Isabel Padua Grant’s home in Nottingham, like many other English homes, has a traditional English garden.
But the living room of that home, at the time when her British-Filipino children were growing up, had marks of the tropics, like native baskets, tribal figures, wood carvings. It was definitely not a traditional English home. From her kitchen wafted whiffs of Asian dishes, like pancit, lumpia, adobo.
Even in those days of raising a young family, she thought being her Filipino self was simply “the most natural thing” to do.
Isabel started sharing memories with CoverStory.ph while on a visit to her motherland.
Before she traveled to the United Kingdom as a young lady armed with a degree in English and literature from the University of the Philippines and high school valedictorian honors at St. Scholastica’s College, she was very steeped in things Filipino.
Her father, Ceferino Padua, was a lawyer and human rights advocate. Her grandfather was Dr. Regino Gaerlan Padua, who served as health undersecretary during Elpidio Quirino’s presidency and was one of the Southeast Asia founders of the World Health Organization. Her mother, Nellie Balangue Padua, was a professor in math and statistics at the University of the East.
Isabel married a British physician and was deeply appreciative of British arts and culture. But it never occurred to her to miss out on reading to their three children, Angela, Rachel and Rebecca, about Philippine “alamat” (legends) and “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.”
She continues the tradition with her grandchildren whenever she has the chance during get-togethers and periodic visits, she proudly said. This, again, is a natural thing for her to do.
According to Isabel, her grandchildren, like her children and herself, are holders of dual citizenships—Filipino and British.
Dr. Michael Grant, Isabel’s husband, is also known as Baron de Longueuil, a third-degree cousin of the newly crowned King Charles. Michael’s father was Baron Raymond Grant de Longueuil, whose mother was Lady Ernestine Bowes-Lyon, a first cousin of the Queen Mother, Charles’ grandmother.
Lola Ernestine’s great grandchildren are familiar with Lola Basyang, and so it would be for her great great grandchildren: The proudly Filipino Isabel said she would see to it.
Good thing she would not have a hard time doing so. Her children, now respected artists in their fields, are appreciative of their Filipino heritage and visit the Philippines quite often.
Angela runs the Angela Grant School of Dance, a ballet school of some 250 students in London. Her teaching actually started in the Philippines, with 15 students at their ancestral home in Paranaque City.
Rachel will be remembered by Filipino movie buffs as a “Bond girl,” having starred in the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” opposite Pierce Brosnan. She also starred in the film “Until Death” with Jean Claude van Damme. She has promoted Philippine destinations in an engaging story-telling fashion and her love of travel led her to the arms of the man she was to wed, Stephen Hersh, of the Biaggi luggage brand.
Rebecca, the youngest, has appeared in London’s West End musicals and dramas, and been featured in UK films and TV shows when she began to paint and won as regional winner in a contest in search of budding artists in the United Kingdom.
“All my daughters did ballet, drama, since they were children, were especially creative and productive, and became involved in theater, shows, TV and film. They’re also passionate about art and culture. Despite their extracurricular activities, they excelled academically and were A students,” Isabel said.
She said recounting their achievements for CoverStory.ph was “extremely hard,” having “instilled in them modesty and humility despite winnings and accolades.”
Asked about what Filipino values she had inculcated in her children, Isabel thought of directly asking them about the “Filipino-ness” that they bring to their lives.
Angela listed being respectful to elders and anyone in general as top in her list. Rachel put respect for elders as “definitely top five for me,” adding: “That is something now so lost in western cultures.”
Rebecca had a quick note on inclusivity: “Include everyone, even the underdogs.”
Angela also listed: “Be generous and kind. Share with others, especially those less fortunate.”
Rachel chimed in on this, too: “The genius of people with low-income, having less makes you more creative and less wasteful. All Filipinos are good like this.” She remembered her Filipino grandmother, her “Mommyloly,” who “saved all her bottles and made hanging plants.”
Isabel partly ascribed her children’s love of the arts to her grandmother, Isabel Garde Padua, a lawyer and opera singer.
Rachel has made designs for the Biaggi brand, for which she has US patents. She also referred to her father with his gene pool for their creativity. Her grandfather, Baron Raymond Grant de Longueuil, was a well-known artist in the south of France.
Rebecca has made remarkable strides in painting since she had lessons with her father on the foothills of the Pyrenees. She is now regarded as a noteworthy contemporary painter with sailing themes.
Angela, who modeled for the couturiers Ben Farrales and Pitoy Moreno during her stay in the Philippines, said resilience and adaptability were Filipino qualities her mom brought her and her sisters. “It’s not easy to move from such a peculiar place to England, where the weather, people, food and everything else are so different. And yet Filipinos do this all over the world, and adapt so easily even in Middle Eastern countries,” she said, adding:
“To be able to adapt and be resilient is key to happiness and success. What do they say? It is not the strongest of the species that survives but, rather, that which is most adaptable to change.”
Love of family is another Filipino attribute ingrained in the Grants. For Angela, this means “spending quality time with family.”
Rebecca touched on time with family by saying: “Make sure there’s always food on the table, even for visitors as well.” About culture, she said: “Mostly it is how to take responsibility for culture, helping, adding to, and enhancing it.”
Isabel summed up her children’s thoughts as an awareness and appreciation of one’s roots and culture—a direct result of experiencing Filipino life from a very young age.
Together with her children and her Padua cousins in London, Isabel founded the Padua Charitable Fund—for 16 years now a registered charity of England and Wales. It has raised millions of pesos through the years for Philippine beneficiaries in terms of housing, schools and scholarships, provision of boats, medical assistance, and aid in the aftermath of natural disasters like Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
“For the Yolanda campaign, … Rebecca, who at that time was acting in a well-known British TV series called ‘Holby City,’ organized a massive UK-celebrity-attended charity ball/auction in London,” Isabel recounted.
That evening, Isabel said, she found touching the Filipino folk-dance show by Nottingham-based Filipino youth taught by Rebecca. They also danced the “singkil” with Lahing Kayumanggi, UK’s foremost Filipino dance troupe. Rachel later visited the province of Leyte from the United States and arranged the donation of P1 million to Gawad Kalinga’s housing project.
The process of seeking change through creatives is well-defined with Rebecca. “Committing to voicing change through creative endeavors and using and finding voice via the arts” are her guide posts in life, along with “being able to be extremely diplomatic, keeping the peace and good relations, while relaying, and communicating, and fighting for a just cause in any situation.”
The results of the Q&A that Isabel sent out to her children for this report left her teary-eyed—and assured that they are living life the way they need to.
“I was touched … because really, we’ve been so busy in our lives. We never really talked about this. Never seriously, till now, I think,” Isabel said.
For proof of their having their hands full with life’s goings-on, and of continuing to maintain a meaningful presence in the Philippines, Isabel and her family have just completed reconstructing their ancestral home in Paranaque. She has even put up an image of Our Lady of Fatima in the garden—a touch truly Filipino and in keeping with her faith.
It is a most rewarding accomplishment to see this kind of continuity with pride in heritage and culture, she said.
Isabel admitted to having entertained “what-if” thoughts, having spent most of her life as a homemaker who occasionally made theater clothes for her children and their theater groups, and who now continues to immerse in her own painting world. But she said such thoughts easily flew as fast as they came. Her story of what she has made of her life tells why.