Updated on 23 May with interview with Muhammad Shalehan.
In a happy twist to a strange tale about a radio quiz that generated intense debate on how to pronounce Tony Hadley’s name, in which the British celebrity himself was roped in to make a statement about how to say his name, a radio station in Singapore has awarded a S$10,000 prize to a contest participant after initially denying him the money.
This was after Gold 905 had already given the huge prize to another contestant. Talk about a costly mistake.
Muhammad Shalehan’s story has been featured in international media outlets, including BBC, The Telegraph, South China Morning Post, and New York Daily News.
The 32-year-old train captain had spent weeks listening to the “Celebrity Name Drop” quiz on Gold 905, a radio station under the national media conglomerate, Mediacorp.
In order to win the S$10,000 prize, S$5,000 of which is in cash and the other half in shopping vouchers, listeners have to correctly list the names of 14 celebrities, each saying one word of this phrase: "Gold 9-0-5, the station that sounds good, and makes you feel good."
Shalehan told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA that he deduced all 14 celebrity names through sheer hard work – spending hours listening to the radio each day, calling the station hundreds of times, and listening to other callers’ answers. “It was mental torture,” said Shalehan.
On the third time his calls to Gold 905 actually connected, he gave his answers, but was told by the DJ Chris Ho, upon consulting a judge, that he had only 13 names correct.
The 14 celebrities are Tony Hadley, Madonna, Maggie Wheeler, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, David Bowie, Belinda Carlisle, Julie Andrews, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep, Michael Buble and Rebecca Lim.
After Gold 905 awarded the prize money to another listener who gave the same 14 names that Shalehan provided, Shalehan was understandably incensed and emailed the station to ask why he didn’t win. Gold 905 told him that he had “mispronounced” Tony Hadley’s name.
Then Shalehan reached out to Hadley himself after Googling for his manager’s contact details. Hadley is the lead singer of British band Spandau Ballet, an icon of the 1980s.
Incredibly, Hadley responded. In a video message Hadley sent to Shalehan, he said Shalehan should receive the $10,000 prize. “You might have said ‘Hadley’ with a slight accent, but as far as I’m concerned, you said my name correctly.” (Shalehan pronounces “Hadley” in a way that sounds like “Head-ley”.)
Jubilant after Hadley’s endorsement of his pronunciation of his name, Shalehan posted Hadley’s video on Facebook and queried Gold 905 again about their decision. “No one has the right to say how to pronounce your own name rather than the man himself, you see,” Shalehan says.
The radio station still insisted that Shalehan had pronounced Hadley’s name wrongly, despite the celebrity himself disputing that. It even released an audio clip comparing the pronunciations of Hadley’s name as uttered by Shalehan, the other quiz winner, and Hadley himself.
Comments on Gold 905’s Facebook page were filled with angry netizens who said that the radio station was in the wrong and that the S$10,000 prize rightfully belonged to Shalehan. Gold 905 later said they were willing to offer Shalehan S$5,000 instead out of goodwill, but he declined the offer.
Shalehan said he would have taken the S$5,000 if it had come with an apology from Gold 905, but they stuck to their guns that his quiz answer was wrong.
“I have my principles to follow,” Shalehan said. “Yes, the (offered) amount was big, but it's not something that can buy my dignity, because I won the game fairly.”
But as Shalehan’s story gained an international spotlight from several media outlets after Hadley stepped in to back his claim against Gold 905, the station had a change of heart.
In a statement posted on Gold 905’s Facebook page on Friday (22 May), the radio station said, “Thank you for all your feedback and posts. We have reached out to Mr Shalehan again to convey that we are deeply sorry. Since Tony Hadley has said that Mr Shalehan said his name correctly, who are we to disagree? The full prize of $10,000 cash and shopping spree will also be awarded to Mr Shalehan. We value all our listeners and your continued support.”
Shalehan says he is “terribly happy” that Gold 905 finally caved in to reason and gave him his rightful prize. He will split the money between his own family and his father-in-law, who was the one who encouraged him to take part in the radio contest. He also plans to donate some of the money to charity.
Shalehan, who has three young children and is expecting his wife to give birth again in August, says the money would be useful for his children as well.
Besides the prize money, he is also glad that Gold 905 gave him the apology he had been waiting for. “Justice has been served,” he quipped.