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Di's Indian Friend

Socialite Gulu Lalvani says she wanted to see more of India

Di's Indian Friend
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

BRITISH prime minister Tony Blair had offered Princess Diana an "important place in government" shortly before she died, reveals a close friend Gulu Lalvani. "She accepted the offer, she was thrilled about it," Lalvani told Outlook. "That is one reason why she felt very close to the Labour government."

 Lalvani, among the most successful Indian businessmen in Britain, said Diana had told him that "Tony Blair had talked to Bill Clinton about this when they met in London, and Clinton thought it was a great idea". What did Diana say about the offer? "She said, 'I'm thrilled, it's a great idea, I like it very much.'"

 That offer was made over a lunch at 10 Downing Street, where Blair had invited her, Lalvani said. The lunch meeting was "on a Sunday about four to five weeks back", he added. Diana had told Lalvani after the lunch that Tony Blair "wanted to use me in government in some capacity". Evidently, the new British prime minister wanted take her up on her offer that she could become an ambassador for England.

"The Labour government thought she was someone wonderful to involve in the government," Lalvani revealed. The new government role was to be offered to her soon. Gulu Lalvani, chairman of the Binatone group that manufactures telephone equipment, is very much part of the London social set. Brother of Delhi socialite Bina Ramani (after whom the group is named), his first brush with dating a celebrity was when he completed the triangle involving India's first Miss World, Rita Faria. Twice married, he now lives in London's fashionable Belgravia.

Lalvani said he had met Diana and Charles at Broadlands, the home of the Mountbattens, in 1984. "I knew her and Prince Charles formally for many years but since February this year Diana and I became very close," he said. "I got my divorce in January. After that she was single and I was single, and I came to know her very well."

Did they have a relationship? "I do not like to use that word relationship. We were very, very close friends, from the beginning of the year up until all this happened. She came to know my children, Divia and Zoran, very well. It has been a huge shock, because I had come to know her so well."

And was Dodi Al-Fayed in the way of that friendship? "Not at all. Not at all. There had been some proposal for my former wife and me to get together. I talked about that with Diana. And I knew all that was going on with her, she used to confide a lot in me. She and Dodi were to come to my place in a few days."

Lalvani claimed that Diana was due to visit India in January 1998 despite opposition from the Indian high commissioner, L.M. Singhvi. The latter had called newsmen earlier to say that he had persuaded Diana to visit India next year. That surprised Lalvani, who was invited as a close friend of hers to attend the funeral. "She told me she wanted to do a documentary on the AIDS epidemic in Mumbai, just like the documentary she had done on landmines in Angola. She told me she had approached the Indian high commissioner in London and that he had turned her proposal down."

What was the reason? "She was told that the Government of India might not like the idea because it would expose the AIDS epidemic in India to the world, it would affect tourist traffic to India." Diana, he said, "told me after her meeting with Singhvi that he had opposed her visit and that she wished he had agreed to it".

Lalvani offered to arrange her visit privately: "I offered to hire a local camera crew and said to her, we will just go ahead and do it. Diana was to feature in the documentary. She would meet people and interview them on film." They had planned a half-hour documentary, he noted.

Asked to comment on Singhvi's remarks, Lalvani said: "He was totally against it. He knows that and I know that. She was very disappointed he would not let her do it." Lalvani added that he was also to arrange some sightseeing for her: "She loved India, she just wanted to see more of India as a private person." He disclosed that she also wanted sons William and Harry to visit Mother Teresa's ashram in Calcutta. "I was going to arrange that separately during the Easter holidays because the boys were going to be in school in January." But that was not to be.

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