| Shilpa after winning Big Brother. (Reuters)
London, Jan. 29: At 9.21 last night came the moment when Celebrity Big Brother presenter Davina McCall went live on national television: “This is Davina — do not swear. Jermaine and Shilpa. The lines are closed… the winner of Celebrity Big Brother 2007 is Shilpa.”
Later, Shilpa declared: “I am very proud to be an Indian and I am very proud of my colour.”
Outside, the night sky over the Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire lit up with exploding firecrackers as though it was Diwali.
In an extraordinary turnaround, Shilpa, 31, the actress from Bollywood, part-Gandhian, part-Christian, forgave her enemies, dismissed charges of racism against her former tormentors — Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and the rest of the gang — and appealed to journalists, gathered for the kill, to lay off them.
Shilpa was the last to emerge from Big Brother House on the 26th night of incarceration, having been preceded by the kind man who had defended her throughout — 52-year-old Jermaine Jackson, once part with younger brother Michael of The Jackson Five, whom she defeated in the final run-off by 63 per cent of the votes cast to 37 per cent.
Shilpa looked understandably overcome with emotion when she came out wearing a translucent red kurta.
She did a namaste as she walked down the ramp and waved to the cheering crowds, which contained a fair proportion of placard-bearing Indians.
The first to be evicted last night was Jack Tweedy, Jade's 19-year-old boyfriend, who said he hadn't liked Shilpa at first but changed his mind because every morning she would ask: "Are you OK, Jack' Have you eaten'"
He gathered only 3.15 per cent of votes cast and left with Danielle, 23, who got 3.3 per cent. But the voting lines were kept open until the next eviction - that of Ian "H" Watson, 30, from Steps, who got 5.3 per cent.
Next out was American actor Dirk Benedict. The 61-year-old who had admitted a softness for Shilpa got 16.6 per cent.
The voting went on until the lines closed at 9.15. Six minutes later, after the final votes had been counted, the result was announced. Because of the complicated mathematics involved, this does not mean Shilpa got 63 per cent of the total votes cast but the margin of her victory was emphatic - even though bookmakers had made her the runaway favourite.
Her most considered thoughts were at the news conference held nearly two-and-a-half hours after her victory was announced. The interval was spent meeting her mother, Sunanda, and her new PR adviser, Max Clifford, and thumbing through a mountain of press cuttings which detailed how the race row had quickly taken on international dimensions.
Though she now sat flanked by Dirk, Jermaine and "H", most of the questions were fired at Shilpa and centred on the alleged racism and bullying she had suffered.
"I really didn't know how things were perceived by people outside the Big Brother House," she began. "I saw the footage for the first time and it looked pretty ghastly and I am someone who likes to look forward in life and I want to put it behind me. It wasn't a very pleasant episode but (this is) not in Jade's defence and I am not trying to be politically correct here," she said.
The actress added: "I would just like to say that it may have seemed like it was bad but I can say that Jade is not a bad person and she didn't really contrive to behave like that. She is young and people are fallible so there is nothing in my heart - the day we hugged, it was all gone, it was all forgiven and forgotten, really. I really want to make that clear."
What about the listeners of Asian radio stations who were incensed'
"I just want to thank them for all their support and I just want them to know that there's no reason to feel what they feel as long as you carry yourself well with dignity, with kindness in your heart," she said. "It can never go wrong, so it does not really matter what people think of you and what they perceive of you. So everything in Big Brother House is really, really magnified. I just want them to understand it was just a game. It's over, it's out of the way. Let's move on."
A woman from the Sun pointed out there had been 46,000 complaints.
"I just take it as a huge compliment, let me say it that way," was Shilpa's reaction. "And I also would like to thank the people here in England for supporting me, for knowing which side to be on - and I heard that more people supported me - and it's just a great platform to thank them on."
Another woman, from an Indian TV channel, wanted to ask a question in Hindi, which delighted Shilpa. "I would love to answer in Hindi - I hope I haven't forgotten it. I was trying to understand all the different accents and trying to put on an accent so that they understood me. But Hindi would be great."
What effect would appearing on the show have on her life and her career'
"I did not do this to boost my career," she replied in Hindi. "I came to represent my country and do it well and with dignity. I would not tolerate anything that would impinge on my dignity and I am glad all of India united to support me. All the Indians here, as well as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis - the Asian community - are supporting me, so after hearing this I am very, very happy."
Any messages to the people of India'
"I am an Indian, I feel very proud to be an Indian and I have tried to keep the name of my country high with pride and I hope I succeeded."
What of her comment that "Is this today's UK' It's scary'"
She told The Telegraph that she would return to Britain in June for the IIFA awards to be held in Yorkshire and then added: "That's a really tough question because I can't really form an opinion about a whole country based on one person. I just reacted to whatever she (Jade) said. On the spur of the moment, you say things and when you are hurt, especially you just say things that just come to your mind," she said.
"But in hindsight today, I think Britain has given me so much love and it has bestowed such a huge honour upon me, I would be really ungrateful to say that they have not supported me or they haven't been kind or just towards me. So I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the people here in Britain for knowing what's right and sticking by it and for supporting me. So thank you all so much, really."
The Sun returned to the racist abuse.
"I know at that point of time, I perceived it as racist and I am not trying to make any statements to retract from what I said or felt," Shilpa countered. "I am saying what I feel right now, and even at that point of time, after getting to know Jade slightly better, I realised that may be it stemmed out of insecurities, stemmed out her being more aggressive. Jade did not mean to be intentionally racist. I would like to clear the air."
But what of the comments made behind Shilpa's back by Jo 'Meara, 27, the S Club singer'
Shilpa laughed: "Women are like that, I am sorry. When they get together, you are a young lot of people. It was, maybe, fun and cool to be just part of that pack and I really like Danielle today. She has been really nice, really kind to me. She has changed."
And Shilpa "Poppadom"'
Shilpa's reply: "The press made a big deal of it, really. She did not remember my last name - big deal. I don't know Jade's last name - oh, Goody!"
Would Shilpa meet up with her former enemies'
"Why not' Jade and I met up in the garden. I don't know if you all saw that bit (viewers did) where we literally kissed and made up. And that wasn't an act. It is reality television. It wasn't an act and let me give her credit that she was the one who came and said, 'I need to speak with you.' I wouldn't have made that effort."
But Jade's apology had come after she had been summoned to the Diary Room and admonished by Big Brother'
"I can't comment on that because that was Jade. All I know is she at least made an effort and when she made that effort, I forgave her instantly. The minute we hugged it was out of the window. It did hurt me for a bit. I am human. But it is over and done with," Shilpa said.
"I feared for her when I saw the press cuttings (about her family being threatened), when I saw this entire thing being blown out of proportion. I fear for her because she is a mother of two and I don't want someone suffering for something that we have done on TV. It's really small. Lives are bigger than that. I really want people to be happy and I don't want to leave this country having anyone in trouble, really."
What about British Asians seeing her experience as a microcosm of the prejudice and bullying that many of them had suffered and who now saw her as a "hero"'
"I feel elated when you say they actually look up to me as a hero," she said. "That's fantastic. I wish my films had that effect on them. All I would just like to say is that just be proud of who you are, what you are. You don't have to be a celebrity to stand up for your rights to carry yourself with dignity. India is a country that is so rich in culture and heritage and I just want to urge all those young Asians out there to remember that and just be proud of that."
What had she missed most apart from her mother who always accompanies her on trips'
"I met her (her mother). Oh my God, it was crazy. I am waiting for someone to cook for me. I miss my cook. Dirk is one of the most amazing cooks. I am not just giving him lip service - I know you would love lip service."
This brought a wisecrack from Dirk: "That is the naughtiest thing you have ever said in 26 days - I am shocked!"
Towards the end of the news conference, a contrite Danielle arrived and apologised publicly: "I would like to apologise now to everybody for the words I have said. They were never ever, ever meant in a racist way whatsoever and I am not racist. I think Shilpa is fantastic beautiful lady and I am very, very sorry Shilpa."
Shilpa responded before exchanging a warm and long hug with Danielle: "Oh, stop it. I just want to say whatever happened I really don't want to blame anyone and especially not Danielle. She is really young and she tends to follow people and, maybe, that was her fault. If she had someone to guide her, she would not have done what she did or said.
"I was with her before Jade walked. I have spent time with her after Jade left and she's gorgeous, not just from the outside, but also from the inside and she has really been very, very nice. I don't mean it in a way to protect her but she is a gorgeous girl so please don't throw brickbats at her and don't ask her ask questions that would be embarrassing because that would really hurt me. If you have some respect for me, I would like you to show it so that you all don't take it out on her."