Billionaire boonchai nabs his own 'Mona Lisa' With proposal to tak

Such good taste in art and, surprise, he's rich

Dtac founder Boonchai Bencharongkul's art collection was instrumental in winning over the affections of his latest love, voluptuous actress Bongkot ''Tak'' Khongmalai.

Mr Boonchai, 58, took her to his recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art on Vibhavadi Road, showed her some of the exhibits, and promptly declared they should be an item.

Tak, 27, who announced on Instagram last Monday that the couple planned to get engaged on Nov 19 after a whirlwind romance, says Mr Boonchai swept her off her feet.

''He is such a good man. He admires art, loves King and country, and is committed to family, dhamma and doing good works. We have so much in common,'' she gushed.

Tak was also impressed by the fact that Mr Boonchai, a self-confessed lover of beautiful things, has collected pictures of Tak dating back to her first film roles, when she entered the industry at just 16.

Some of the pictures appear in his gallery's cafe on the third floor, alongside pictures of her contemporaries such as actress Cherman ''Ploy'' Boonyasak.

Mr Boonchai has even painted his own oil portrait of Tak wearing a bikini top. The picture is based on a photo shoot of Tak for Image magazine. ''I did not pose for the portrait. He merely copied the picture, and auctioned the portrait with proceeds going to orphaned children,'' she said proudly.

The news of Tak's romance with the billionaire _ who has five previous wives, including a failed marriage to former actress, Benja Baramee _ has dominated popular media coverage for much of the past week.

Few knew Tak was seeing Mr Boonchai, whom she refers respectfully as ''P' Yai'', perhaps because the pair have been going out for only one month.

Now, the media is awash with images of the happy couple. In one photo, which Tak posted on Instagram, she is seen playing around at an eatery with friends, while Mr Boonchai seems lost in his own reverie. In another, he is nuzzling up to her cheek.

Tak's friends admit she was still sounding them out about whether Mr Boonchai is a good man, even as she agreed with the billionaire's lightning proposal that they should get engaged, marry next year, and start a family.

''P' Yai showed me a picture, Sweet Solitude by Edmund Blair Leighton, at his gallery.

''He told me a prince in the British royal family took along his love to see the painting, and then asked if they could marry. He said he wanted to be like that man.

''I knew then that P' Yai was flirting with me,'' she said.

Mr Boonchai asked if he and Tak could regard themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend.

''I agreed to give it a go, and the next day he asked to see my mother. He did what I never expected, and asked if we could get engaged,'' said the actress.

She was taken aback by the speed of the offer, but impressed by his show of chivalry.

''I've never met such a man prepared to fight so hard for what he wants,'' she said.

''When I asked why the rush, he said he works every day. Once he meets the right one for him, he wants to put everything in place right away,'' she said.

Mr Boonchai is building a bridal home for him and Tak on a 40 million baht, 32 rai plot of family land in the Ram Intra area.

Proud Tak has sent the media pictures of Mr Boonchai's oil portrait of her wearing a bikini, and the land in Ram Intra, in which the first posts of their bridal home have now been sunk.

Media reports of their whirlwind romance have played around with the art theme, with one Kom Chad Luek newspaper cartoon depicting Mr Boonchai standing proudly in front of at least half a dozen portraits of the Mona Lisa.

''Do you really think Tak is Boonchai's Mona Lisa?'' the newspaper asks.

Tak said her male admirer wants children right away.

However, in one of her few concessions to caution, Tak told her admirer that marriage should wait until the bridal home is complete. So too should any decision about whether to register the marriage.

The couple's courtship has been so quick, Tak admits she is worried about what the public will think.

''But I'm almost 30. I think I'm ready to be a good wife and mum,'' she said.

She said the two have more in common than many people realise.

''We enjoy meditating and making merit at temples. P' Yai is such a down-to-earth type that on one temple visit, he even washed the dishes.''

On the internet, Tak's fans congratulated her on finding Mr Right. ''Tak has battled all her life to look after her mother and support her family, and deserves some happiness,'' one said, likening the affair to a Cinderella tale.

Asked whether she is not extraordinarily lucky nonetheless to have ended up with a billionaire as a suitor, Tak said she has money of her own and will not be bought by any man. ''I have not asked for a single baht of his money,'' she said.

''I didn't know he was so rich until I read news reports of our engagement,'' she said.

Mr Boonchai has also struck up a good rapport with Tak's fiercely protective mother, Thanapa Kongmalai.

She said well spoken and courteous Mr Boonchai, only a few months her junior, is the ''son-in-law of my dreams''.

She said Mr Bonchai asked for her daughter's hand last week.

Like Tak, she said she did not know Mr Boonchai was a telecoms billionaire. ''I knew he was a businessman, but that's about it. I didn't even know they were going out until he told me that day.''

Mr Boonchai had asked if he could meet her at her home, as there was something he wanted to discuss. He turned up with his secretary and his driver.

''At first I wondered if Tak had caused him some trouble,'' she laughed.

''He told me his life story ... that he'd loved this woman, and that one, but it was all over now,'' she told reporters. Tak also sent me a copy of his divorce certificate.

While she initially advised Tak to stay away _ ''he must have wives, or kids'' _ she said Mr Boonchai's frankness and charm helped win her over.

''He was prepared to speak honestly about his past. Now if my friends tell me about this or that episode in his life, I can say I know it all, as I heard it from the man himself,'' she said.

''He's so charming and upfront that when he asked for Tak's hand, I agreed right away.

''Tak is such a direct person, that I worry she could end up in trouble if she was to marry someone her own age. They could argue, and things could get out of control,'' she said.

Mrs Thanapa is battling a multitude of illnesses, including heart and eye trouble. She said Mr Boonchai takes her to the doctor when Tak is busy, and waits until she is finished.

''He also invited me along when they go out for a meal, and has offered to build a house for me on the bridal property,'' she said.

She had not asked him for a dowry, as she has money of her own. ''He said he'll come back and discuss the dowry another time,'' she said.

Mr Boonchai is organising Tak's engagement party at his art gallery, to which 500 people, including industry luminaries, have been invited.

Tak, meanwhile, is busy organising her engagement outfit _ a Thai silk, old-style dress in pink and green shades with imported French and Japanese lace _ though her mother thinks she should set about making marriage plans as well.

''We have yet to find a lucky date in the New Year for Tak to get married, so why not go ahead now,'' she said.

Despite the flood of media attention, Mr Boonchai has yet to talk to reporters about his whirlwind courtship with Tak.

Her close friend, socialite businessman Anan ''Uan'' Semathong, said Tak does not see herself as a rich man's trophy.

''She is not worried about being Mr Boonchai's sixth wife. We should look at a man's present, rather than his past. Given his age, he's probably stopped looking now that he's with Tak, and she's still a youngster. If she puts her all into him, he will return the favour,'' he said.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Mae Moo
Position: Reporter