| Billionaire Birdman: Srichand Hinduja in St James’s Park
Squirrelling away a vast fortune
Are the Hindujas back in favour with Downing Street? I ask because David Cameron sent Greg Barker, minister of state for energy but his de facto “Minister for India”, to the recent Hinduja Diwali party held in their sumptuous palace overlooking the Mall.
No doubt, the Queen looks out from her parlour in Buckingham Palace and is comforted by the sight of the Hinduja residence.
Barker carried a message from the Prime Minister about the meaning of Diwali and how it shed light where previously there had been darkness.
Cameron himself has seen the light and understands that the London-based Hinduja brothers, Srichand and Gopi, could help develop UK-India relationships and perhaps bring in helpful Indian investment into Britain.
Gopi’s son, Sanjay, has just led the talks for the $1.05 billion acquisition by the Hindujas of American chemicals and lubricants giant, Houghton International Inc. The purchase was made through one of the major Hinduja companies, Gulf Oil Corporation Limited (GOCL), which is headed by Sanjay.
In fact, what was important was not the Diwali message itself but that Cameron decided to send it at all. Short of going himself, this was the second best thing to do.
You have to hand it to Srichand (“SP”) Hinduja and the remarkably united dynasty he has built. Recessions may come and recessions may go but, thanks to SP, who can be engagingly eccentric, the Hindujas roll on for ever.
SP and Gopi insist they learnt prudent investment banking from feeding the squirrels in St James’s Park — “they are not greedy, if you give them two nuts, they will eat one and bury the other for a rainy day”.
| Mystic man: Cecil Balmond
Sri Lanka-born Cecil Balmond is an internationally renowned designer, architect, engineer, author and academic who tells me: “I would love to work in Calcutta.”
“From urban issues to a building contractor sculpture I would be happy to contribute to the scene,” he adds.
Cecil is just about the number one in his field — last week GG2 Publication in London honoured him by giving him the Hammer Award, its top prize given to someone from an ethnic background who has smashed the “glass ceiling”.
Some regard Cecil, whose work includes the CCTV building in Beijing and numerous Serpentine Gallery pavilions in London, as something of a mystic. He has studied “the hidden geometry in the Taj Mahal of Agra”.
Cecil and sculptor Anish Kapoor have collaborated on a number of projects, notably the ArcelorMittal Orbit by the Olympic Park in east London.
They have also collaborated on the 360ft long Temenos sculpture on the banks of the river Tees near Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge and Marsyas, a tubular structure which occupied the entire length of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2002.
After winning a competition nine months ago, Cecil has designed a national monument, Star of Caledonia, to mark the England/Scotland border at Gretna Green. It will be unveiled in 2014 to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“I get so much mail from the young architects who are looking for inspiration and a new direction,” says Balmond, who has been a visiting professor for 20 years, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“I have travelled the world,” he muses. “I went to Iran, I worked in Kuwait, I was in Saudi Arabia for three years — I loved the Middle East — and I lived in Nigeria for about five years: I found basically my background helped me cross any culture.”
Rise and fall
Keith Vaz, who turns 56 tomorrow, displayed restraint when ranked number one in the list of Britain’s most influential Asians.
Vaz has been Labour MP for Leicester East for 25 years and chairman of the powerful home affairs select committee since 2007.
“Seeing Lakshmi Mittal is number 2, I am really nervous,” he quipped. “Can I say on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues — who know — if you are number one this year you are going to be number 10 next year?”
| Monarch surveys: Keith Vaz
British businesses have welcomed the decision of the government to relax immigration restrictions on foreign entrepreneurs who may not have quite mastered the Queen’s English.
In my customary desire to be helpful, I reproduce a glossary of what common expressions really mean:
So how are you? — This question does not call for an answer.
Let’s do lunch — I rather hope I don’t bump into you again.
Let’s talk — There isn’t that much to talk about, frankly.
Mine’s a swift half — This is a useful reply if invited to go to a pub. Far from being done after drinking half a pint of lager, it implies the evening will end with all getting plastered and a probable visit to a lap dancing club where the bonding exercise is completed.
You watching Man U tonight? — This reveals an easy familiarity with life in Britain where the population divides into those who either love or loathe Manchester United. The question is helpfully ambiguous and allows for membership of either camp depending on the response.
Married? — Are you gay?
I see you went to public school — Now I know you are gay.
You’re a white man, Gunga Din — Ok, I admit I don’t have any non-white friends but I might be prepared to make an exception for you.
Lord (Tony) Hall, who is leaving as the chief executive of the Royal Opera House to become the new director-general of the BBC, inspires confidence.
That is crucially important because the BBC, in chaos over the way it has handled the story of Jimmy Savile’s paedophilia, is one of Britain’s key institutions.
I met Hall in July when the Royal Opera House put on an exhibition on the history of the Olympics, with one entry focusing on an Indian hero — the hockey player Balbir Singh, 87, the three-times gold medallist who was also present that summer morning.
During the Olympics, Hall was chairman of the Cultural Olympiad which showcased the best of the arts in Britain — the Globe Theatre put on “37 plays in 37 languages” as part of a Shakespeare Festival.
Hall, 61, head of news at the BBC until 2001, believes that people should have as much free access as possible to the arts. “That way who knows who comes and gets inspiration from something and then goes and does something as a result of seeing something for nothing — a museum or a gallery or a piece of theatre or music suddenly triggers the mind.”
| MISSING IT: President Obama with Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi clearly looked awkward when President Obama tried to kiss her during his fleeting visit to Myanmar last week.
It reminded me of the time in Jaipur, in 1992, when Prince Charles tried to kiss Princess Diana as she was presenting a polo cup to her husband. Right at the critical moment, she humiliated Charles by deliberately turning her face away.
One snapper, who was on his side as the marriage fell apart, hissed: “The bitch.”