by Marc Almagro, Photos by Zulfadli bin Rahman assisted by Tracey Nguyen, Hair & Makeup by Nikki Fu


The motoring enthusiast and socialite moves through life as if she’s on the driver’s seat: she knows her destination and the best way to get there.

Just to be clear, I wasn’t ingratiating myself with Amanda Toh-Steckler, socialite, philanthropist, mother, motoring enthusiast, whom I met in person only twice, but whose passion for supercars has left such an impression on me that when a car chase in a series I was watching came on, I immediately texted her. Whatever, I thought, if she didn’t reply it was fine. I just felt she would enjoy watching the series – if she hasn’t yet – this convoluted family story of a fictional British aristocracy and some narcos, with improbable plot twists strung together by gratuitous, naked violence. And then there was that scene with exotic cars. Amanda simply had to see it.

A short while later, she sent me a photo of two metal bowls, one filled with green batter, the other with white. She was baking a cake for a friend who was throwing a party the following day, she explained in her text, and politely asked what the series was about. “Sure,” she assured me, “when I have time to sit down.” She is always busy with something.

Amanda knows everything about supercars. She said this to me herself. She owns several of them, the limited edition and vintage models, which she collected painstakingly over the years with her husband. I asked her exactly how many she owned and somehow never got an answer, but going by the way she described them, with full model name, serial number, and special features, she must have at least 15. Some of them are here in Singapore, the rest in Palo Alto, California where she keeps a second home.

Her last ‘long ride’ was at McLaren’s 60th anniversary drive which brought a bunch of McLaren VIP customers to a seven-day, all-day road trip from Scotland to England. (She’s the president of the McLaren car-owners’ group in Singapore.) She went with a girlfriend, spent time on the road driving, talking and laughing, stopping for meals, visiting car museums, and inspecting the personal garages of other avid collectors. “This is what I really enjoy,” she revealed, pausing briefly to think about what she just said, and finally adding, “and cooking for my family and friends.”

The Kampong Girl

Amanda grew up in one of the last kampongs in Singapore, a small farming village in Sembawang, together with about 50 relatives, where her grandfather owned a large orchid plantation. She had a very traditional upbringing, too strict for her liking, but at least the farm afforded her the space she needed to be alone with her thoughts whenever she wanted.

Like most kampong children her age, she learned to work with her hands and pursue important life skills, among them swimming (in a pond), catching chickens (and preparing them for dinner), and cooking (even for 300 people, if it ever came to that). “When I host parties, I am my own caterer,” she quipped. In turn, the kampong life has left its mark on her efficient gait, her quick pace, her open and honest way around people.

At age 13, when the government made it known that their kampong was up for redevelopment, Amanda and her family moved to a nearby housing estate – a high-rise with modern facilities yet somehow devoid of the freedom she was used to in the village. One of six children – born between three boys and two other girls – she was the one with a yen for adventure and little tolerance for rigid parenting. (She used to sneak out of their house to practice with the school dance squad which her father forbade her from joining. “It didn’t stop me,” she said. “I worked even harder to be the best I could be.”)

At 16, she left home; away from her family she managed to build a life for herself, and eventually settled down. She wouldn’t say much about that episode, perhaps because we didn’t know each other well enough, but very likely because she doesn’t seem the type who dwells on the past. Whatever hardships she went through when she was young have all been forgotten; she is now a constant source of support for her family.

Working the Camera

Amanda showed up alone for her pictorial at our studio – no assistant, no maid, no minder, a garment bag folded over an arm, a big tote for the high jewellery parures slung over a shoulder, plus a shoulder bag, and a doll-sized handbag for the phone and whatnots in her free hand. She was in designer denim shorts and a t-shirt, and a pair of heeled ankle boots.

Like some of the other socialites we have photographed, she knew exactly how to favour the camera with her ‘good side’, catch the light with the Valentino couture dresses – one with marabou feathers, another with lace and a deep décolleté, and a red one with flower appliqués. She worked her hair that has been volumised with products and fuss, and she also hung around with the team, telling stories and sharing jokes between sips of bottled water.

She had gone to the market that morning – presumably not in those heeled ankle boots, but I guess it all depended on the kind of market she goes to. “I worry about my helper working too hard. So sometimes I sneak into the kitchen and prepare my own food.” she said. “I go to the market myself without my helper. I like to do things with my own hands. I like to touch food – my hands were given to me for work!”

After the shoot I walked Amanda to her car, a blue “McLaren 765LT Spider, one of 765 in the whole world”, she recited. We agreed to meet another time for the interview. She was going to the States to attend to some business – setting up a string of Asian restaurant franchises – and a side trip had also been planned.

The Years Together

Amanda was already waiting for me in the private room of ION Suite when I arrived for our interview. She had returned from the business trip and managed to find time for us to sit down. In a matched athleisure trousers and shirt, and designer-trainers with thick platform soles, she looked rested, energetic, and eager for a chat. But the questions that I had prepared were delicate and I was beginning to feel awkward.

In 2021, Amanda lost her husband, Vincent ‘Vince’ Steckler, CEO of Avast Antivirus, in a car accident. She had since opened up to the media about healing, but it was still a difficult subject to talk about. “It’s still not easy,” she told me. ”Sometimes it hits me quite hard especially at night. That’s why I try to keep myself occupied all the time.”

Their years together have seen them working hard. “Back then (Avast) was a small company,” Amanda said. “I first met the founder, Pavel (Baudiš), at work; they wanted my husband to bring the company’s revenue to US$200 million so they could sell it. Within two years US$425 million were invested. We were supposed to stay in Prague for two years, and then it became four, six, and finally 10.”

Meanwhile, the company revenues rose to US$800 million from US$20 million, a growth attributed to Vince’s efforts. In 2018, Avast was listed at the London Stock Exchange; in 2019, Vince retired and, with Amanda, moved back to the US.

A String of Misfortunes

In 2021, Amanda and Vince were in the midst of building a holiday home in Newport Beach in southern California for their multi-generational, blended families. (Vince had two children from a previous marriage, Amanda had one, and together they have another two.) They were looking forward to a family reunion. Vince was anticipating the birth of his first grandson, and Amanda was joining him to meet a chef that she planned to hire for her restaurant. As a surprise for her arrival, Vince even bought Amanda two classic cars: an original MG 1949 and a Jaguar XK 140. Things were looking up.

On her way to the US from Singapore, Amanda began feeling unwell; when she reached Newport Beach they hurried to see a doctor to discuss her condition. Years earlier, Amanda had a persistent pain on her shoulder for which she was asked to choose between a surgery or pain management. She chose the latter but the pain eventually worsened due to drug allergy. The doctor in the Sates recommended surgery and quickly scheduled one. As she was recovering from it, Vince had an accident and passed away. It all happened in a matter of days. Vince’s grandson was born on the first of June, Amanda had a successful four-hour surgery on the 7th. The family would lose its patriarch on the 15th.

But the challenges would continue. Following the death of her husband, Amanda discovered that a manager had been stealing from the business and deftly covering up the theft. It had been going on for some time. She also had to pay millions to get out of onerous lease agreements that the manager had entered into.

Despite all these, she has remained steadfast. “You know what, to me it’s like, if I’m being treated this way it’s because God is trying to let me learn a lesson. I have overcome each obstacle, and today I stand firm. I tell myself, whatever I’ve lost, I will make back in another way. That’s always in me.”

Still Pushing On

I could hear enthusiasm rising in Amanda’s voice. We moved on to how she is rebuilding her business, and by extension, her life. “Okay, right now there are two,” she said as she sat up, eyes brightening, “the one that I’m renovating is in Valley Fair in the Cupertino area. There is a lot of foot traffic, and the business is 24 hours.” She adds, however, that it may take time for the business to become profitable.

“The other one is in Walnut Creek, also in the Bay Area. It is called Santai, which means having fun in the Indonesian language,” she said. (Cambridge Dictionary defines santai as ‘relaxed’, ‘leisurely’.) “It serves Indonesian fusion cuisine; it’s my chef’s dream to serve Indonesian food, and I’m fulfilling his dream,” she shared. “In Chinese, san tai means three generations.”

Amanda said she has learned a lot from these recent experiences, adding they were very costly lessons. She discovered that they were building on a space that was not meant for a restaurant, and had to obtain several government permits before they could proceed, which delayed the project and raised its cost. She was also burned in another deal to launch a Singaporean restaurant franchise in the US. After the pandemic and her husband’s passing, her partners suddenly dropped everything even after she had already invested a substantial amount.

If Amanda is more aggressive now, she isn’t keeping it a secret. “Over the past 10 years, it was all about the Earth.” People who were in the building trade did pretty well: property developers and agents, architects and interior designers, she pointed out, citing feng shui theories. “But this year onward, it’s about Fire.” Presumably it includes the internet and online businesses and, obviously, the hearth and food business. She’s fired up to get back.

Continuing Commitment

Olenka Villareal, the founder of Magical Bridge Foundation, hopes that someday labelling playgrounds as ‘inclusive’ or ‘accessible’ would no longer be necessary. The Foundation is innovating multi-generational playgrounds, parks, and programmes for more inclusive communities, and Amanda is giving it her full support. This is a philanthropic project that is keeping her busy.

In Palo Alto where the Magical Bridge Foundation started, they reached out to Amanda for financial support. She turned to her husband with a simple but compelling request: to ‘donate her birthday’ – whatever might be spent for the party and the presents – to a worthy cause. “My husband was a very thoughtful man, especially when it comes to the birthday of anyone in the family. He always remembered birthdays and would make a trip, even a quick one, to help celebrate it. I taught him how to give back to society.” That year they ended up donating US$30,000.

The Foundation builds playgrounds designed in collaboration with medical and other specialists who ensure that everyone can use and benefit from the facility. In New York, Amanda and her husband were once again approached for help, this time by Michelle Obama. Their commitment to the Foundation just kept growing.

One such playground costs a few million dollars, and Amanda herself, as well as the Steckler Charitable Foundation, is once again rising to the challenge of helping build two in Singapore. “We work with partners. NParks has donated about three acres of land in Sun Plaza Park near Tampines Town Centre. Another one is already being planned  at the Singapore National Gallery. Both playgrounds will open one after another in 2025, in time for Singapore’s 60th birthday. I can’t think of a better gift to Singapore than this!”


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