| Camilla and Cherie Blair at the programme and (below) Nancy Dell’Olio in the Rohit Bal outfit. (AP and Telegraph picture)
London, May 27: Prince Charles attended the annual Asian Women of Achievement Awards in London last night with his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and said that he had met so many role models that “our admiration knows no bounds”.
Although this was Camilla’s third Asian function in as many weeks ' she has visited the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and also been to see The Far Pavilions, the musical set in India ' she has yet to wear the “lovely green sari” sent to her as a wedding gift by the dabbawallahs of Mumbai.
Instead, she wore a pale blue suit, with a long scarf.
Perhaps the most eyecatching outfit, provided by Rohit Bal, was worn by Nancy Dell’Olio, the on-off-on ladyfriend of the England football manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.
Such was Bal’s wicked sense of humour that he made the unsuspecting Italian-born Dell’Olio resemble something out of the film Umrao Jaan.
Prince Charles said: “I am extremely flattered to have been asked to this amazing gathering of incredibly energetic ladies. How marvellous it is that there are so many Asian women making such a marvellous contribution to this country and to its success in so many different fields!”
In modern India, if British press reports are to be trusted, the sari is said to be giving way to the smart trouser suit, at least among office-going professional women. But traditional ' and feminine ' Indian garments were the order of the night at yesterday’s function at the London Hilton.
This ceremony, the brainchild of former Calcutta woman Pinky Lilani, is the fifth to be held in six years. It celebrates the success of Asian women in Britain but the occasion allows both British and Asian women to “dress up” in Indian clothes.
Cherie Blair, a long-standing patron who was also present last night, wears Indian clothes so often that this no longer excites comment. She wore a lilac outfit, an adaptation of a salwar kameez made by her favourite Indian designer Babs Mahil, a Punjabi woman who has caught the eye of the Prime Minister’s wife.
There is clearly a protocol in deciding how far royalty can go in adopting the clothes, however fashionable, of other cultures.
The Prince of Wales, though a frequent guest at Asian functions, has never been seen in either a kurta or a Nehru jacket, nor has his mother, the head of the Commonwealth for over 50 years, ever worn Indian or African clothes in public.
So, it will fall on Camilla to go where no royal has gone before, though last night was not the night.
Among those who added to the glamour of the occasion were Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport; Theresa May, the new shadow secretary of state for environment and transport; scientist Baroness Greenfield; Sophie Raworth, a TV presenter; and human rights lawyer Baroness Kennedy.
Most were dressed for the evening by an Indian fashion outlet in Southall called Creations.
Mala Rastogi, of Creations, said: “This year has been absolutely phenomenal. I have done this event for the last four years. But this year, we were fortunate enough to clothe about 15 of the top table, judges and the celebrities.
“Theresa May, for example, had a preference for a trouser suit this year and we chose a very nice cream silk diamante studded jacket as part of a trouser suit.”
The Creations stylist, known as Zaynab, said: “Their ladies are going towards Asian clothes. We did not approach anybody. We had all the big corporates phoning us, ‘I want to wear a salwar kameez, I want to wear something traditional.’ But they were all very keen to wear it.”
Rastogi added: “They like pastel colours, cream, pink, baby pink, baby blue.”
Lilani said that among the nominees and winners, there were several Muslim women, “for whom Islam is a private religion”.
This bodes well for British society, it was suggested, for these women, who will be role models in their own community, had no time for fundamentalist notions of Islam.
“They just want to get on with their lives,” she said.
The award for arts and culture went to Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, joint founders and artistic directors of the Tamasha Theatre Company, whose hit plays include East is East.
Each year, there is a special award made by the chairman, Baroness Kennedy.
This year, it went to Shami Chakravarti, director of Liberty, to recognise her defiant stance on such issues as asylum and the government’s allegedly authoritarian legislation aimed at fighting terrorism.