THE TIME: 1994
THE PLACE: London
THE WOMAN: Vanessa-Mae, teenage violin virtuoso
Interview by Nicole Veash
My grandfather, Tan Lip Kee, lived in Singapore. As his only grandchild we were close; even though he couldn't speak very much English and my Chinese isn't too good, we still managed to get along.
In a way, I think he was a little bit disappointed with me. He thought I didn't know enough of my Chinese roots because I had grown up as a very Western little girl, living in London for most of my life. At the bottom of his heart he couldn't really understand what I did. He didn't know why I wanted to make violin playing my profession and he was concerned for my future.
By the time I was 15, he was suffering from cancer. One day we received a call telling us that he was very ill. My mother flew out to Singapore, but I had been booked to do a show evening: All through my life, mother and father had said you must do your job and do it to the end. It's that professional thing and I learned to take pride in what I did.
That night was to be a big performance. Children in Need had asked me to perform Toccata and Fugue for the first time on TV so although I was upset about my grandfather, I had to do my job. The music seemed to lift my emotions, but at the back of my mind I was thinking about grandfather dying in Singapore.
Around that time, I started trying to assert my independence. When you are 15, you want to take more responsibility for yourself and be grown up. One of the things I started doing was looking after my own passport. Now, other people look after it for me because I go to so many different countries, but then I kept it in the bottom of a cupboard in my bedroom.
When I finished the show, I went home intent on picking up the passport and flying out to be with my grandfather. When I got in, I went to the cupboard and found it wasn't there. I turned my bedroom upside down looking for it, but still couldn't find it. Eventually it turned up, but by then it was too late because he had already passed away.
I felt very guilty about that night, especially because I had let myself down by not finding the passport. Since then I've learnt how to deal with responsibility, whether it's on an emotional level or on a professional level. Silly things like being in control of your own passport are not important; and learning to delegate has helped me personally and improved my work. But I wish my grandfather could have seen the last three years of my life. He would have seen that the violin is an instrument that can reach out to touch people and give them some sort of joy.
About a year ago, memories of that time came flooding back. A girl close toy family, who I had known since I was 11, was killed in a car crash. It was shocking because she was only in her early 20s and she had always been so vivacious and full of life. About an hour before I was due to go on stage, my mother told me the news, but at that stage it was too late to pull out of the concert. When I went on, I dedicated my performance to her memory.
Music is such an emotional thing. On that night I used my emotions and my sadness to give a better performance. Sometimes when you hear sad news you want to rush away and be on your own. But sometimes thinking about that person and dedicating a performance to them is more important than being silent because you celebrate their memory.
I take my music very seriously, it is my work. But at the end of the day relationships with family and friends are really, really important things which can never be replaced by success or fame or anything material. I've learnt that when you work hard, you can treat life too seriously. Life can end at any moment, so you should be with people that are close to you a who make you happy. If I manage to live my life like that it will be cool by me.