Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya and Keith Vaz at the London dinner
London, June 17: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan now has the perfect excuse for not having to sit right to the end of long Indian gala dinners in London.
Describing motherhood as “bliss” (as she did in Cannes), she said “I need to get back to my baby” at a dinner hosted by Keith Vaz on Friday to celebrate a noteworthy political achievement — his 25 years as Labour MP for Leicester East.
It is an excuse that Indians, especially young mothers in the audience, find perfectly acceptable.
Aishwarya has been spotted shopping for the baby in London — and at the dinner she was given a teddy bear (something grown British men usually take to public school and Oxbridge and then retain for the rest of their lives as a sign that they never really grow up).
Aishwarya and her husband Abhishek Bachchan did stay quite a while at the dinner, making up for the absence of the missing main attraction, Amitabh Bachchan, who was ordered by his doctors not to travel to London from his home in Mumbai.
More than 500 guests, who came to the dinner at the vast and Indian-owned Radisson Edwardian Hotel near London’s Heathrow airport, had to make do with a waxwork model of Amitabh, which the resourceful Vaz had managed to procure from Madame Tussauds.
The dinner raised funds for Silver Line, a charity set up by Vaz to help patients of diabetes from which the MP himself suffers as does a rising proportion of Britain’s Asian population.
As a gesture to Amitabh, the international patron of the charity, Vaz intends gifting a diabetes mobile unit, worth £50,000, for use in Mumbai to mark the actor’s 70th birthday on October 11 this year.
“We are so proud to be here for this special occasion, Keith is a dear friend,” said Aishwarya. “Diabetes is a huge problem, especially among South Asians, and Silver Star does vital work going out to communities and raising awareness of the condition. I look forward to the launch of the ‘Amitabh’ Mobile Diabetes Unit in Bollywood.”
According to Vaz, “3.4 million people in the UK suffer from diabetes, and 24,000 people die prematurely each year from related causes. In India, over 61 million people have the condition, which can have devastating consequences. Last year, 983,000 people died from related complications. By 2030, it is estimated that over 100 million Indians will have the disease.”
“Bollywood royalty”, as Vaz described Abhishek and Aishwarya, are invariably good tempered when dealing with over-excited Indian guests at such gala dinners. It is seldom possible for them to eat, with dozens of digital and mobile phone cameras thrust into their faces. It is a great credit to them that they have learnt to smile and put up with such well meant but unrelenting attention.
Aishwarya and Abhishek also had to submit to a question and answer session with British Asian actress Nina Wadia, who asked characteristically inane questions about who changed Aaradhya’s nappies (Abhishek confessed he didn’t).
Vaz is currently enjoying national status as chairman of the Commons select committee on home affairs, a powerful body which oversees such sensitive issues as counter-terrorism, immigration and policing. It was a position to which Vaz was first elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2010.
On Friday, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, brought a noisy Indian audience to heel by booming: “Order! Order!”
He managed to achieve the impossible by getting the audience’s attention before launching into a warm tribute to Vaz.
There is another dimension to the career of 55-year-old Vaz, who was born in Aden, educated at Latymer Upper, a fee-paying school in Hammersmith, west London, followed by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he took a first in law in 1979.
By common consent among politicians from all parties — and he has friends among Tories and Lib Dems, too — Vaz has been a conscientious member of parliament for Leicester East, now one of the safest Labour seats in the country. He knows his constituents by name and almost every family situation.
On June 11, 1987, Vaz was elected MP for Leicester East with a majority of 1,924. He was re-elected in 1992 (majority of 11,316), 1997 (majority of 18,422), 2001 (majority of 13,442), 2005 (majority of 15,867) and 2010 (majority of 14,082).
Leicester, now Britain’s first city where Asians and blacks constitute a majority — 51 per cent — has seen a steady stream of Indian film actors who have been persuaded by Vaz to make the 100 mile plus journey up the M1 motorway.
Today, in conversation with The Telegraph, Vaz, often dubbed the “MP for Bollywood Central”, went down memory lane to tick off some of the names: “Dalip Tahil, Sanjay Dutt, Shilpa Shetty, Amitabh Bachchan, Sushmita Sen. Among cricketers, I have had Kapil Dev and (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni.”
He added: “Last night in Leicester we had a dinner for 1,000, mostly my constituents who put me where I am. Jaya Bachchan was there because again Amitabh could not come. She was very generous. In October, Ed (Miliband, Labour leader), will come to Leicester (to mark Vaz’s time as MP).”
After 25 tumultuous years as MP, Vaz is now the most senior Asian politician in the country.
He said that in his speeches to mark the occasion, he did not want to pursue the usual self-congratulatory line on how well Indian and Pakistani businessmen had done in Britain.
“I wanted to speak about the ‘golden generation’ that is to follow ours,” said Vaz, who has been supported by his wife Maria, a lawyer, and their two children, Luke and Anjali. “We have to guide them if the achievements of our generation are to be dissipated.”