Barely two years since returning to Cambodia after her family’s 1975 exile to the United States, Princess Soma Norodom has already made a splash in her native Phnom Penh.
On any given night, the outgoing California-raised royal is just as likely to be found mingling with the Kingdom’s elite at a posh wedding, as she is grooving to hip-hop at Riverhouse or speaking passionately against US deportations at an activist gathering.
And now, Phnom Penhites can expect to see a little more of the socialite princess with the launch of her new weekly column, “The Social Agenda”, which debuts this Friday in The Phnom Penh Post’s English and Khmer versions.
The column will deal with social issues close to the royal’s heart, including wealth disparities, the health and education systems and human trafficking.
The self-dubbed “Royal Rebel”, who graduated with a degree in journalism from California State University, says she wants to “push the edge” of what Cambodian royals are expected to do and say.
“I’m going to speak my mind about certain taboo topics that other people don’t want to talk about because they don’t want to lose their title, their job, their car, their villas,“ she says.
In 2010, Soma left a flourishing broadcast news career in the US to return to Phnom Penh and care for her ailing father, Prince Norodom Vatvani, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force.
From 2010 until this February, she hosted PUC Radio Talk Show, the first English-language programme of its kind in the Kingdom, where she interviewed more than 180 guests from all walks of life – an experience she says gave her a grasp of the myriad of social issues facing the country, despite the fact that she didn’t grow up here.
The purple and gold colour scheme of her column’s logo, in case anyone was wondering, is a tribute to her favourite basketball team – the LA Lakers.
Soma hopes the unique perspective of a socially-engaged royal raised abroad will shed new light on pressing issues.
“Though I am Khmer, I am considered an outsider looking in,” says the Cambodian-American princess. “But you always need an outsider’s point of view.”
She emphasizes that the point isn’t to create controversy or point fingers, but to create dialogue.
“You can talk all about these issues but you can also come up with resolutions,” she says, adding that she hopes to highlight companies or organisations doing positive things.
The socialite has big plans for the coming months – she is set to host the June 9 TEDxPhnomPenh forum, and will be Cultural Ambassador of the “Our City” cultural festival in late September, experiences which will likely make it to Royal Rebel column.
And, if readers are lucky, she might just reveal her greatest royal secret – the location of the best fried chicken spot in Phnom Penh.
To contact the reporter on this story: Diana Montaño at [email protected]