Neil Humphreys is a cultural phenomenon. He is a British expat who has made a success of living in Singapore and created a rogue expat brand for himself. He is the exception to the rule and Singapore and people who read his books are better off as a result of it.
“Notes from a Sexy Island” is his latest witty outflow of anecdotal and observational humour that has been a deserved best selling book in Singapore in 2012.
This follows similar “Notes from an even smaller island” “Scribbles from the same island” and “Final notes from a great island”. Before ‘Sexy” came along he had actually left Singapore and moved to Australia (a major contradiction to the love he professes for Singapore….), but seeing the error of his ways came back pretty damn quick!
It was clearly too cold in Oz for him….
Humphreys prides himself on integrating with Singaporean society although many of his observations could be those of any intelligent and interested expat, he maybe just says them in a more comedic and subtle manner than some I could mention….. (He was writing about taxi drivers driving the opposite way to where you actually tell them many years before I even arrived in the country!).
Humphreys has created an entirely new career for himself in Singapore and Singapore loves him for enriching their country and highlighting good and bad to the rest of the world, in a mostly gently funny way. Nothing to offend the “gah men”.
The interesting thing about his brand is that I believe that it’s as attractive to expats as it is to Singaporeans, both can empathise with what he says. I was certainly laughing out loud at some of his witticisms and observations, the accuracy and relevance to every day life in Singapore for expats and locals alike.
Much or his brand has been built up by word of mouth. He had no writing career when he first came over to Singapore and has created a new brand for himself after working as teacher with his observational books that often remind me of Billy Connolly’s travel guides. Funny, poignant, throughtful, direct and worth viewing. Not always complimentary about the lion city he nevertheless delivers his frustrations with passion and eloquence.
He has written for brands as wide as The Straits Times, Men’s Health, My Paper, Today and Singtel Mio Stadium website amongst others. All of which help create greater brand awareness, associates him in the minds of his current and potential audience as being close to football and Singapore and being observational and funny about both.
Writing about football is any boy’s dream and Humphreys also has two best selling football books which are funny, accurate and you can have fun guessing which manager, player and ex manager’s he is referring to in his “fictional” account of the Premier League’s corrupt and cynical nature. ‘Premier leech” and “Match fixer” score highly on mirroring actual events and imagining how footballers really do treat their job and their public.
But it’s really his observations on Singapore that have made his name and made him so rich that he could afford a whole block of HDB’s and not just the one he takes pride in living in. Having come to stay for 3 months in 1996 he did what many expats do and fell in love with the place and stayed, built up a business, a brand and a following as well as a family and a reputation that means he is guaranteed a best seller in Singapore every time he launches a new book.
Maybe he’s trying too hard to integrate in society and proving he’s not like other British expats. For example quality food is quality food, whether it’s served in a hawker centre or an Italian restaurant, going out of your way to just eat where a decreasing minority of Singaporeans eat just suggests that he’s deliberately doing the opposite of many expats for the sake of it rather than because he means it,
Although I actually think he is as genuine as you get. His writing certainly come across that way but be yourself and you can integrate in a relaxed way and still keep your identity and enjoy all facets of the multicultural city we both enjoy living in both local and imported.
Humphreys is promising a film “Notes from an Expat”. Not sure how that will sell outside of Singapore but if it’s as funny as his books I’ll be first in line to enjoy it!