If you haven’t disappointed your History teachers, then you’ll remember that 1819 was the year when Singapore was founded by the British – Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, to be exact. It was also the year that Britain’s most famous queen was born, Queen Victoria. Her name is where we get the term “Victorian era” from, and it was an era of great positive change for Britain, and also the time when fashion changed and the Victorian dress was born (not related to Victoria Beckham’s fashion line).

Singapore and Britain have had a thoroughly marvellous relationship ever since that fateful year in 1819, with both countries continuing to co-operate in many different fields like finance, education, investments and trade. In fact, you’ll be surprised to learn just how closely linked Singapore is with the United Kingdom.

 

1. English is one of Singapore’s official languages because of her relationship with Britain

The royal court in 'Victoria and Adul'. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

The royal court in ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Back in the 1800’s, European powers were rushing to establish strongholds in various parts of Asia, with the French creating an empire in Indochina and the Dutch colonising Indonesia as the Dutch East Indies.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and that resulted in English replacing Malay as our lingua franca. Since it was now our main language for communication, it also became the default language for education in schools and in the government and courts as well.

If a different country had colonised us, English might possibly not be one of our national languages.

 

2. Singapore and Britain are both full members of the Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth MRT Station. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Commonwealth MRT Station. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Commonwealth of Nations (not to be confused with the United Nations, ASEAN, or other alliances between countries) has 52 member states that are mostly former British colonies. Although legally, the countries in the Commonwealth have no obligation to each other, they are still united by language, culture, and shared values like democracy and human rights. There’s even a Commonwealth Charter that lists down all these values!

If you’re wondering – yes, Commonwealth MRT Station (EW20) is named after this very Commonwealth of Nations. The station was named after the road Commonwealth Avenue, which was in turn named after the Commonwealth of Nations.

 

3. Both countries’ militaries co-operate through the Five Power Defence Arrangements

Australia's Minister for Defence Marise Ann Payne, Malaysia's Minister of Defence Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, New Zealand's Minister of Defence Mark Mitchell and Britain's High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman attend the Five Power Defence Arrangements Defence Ministers' Meeting in Singapore June 2, 2017. Credit: APDF Magazine

Australia’s Minister for Defence Marise Ann Payne, Malaysia’s Minister of Defence Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Singapore’s Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, New Zealand’s Minister of Defence Mark Mitchell and Britain’s High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman attend the Five Power Defence Arrangements Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore June 2, 2017. Credit: APDF Magazine

The Five Power Defence Arrangements might sound like it has something to do with Singapore’s 5 Pillars of Total Defence, but it is something else altogether. It’s actually a set of military relationships between five countries – Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Malaysia, and of course, Singapore – where all five countries have to convene should Malaysia or Singapore face military attack.

That’s right! They’ve all got our back if (touch wood) in the event of an armed attack.

 

4. 80,000 UK qualifications are awarded to Singaporeans every year

Academic qualifications. Credit: Pixabay

Academic qualifications. Credit: Pixabay

The British Council estimates that about 80,000 Singaporeans receive academic qualifications from the UK every year. Given that over 38,000 students take the PSLE every year (38,808 in 2016 and 39,286 in 2016), that means around 2 people take a UK-based examination for every 1 student that takes the PSLE.

We’re on a healthy track to getting educational qualifications from the United Kingdom!

 

5. Singapore is one of UK’s largest trading partners in Asia

Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul (Ali Fazal) in 'Victoria and Adul'. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul (Ali Fazal) in ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

What does that mean? Well, half of UK’s exports to ASEAN come to Singapore, which amounted to £5.6 billion (SGD9.9 billion) in 2014.

That’s almost 10 billion dollars worth of UK goods every year! Although some of them may end up being re-exported elsewhere, that’s a lot of money we’re spending on UK imports. It doesn’t just cover regular consumer goods, but also equipment, chemicals, and intellectual property too. The UK government’s website even has a guide on the benefits of exporting goods to Singapore.

 

6. Both countries have a history of multiculturalism

Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul (Ali Fazal) in 'Victoria and Adul'. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul (Ali Fazal) in ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Finally, both countries have a rich history of multiculturalism. It’s pretty obvious for Singapore, but what about Britain?

For starters, the current Mayor of London is Sadiq Khan, who is a British Pakistani. But if we go further back in history, we can see that even Queen Victoria herself was no stranger to diversity. She promoted an Indian Muslim attendant, Abdul Karim, to the status of Munshi (a teacher), where he taught her Urdu.

Not unexpectedly, her family and retainers made a lot of noise and even claimed that Abdul Karim was a spy who wanted to bias Queen Victoria towards Muslims and against Hindus.

But thankfully Queen Victoria dismissed their complaints as racial prejudice.

Victoria and Abdul. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Victoria and Abdul. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Are you interested to know more about how their friendship blossomed? Well, that’s exactly what Victoria & Abdul is all about. It depicts the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and her friendship with Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). It’s not the first time that Dench is portraying Queen Victoria either – she did so in 1997’s Mrs Brown, a film which portrays Queen Victoria’s friendship with her servant John Brown. Victoria & Abdul serves as an unofficial sequel to Mrs Brown.

What sort of persecution would Queen Victoria have faced? How difficult would it have been for Abdul to continue teaching her Urdu? And most of all, how strong would their friendship have been to have weathered all these trials?

Find out for yourself in Victoria & Abdul.

 

Credits: Golden Village Cinemas, Wikimedia Commons, APDF Magazine, Pixabay

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect that Singapore was founded, not colonised as it was originally written, by Raffles in 1819. Singapore was only formally colonised in 1824 after the signing of the Crawfurd Treaty.