“I’m grateful to still be alive”

After raising five children and a near-death experience, former model Wendy Jacobs hopes for another shot in the spotlight.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

After raising five children and a near-death experience, former model Wendy Jacobs hopes for another shot in the spotlight.

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Wendy Jacobs is right on time for our interview. It’s a welcomed surprise, knowing she is a mother to five, and that time must be an ever-precious commodity to her. Still, she shows up at the Orchard Road cafe and greets me warmly and calmly, despite, she admits sheepishly, almost losing her car keys just 10 minutes before.

It takes a great deal to get Wendy ruffied. It’s clear the South African stunner still knows her way around a shoot. At 42, Wendy possesses the energy of models half her age, nailing pose after pose as she transforms from a “soccer mum”, in sneakers and track pants, to a Romantic-inspired fashion maven in a flowy Prada blouse, and a sleek powerhouse in a Johanna Ortiz romper.

She can be bitingly funny and self-deprecating, too: When the styling team worries that her romper is too short, she dismisses their concerns. “I’m fine with it, as long as you all don’t mind looking at my old arse,” she laughs.

In 1998, the glowing model appeared on The Singapore Women's Weekly's August cover cradling her first son, Irfan, then 11 months, in her arms while beaming with pride. Married to Singapore’s legendary footballer Fandi Ahmad, Wendy remembers the excitement of that shoot at their former family home in Bukit Timah.

“At the time, I was a first time mum, a little nervous about this child who was attracting so much attention. But at the same time, I had so much joy being a young mother. I brought Irfan with me everywhere; even to shoots and jobs. I did that cover for The Weekly with Irfan because I wanted to show women that you could have a baby and still look good, and have a career,” says Wendy, who also used to run a boutique selling children’s clothes.

Fast forward 20 years, and Wendy is now an experienced mum, with five children aged between 11 and 20. Her sons, Irfan, aged 20, and Ikhsan, 18, are following in their father’s footsteps, training with Singapore’s national soccer team; and daughter Iman, 17, is working part-time and modelling while on a gap year from her studies. Wendy proudly describes her brood: “Irfan is the serious one, Ikhsan is the loving one, Iman is the reserved one, Ilhan, 14, is Mr Smiley, and Iryan, 11, is truly the baby of the family. Thank God I have five kids – the four have grown up, but I still have my youngest baby at home with me!”

At our shoot, Wendy’s “baby” is wide-eyed and excited, relishing his chance to share the spotlight with his mother. “Iryan was asking me what labels he would be wearing: He is such a fashionista!” Wendy shares, laughing. “But he had a great time, and so did I. It’s always a bit special when you’re working with a family member.”

Wendy The Fighter

At first glance, Wendy’s story may seem like a fairytale come to life. Leaving South Africa for Singapore to model at 19, she met and fell in love with Singapore’s favourite foot balling son Fandi, and managed to successfully balance her career with raising her children.

But in 2008, tragedy struck after Wendy fell in her bathroom, and came down with a mysterious illness which left her bedridden and wheelchair-bound for over a year. She suffered seizures and a near-fatal cardiac arrest. In interviews, she’s admitted that her memories of that time remain hazy.

“It’s a part of my life I prefer not to dwell on,” she says. “Now, I am much better, but I have my good days and my bad days. On good days, I can be up and about doing everything, and on bad days, I could be in hospital.

“The illness has made me thankful for my family, who has supported me through that rough time. And I’m grateful to still be alive. I feel that there’s a reason I’m still here, and there’s something left for me to do.” With former super models like Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington still holding their own in the modelling business, Wendy is hopeful that she can make her comeback, as she “really misses it”. But the fashion industry can be brutal for women in their 40s, and Wendy knows it well. “If you ask people in the industry, who models better: An experienced model in her 40s, or a fresh 20-year-old, they will definitely say it’s the older model. But unfortunately, the client wants the younger face. It’s the reality of the business.

“We women in our 40s have a lot to offer; we’re mature, we know our stuff, and we work very hard. Back in my day, we models didn’t just stand around waiting to be dressed. We’d put on everything ourselves and work the camera as soon as the shoot started, because there was no time to waste. There wasn’t any Photoshop back then either – if you had a pimple, you couldn’t work! So we really had to take care of ourselves and our skin.”

Wendy muses that she has matured with time. When I think back on my life 20 years ago and now, I would tell that young girl, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, because everything will work out.’

“I’m not just Fandi Ahmad’s wife, or a mother of five. No matter what I’ve done, I’ve always been Wendy Jacobs. I’m still that young girl who came to Singapore... very hard working, and a real fighter.

“After all these years, my children have grown up, and I’ve taken care of them. I’ve evolved from a model to a mother to an entrepreneur… and I feel like now is my time to shine. To all the ladies out there, I’d say don’t give up on your hopes and dreams even if you have had children… because I’m still dreaming.”

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love, family & soccer

They’re often called The Beckhams of Singapore, and being such a good-looking family, it’s hard for them to stay out of the limelight. Here’s a look at Wendy’s photogenic family’s life in pictures.


Wendy and Fandi tied the knot in December that year. Naturally, their wedding was a high-profile affair, and over 10,000 well-wishers attended the reception held on a football pitch in Yishun.

Fandi and Wendy relocated to Indonesia with their children, Irfan, Iman, Iryan, Ilhan and Ikhsan. It was the same year Wendy had her accident and developed complications which left her close to death.
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Ever the proud parents, Wendy and Fandi were there to cheer on daughter Iman at the finals of the The New Paper New Face modelling competition. Iman won the Miss Popularity and New Look Miss Fashionista titles that year.

Wendy and Fandi celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary. “The flame is still there,” Wendy confides. “I don’t think a lot of relationships can work the way ours does. We never have date nights and are often busy doing our own things, but when we spend time together, it’s proper quality time.”
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“The illness has made me thankful for my family, who has supported me through that rough time. And I’m grateful to still be alive. I feel that there’s a reason I’m still here, and there’s something left for me to do."
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Fandi’s kids are rising stars At 20, Irfan is the eldest of the five siblings; he is reserved and quiet, while18year-old Ikhsan has a playful air to him and values his independence.

And don’t be fooled by Iman’s fresh-faced appearance – the 17-year-old former track-and-field athlete is articulate and confident.

Rounding up the gorgeous brood of five are boys Ilhan, 14, and Iryan, 11, who have the same great genes in both the looks and soccer skills department.

Most importantly, the eldest three – who previously enrolled at the Singapore Sports School – are learning to step out from the shadows of their well-known parents. And, they are doing it on their own terms.

As the eldest, the onus is on Irfan’s shoulders to set a good example for the rest.

“He is the other big figure in the house,” Ikhsan says in jest. “He’s an alpha male, but he’s also a great leader.”

The brothers only bonded more after spending periods away from home to train in Spain and Chile, when they were brought on board Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica – a trajectory that follows their father’s, who made history as the first Singaporean to play for a European team when he signed a two-year contract with Dutch club FC Groningen in 1983.

When the siblings aren’t throwing the occasional good-natured jibe at each other, they are glued to their phones like all millennials their age.

Between them, the siblings boast more than 150,000 followers on Instagram.

It’s easy to get swept away by fame at such a young age, but they credit their parents for keeping their feet planted firmly on the ground.

After all, no one understands that success is nothing without humility and hard work better than Dad himself.

“I tell my children that they must always be humble, respectful to people, work hard and remain grateful for the opportunities they have in life,” Fandi emphasises.

The advice has rubbed off on the kids. “My dad often tells me that no matter how big or famous you become, don’t forget the people who helped you,” Ikhsan says.

Good looks and great manners? There’s no better combination than that.
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IRFAN He’s a fearless football player whose imposing frame is built to handle rough tackles on the field.

Three years ago, he was singled out by British newspaper The Guardian as “one of the top 40 young talents in the world of football”.

And in 2016, he scored another feat by landing a nomination for Favourite Asian Sports Star at the Nickelodeon 2016 Kids’ Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

IKHSAN The teenager’s boyish demeanour belies the tenacity and skilful footwork that he has demonstrated on the pitch.

Like his father, Ikhsan is settling into the role of striker on the team.

Interestingly, instead of the usual big-name players from the major leagues, he cites his contemporaries from all over the world as his inspiration: “I look at the other players who are around my age and they’ve accomplished so much professionally. I think to myself, ‘Why shouldn’t I be like them?’”

The duo’s progress has not gone unnoticed by their father, who is also watching their development from the sidelines with a bit of introspection.

He muses: “When I see them out there on the field representing their teams, I think, ‘Wow, my boys are grown up now.’” 
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IMAN Forging her own path is Iman, who is currently juggling a psychology course while making inroads into the modelling industry.

“I love it. I took part in a local modelling competition in 2014 and it was a great learning experience,” she says, her Bambi-like eyes lighting up at the memory.

“This industry is competitive; it’s tough. But I’ve learnt the importance of being yourself. When I’m in front of the camera, it’s always, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ I feel it’s nothing I have to force.”

Being the rose among the “thorns” has its advantages at home, too.

“It’s nice because I do get all the attention. But it can get lonely sometimes. When I was growing up, I often wished I had a sister. But,” she pauses for dramatic effect, “I’ll have many sistersinlaw in the future!”