpool (December 2017)
Okay, now we’re talking.
Two title contenders battling it out for a prestigious spot in the Top Four and legendary manager Wenger’s last season? Plus, it was a goal fest—each side scored three goals.
But you don’t care about that. This match was held at the Emirates Stadium. Yes, you guessed it. The Emirates Stadium is in London. Or maybe whoever’s giving him the tickets has an affinity with London. Or both.
Kinky Boots (December 2017)
This award-winning show tells the true story of Charlie Price, who turns his struggling shoe factory around by pivoting its operations to make boots for drag queens. With its take on self-acceptance and overcoming prejudice, the show’s really more wholesome than kinky.
We’d like to think this makes Iswaran an LGBTQ+ ally. Slay(?).
The Play That Goes Wrong (December 2018)
The play’s title could not have been more literal. A drama society puts on a play about a murder, and disaster strikes as the play goes on. It’s a comedy of errors where the actors intentionally amp up their mistakes for comedic effect.
Could this also be a case of art imitating life? Perhaps. After all, the show seems to have gone wrong for Iswaran, too.
School of Rock (December 2018)
At this point in this list, it’s pretty clear that Iswaran’s a musical theatre junkie. What’s more musical than the stage adaptation of School of Rock? And did Iswaran enjoy the irony when the cast started singing ‘Stick it to the Man’?
Jack Black belting Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ was pretty rad in the movie, but wanting to watch it all remade on stage is pretty telling. Man’s a rocker.
Chelsea vs Manchester City (December 2018)
Chelsea, the London team, were outplayed by Manchester City in the first half. However, Chelsea came back to hand Manchester City, the reigning champions, their first league defeat of the season.
Perhaps the lesson to be learnt here is that if you never back down, you might just end up walking away with a victory. An inspiring narrative.
Hamilton (June 2019)
Look, it’s Hamilton. It’s universal law that you do not turn down tickets to one of the greatest modern musicals of all time. Perhaps the themes of love, loss, forgiveness and ambition in this hip hopera about a politician resonated strongly.
Waitress (June 2019)
This quirky Sara Bareilles musical chronicles a woman’s attempt to escape a toxic relationship with her pie-baking skills. Could Iswaran be a rom-com man? Or maybe he just really likes pie.
Betrayal (June 2019)
Yes, yes, the betrayal jokes write themselves. But that’s not what we want to talk about. The man got to see the Tom Hiddleston perform? The fact that Tom’s talented wife Zawe Ashton is also in this play—this is where they first met—makes us doubly envious.
We’d risk it all for some Betrayal tickets too if it meant we’d be able to see the celeb power couple in the flesh.
Back to the Future (December 2021)
Sure, he appears to like a posh play, but he’s also not above a sci-fi comedy classic. Viewed in totality, his tastes in musicals paint a picture of a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Where he’s going after all this, he doesn’t need roads.
&Juliet (December 2021)
What if we could rewrite the story and turn a tragic end around? That’s the question posed in this jukebox musical that’s a modern spin on Romeo and Juliet.
It’s also almost too apt of a choice for Iswaran. But it’s too late now to ask ‘what if’.
Flights to and from Doha, and a night’s stay at the Four Seasons Doha (December 2022)
Fun fact: The 2022 World Cup was held from 20 November to 18 December. Of the eight official venues for the 2022 World Cup, two were based in Doha, Qatar.
Those two stadiums in Doha hosted five matches between them in December—two were group stage matches and the remaining three were in the knock-out stages.
We’re just going to leave it at that.