Not everyone can claim to have been taken hostage by terrorists, delivered a baby and worked as both a diplomat and an Elvis impersonator. But Wasu “Jeep” Sangsingkaew, 46, has done all that and much more. As he steps up for a reunion concert with his band, The Palace, this Sunday, he chats to us about his colorful life and why Thailand is in danger of becoming a failed state.

My journey in show business started early. I shot a children’s drink commercial when I was 13, as I was a youth tennis champion and also a national player.
 
You must have discipline. It’s good to put timeframes on your life, so you know what you’ll be doing next. I promised my parents I would further my education even though I was already so involved in sports, movies and singing with bands like The Palace and Ploy. 
 
The 1980s was when Thai music was really born. The 1970s was about playing Western music, while the 1980s was about Thai-made sounds—Thai composed, Thai produced, Thai sung. There was still some influence from the West, but we twisted it and made it our own. 
 
Music was the king of entertainment at that time. Pretty much every famous person would eventually launch a single. These days everyone is in lakorn. 
 
Elvis Presley is a great entertainer. He revolutionized the music industry, knocking down the walls between African Americans and white people during the civil rights movement. Everything about him is so iconic. That’s why I love him and love impersonating him.
 
Tasting life abroad inspired me to study diplomacy and work as a public servant, like my family who have been serving the country for more than a hundred years. Having the Thai flag on my shirt and going out representing my country is something I’ve always loved, as is having foreign friends, so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was my obvious choice.
 
A diplomat’s life isn’t as posh as people think. My 20 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a great time for me. I had to throw everything I had studied out the window and start learning from zero. 
 
I’ve done many things that people don’t think are part of a diplomat’s job, from seeing the execution of a Thai prisoner to delivering the baby of an illegal laborer who was too afraid to go to the hospital. I was also caught in a helicopter full of armed terrorists along with MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra when he was deputy foreign minister in 1999. This is the real diplomat’s life.
 
Life is about principles. When we were in negotiations with the Karen terrorists who seized the Myanmar Embassy in 1999, they demanded a hostage to ride in a helicopter with them. While many high-ranking officials kept silent, MR Sukhumbhand offered himself as a hostage to accompany them back to Suanpueng Ratchaburi. I was amazed. 
 
A politician might seem like the last person who would put their life on the line. But MR Sukhumbhand did. I really respect that. He didn’t need to do it, but he said, “My grandfather was a king. I volunteered for this position. This is what I can do for my country.”
 
Life and death moments remind you that nothing in life is ever certain. We’re lucky that we’re human. So don’t let your short life go by without meaning. Set yourself goals and work towards them—whether small or big, it’s better than doing nothing. 
 
Being a diplomat taught me that the world is so small and everything can be solved by negotiations. The world is full of conflict because every country wants to preserve their status. As a small country, we just do our best to not be exploited.
 
Changing the country over a short period isn’t possible. If you studied political science, you would be amazed that all schools of thought agree that true democracy takes time, up to 150 years. We’re still immature. We’re in transition.
 
We must not reach the point of no return. We’ve had democracy for only 81 years. We have a long way to go. But at this important juncture, we need to control the conflict and preserve what we have. Many countries become a failed state. We must not reach that point. People are aware of that with the appointment of General Prayuth Chan-ocha. 
 
Everyone faces a midlife crisis. I decided to quit my beloved job at the ministry as my dad passed away and my mom needed someone to take care of her. I still do some diplomatic work as part of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Interview by Natcha Sanguankiattichai and Monruedee Jansuttipan