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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Princess Diaries (Ayen-Munji-Laurel)

MANILA, October 18, 2004 (STAR) CONVERSATIONS With Ricky Lo - This is a
modern-day fairy tale (sort of), with shades of Cinderella, The Frog
Prince, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.

Once upon a time, there was a shy girl who only loved to sing but never
dreamed of becoming a princess. Well, she did become a singer,
inheriting the knack for music of her father, Emy Munji (musical
director of the long-running Nora Aunor TV show Superstar and Two For
The Road; and music arranger for such artists as Jose Mari Chan,
Pilita Corrales, Louie Reyes and Dulce).

And then, while on a singing engagement in Brunei, she won the heart
of Prince Jeffrey and her world was never the same again. Her Fairy
Godmother had waved the magic wand and turned her into a princess.

So for seven years, Ayen Munji lived a charmed life that millions of
other girls could only imagine and/or dream of. Soon, when reality set
in, she started to feel like Rapunzel cooped up in the tower and like
Snow White forever guarded by seven dwarfs.

To make our fairy tale short(er), the prince and the princess separated
after seven years. Feeling like Sleeping Beauty, the princess was
kissed back to reality by a commoner (Franco Laurel, definitely not a
Frog Prince) and she could have sung all night: Free again! Lucky,
lucky me free again!

Here for the first time, Ayen Munji-Laurel talks about her days as a
princess - sans regrets.

"I learned a lot from that chapter of my life," she says. "If I were to
write my life story, I wouldn't edit that part. I'm thankful to have
been given a chance to live like a princess."

Thankful.

That's the title of Ayen's new album (her first under BMG Records)
which carries 12 songs, two of which - All About You and The Treasure
of My Heart - eloquently speak of what she has been through and what
she now aspires for.

"People think only of me as wallowing in wealth, which is not true,"
says Ayen. "They don't really see the real me. The two songs will help
them understand what I really am."

Was being a princess among the things you are thankful for?

"Of course, of course. I couldn't erase the past. It's already part and
parcel of who and what I am."

How long had you been a princess?

"From 1995 to 2002. Seven years."

What was the best thing about being a princess?

"Of course, the perks. The best thing siguro were the material rewards
but I didn't really enjoy them. They were not really something that I
wanted. They were just there, so you just have to learn to enjoy them.
But the respect was there and that was what mattered most to me."

Didn't you feel restricted living in a palace?

"No, I didn't live in the palace. It's the Sultan and his family who
live in the palace. I lived in one of Jeffrey's houses; I had my own
house. It wasn't really palatial but it was nice and homey."

Were you confined within the four walls of the house?

"Kind of. I couldn't be as normal as I am now. Now, I could go
anywhere. Noon, I didn't have a chance to go out a lot. Brunei is so
small that you couldn't do anything much there. When I wanted to shop,
we'd go to London or Paris or Singapore."

Is it true that the members of the Royal Family would go to Singapore
or nearby cities on their private plane just to have lunch or dinner?

"Not naman for lunch or dinner but for shopping. Or, you know, for a
change of environment."

Didn't you feel like a bird in a golden cage?

"Oh, yes, I did. Definitely! You have everything but your freedom is
limited. You hardly see your friends. Towards the later part of our
marriage, I started seeing my friends a lot. But in the beginning, I
was just at home. Maraming bawal. It wasn't a normal life. I was
protected by a lot of people. My movement was limited."

Were you happy?

"I wouldn't say that I was or I wasn't. But as days went by, I realized
how terribly I was missing so many things."

What did you miss most then?

"Freedom - freedom to walk around, freedom to be by myself (because I
was always being followed even inside the house), freedom to be
myself."

How often did you go out of the house?

"Very seldom. In my house, I had everything I needed - there was a
pool, a gym, a recording studio, a mini-theater. I had everything!"

Were you the only wife living in that house?

"Yes. There were four of us legal wives and each one had her own
house."

Did you socialize with the other wives?

"No. Okey lang sa akin but I didn't know if it was okay with them
because some of them were kind of very private and selosa."

Were you the only Filipina wife?

"No. There were two of us."

So you didn't get to see one another...

"...Hardly. Funny nga because our houses were near each other and yet
hindi kami nagkikita-kita."

Was it part of the protocol?

"I don't think so. We could mingle. But then, Jeffrey's wives happened
to have certain issues among them, parang he was being constantly
questioned by his wives about this and that."

How did Jeffrey divide his time among you wives?

"At that time, he was seeing only two of us. From the evening to the
next morning until the afternoon, he'd be with me. The following
evening, he'd be with the other (the third) wife."

How many children did you have with Jeffrey?

"Just one. I have three children all in all. The eldest (Mariella, 13)
is a love child; the second, Kiko, 9, is by Prince Jeffrey; and the
third, Angia, who is turning two years old on Oct. 28, is by Franco."

Does Kiko still enjoy royal privileges?

"Yes, of course. He communicates with his dad regularly. But if you're
talking about being heir to the throne, he's not really an heir
because there's a first family and a second family and a third family."

How often does Kiko see Jeffrey?

"Four times a year. Now, Jeffrey is in Paris and London. They're seeing
each other before New Year. But they talk to each other every day."

Do you still have communication with Jeffrey?

"When I have to, when we have to talk about something. As far as Kiko
is concerned, somebody is in-charge of him, making sure that he's okay
all the time."

What made you give up your life as a princess?

"Well, aside from being unhappy... There was a third party involved.
There were already four of us wives and I thought that I would be the
last. Mayroon pa palang iba. I was shocked to discover that the third
party was the supervisor of the house."

Was she a Filipina?

"No. American-Japanese."

Wasn't Jeffrey entitled to five wives?

"No. Just four. Also at that time, I seldom saw him. In three months,
I'd see him for only about 10 days, so we were not like a family
anymore. The set-up was starting to affect our child who was
constantly looking for his dad."

Was the parting amicable?

"Yes, it was. But, of course, there was some pain. Divorce is always
painful no matter what the reason is. He could have said no. But then,
he saw that things were not working anymore; he realized that I
desperately wanted out of the marriage so he couldn't do anything but
say yes (to the divorce)."

Did you dream of being a princess when you were a kid?

"Not at all! But my eldest brother used to call me Princess; everybody
in the house called me by that nickname - Princess. I'm the youngest
among the children. My dream was to become a performer, a singer. I
never expected that I'd end up a princess."

Your meeting with Jeffrey must have been providential. Or was it
accidental?

"It wasn't accidental at all. I worked as one of the singers in the
country club owned by Jeffrey. There were five of us singers. One of
Jeffrey's brothers is a musician and he made me sing Malay songs. One
night, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jeffrey in the audience. He
requested me to sing first mostly Malay songs and then one English
song, In All The Right Places. Through a friend, he asked for a dinner
date with me. How could I say no? He was our boss, the one with the
power to hire and fire."

Were you flattered that he asked you out to dinner?

"Anong flattered? I was scared!"

Scared? Why?

"Because of his reputation. Parang... you know, nakakatakot. My fellow
singers were warning me, 'Be careful, he's a womanizer!' Ako naman,
okey lang. Wala 'yon, wala 'yon!"

Did he shower you with gifts during the courtship?

"None. Just dinners, usually in his house. There were other people
around but they kept their distance. It was just Jeffrey and me walking
around, talking. Very kundiman."

How did he say "I love you" to you?

"He wasn't vocal at all. Less talk, more action. Pahawak-hawak lang.
Very gentleman. Chivalrous."

So how did he finally propose to you?

"He did - one year later."

It's a good thing you were free at that time.

"I wasn't committed to anybody then. I planned to come home after two
months but I stayed, I continued working. Until we got married and I
stayed there na..."

...as a lady of leisure?

"Kind of."

What was your childhood like?

"Sheltered. Very organized. Everything was well-planned. I wanted to
keep on studying and learning new things. During summer, I wouldn't
rest. I'd attend workshops for this and that, mga CCP workshops at
Repertory workshops. I was then taking up Music at UP. My father was a
musician and we were brought up loving and making music."

How did your family react when they learned that a prince was courting
(and later marrying) you?

"Medyo natakot sila because they had heard about Jeffrey's reputation.
They were like, 'Sigurado ka bang pakakasalan ka niya?' But you know,
they couldn't do anything - I was in love na, e! - especially when I
was converted to Islam before Jeffrey and I got married."

How did your family finally get over their misgivings?

"Finally, Jeffrey and I got married and then I got pregnant. During the
first three years of our marriage, everything was peaceful, everything
was okay, so my family rested assured. The next four years were
something else. A lot of issues started cropping up na."

Were the royalties gentle?

"Oh, yes, they were - they are! They're cultured and educated; they
studied in the best schools in the world."

Were they ever, uh, physical?

"Never! Jeffrey never laid a hand on me. He was such a gentleman
through and through. Chivalrous nga, e!"

Wasn't he choosy with food?

"Not at all. I cooked for him a lot."

Filipino food?

"Some of them."

But not lechon, I suppose.

"Of course, not! Ako nga, up to now I don't eat lechon anymore."

Are you still a Muslim?

"No. I've been reconverted to Christianity."

How has the transition been from being a princess to being a commoner
(again)?

"It wasn't hard. I felt like a bird freed from the cage. It wasn't hard
because I wanted it and I expected that things would be back to normal
even if I still have some 'security' (bodyguards) being the mom of a
prince's son. Kiko has his own 'security,' too. I enjoy my freedom
again. I can sing again, I can see my friends anytime or as often as I
want to, my family is around..."

During your seven-year marriage, were you allowed to come and go
between the Philippines and Brunei?

"During the first three years, not often. I stayed mostly in Paris and
London, traveling with Jeffrey. I'd come home but the longest I'd stay
was two weeks siguro."

Is it true that you got several millions in alimony?

"No comment."

And a few houses (one of them in Forbes Park, Makati City)?

"No comment."

How much ba talaga?

"Hhhmmmm. Just enough for me to live a comfortable life."

You met Franco after your divorce from Jeffrey...

"...I've known Franco since 1999 when I produced Rama-Sita. He was
among the actors. We started as friends, as barkada. Jeffrey and I
divorced in 2001. Franco and I got married in 2002."

During your marriage (to Jeffrey), you put your career "on hold,"
ganoon ba?

"Yes, I did. But I did productions in Brunei, like in 1997 when I
mounted Chorus Line there, with an all-Filipino cast. It was an
invitational show. I would invite entertainers from the Philippines
and during their shows, I would sometimes perform with them."

So from a prince, you ended up with a commoner. That's the trend now,
isn't it? It happened in Norway and in Denmark where the Princes
married commoners.

"And in Brunei recently. The Sultan's son, 34, married a 17-year-old
commoner."

Weren't you invited to that royal wedding?

"No. Divorced na ako, e!"

As far as Franco is concerned, what are you thankful for?

"With Franco, I can do what I couldn't do before - like enjoy a free
life. Our communication lines are open. We are both Christian and we
make beautiful music together. We support each other in so many ways.
Our marriage is working out really well."

Have the kids (Marielle and Kiko) taken to Franco like he's their own
father?

"Oh, yes, they have. He's physically present all the time. Franco is
playing the role so well."

How was the adjustment period?

"There were a few kinks in the beginning. But now, everything is okay,
everything is perfect. Siempre, when we got married, Franco was an
instant father to two children!"

Some people have the impression that you dominate Franco. Is Franco a
yes-man?

"I don't think so. I admit that I have a strong character and Franco is
very gentle but we complement each other. The truth is that I am a very
submissive wife. Franco is the man of the house. He's smart and I am,
too, so we get into arguments sometimes, just like any other couple."

What else are you thankful for?

"I'm thankful for my family, for Franco being there and for our
children...I'm thankful that my parents are there still supporting
me...I'm thankful that I'm singing again and making people happy in my
own little way...I'm thankful for being able to live the kind of life
that I am living now."

* * * E-mail reactions at: rickylo@philstar.net.ph

6 Comments:

  • may pagkapareho ang buhay natin ang sa akin lang ay arabo pero yong mga nangyari sayo like palaging may guard ka at nasa bahay lang walang kaibigan to talk to alammo tooto yong sabi mong kahit nasa yo na ang mundo kung wala namang pagmamahal at pang unawa yong mag asawa walang saysay ang pagsasama

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 01, 2009 6:34 PM  

  • I am still Lucky for having a life even being married with an Arab... If your a Muslim it's a big sin to change again...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 22, 2011 10:57 PM  

  • Bakit Muslim ka ba? Catholic is the true religion!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 06, 2013 8:06 PM  

  • Catholic ba totoong religion? Basahin mo yung biblia ng katoliko puro kontra sa biblia turo sa katoliko... Kahit nga yung name na catholic church wala sa bible... Magbasa ka nga muna ng biblia mo kung meron ka para maintindihan mo yung religion mo... Hirap sa inyo naniniwala kayo ng walang basehan kundi yung pagkabinyag sayo nung baby kapa after nun tapos na ni sarili nyong doctrina di nyo alam... Basa basa din pag may time :-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 20, 2013 1:44 PM  

  • Excuse me po bakit yung mga muslim lahat mahilig kumantot ng pwet ko naglalakat ako dito hinahabol ako ng mga lalaki minsan atat na atat pero ok lang mga pogi naman sila hahha win na win ka dito pag bakla ka pipilahan ka ng lalaki ikaw na ang magsasawa pero inggat ka lang pag nahuli ka sampal at latigo ka gaya nung friends ko natukso kasi sa 12 years old na Jordano.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 06, 2014 9:28 PM  

  • I've been to the ex-Princess' s residesce before, I kind of
    Understand the " bird in cage" feeling . Glad to see her
    happy now, she was born free,that made her give up
    The extravagance life style of Princees. Proud to be a
    Pinoy.

    By Blogger Saltaire Terr Florida, at May 15, 2014 2:42 AM  

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