The Oscar-nominated actor, who went on to win the contest at the age of 20, said her mother was the one who “signed the form” to enter her.
Appearing on The Graham Norton Show on Friday night (3 February), the Everything, Everywhere All At Once star recalled how her mother “suddenly [got] looped into this whole thing about” how she should go for more auditions while she was in her early 20s.
“I’m thinking, ‘What on earth is she on about?’” Yeoh said. “Next thing I knew, my brother – she looped my brother into doing [the same], he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you should try that’.
“She had entered me for Miss Malaysia. She actually signed the form, so technically, I’m not legit,” she joked.
Norton chimed in and said: “But you’d think, ‘Oh, terrible thing to do’, but – you won!”
Yeoh continued: “I did it to shut her up. Because she wouldn’t stop about it, so we had a deal. If I do this, you will never do something like this again.”
After the show, Norton tweeted: “Winning Miss Malaysia just to shut your mum up? ICONIC BEHAVIOUR.”
Yeoh’s parents are Janet Yeoh and the late Yeoh Kian-teik, who was a politician in Malaysia. She was born in Ipoh and moved to the UK as a teenager to attend an all-girls boarding school.
During her appearance, the 60-year-old also recalled how her mother used to chaperone her dates until she went to England.
Norton asked: “At what age were you when she insisted on coming on a date with you?”
“Now, you have to remember mums are very protective, right, for all the right reasons,” Yeoh said. “She always went on a date. Always, until I went to England to study.”
She recalled going on a date when she was 17 years old and sitting between her mother and the boy she was on a date with.
“One time I was sitting like this [gestures with her arms crossed] and I suddenly realised, ‘Why are there two hands on my leg?’
“It was his hand on my mum’s hand,” she recalled, bursting into laughter. “He was holding the hand he thought was mine, and then I looked at it like, ‘Excuse me, guys’.”
Yeoh received a nomination for Best Actress for Everything, Everywhere All At Once earlier this month, making her the first Asian woman to be nominated in the category. Her co-star Ke Huy Quan was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
She said: “Even just to be nominated means validation, love, from your peers. What it means for the rest of the Asians around the world, not just in America but globally, is to say we have a seat at the table.
“We finally have a seat at the table. We are being recognised and being seen.”