Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty on marriage, motherhood and the move to Surrey
Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty has been a long time looking for love, but now she's about to marry the man of her dreams. As she looks forward to her wedding, the actress talks to Angela Wintle about her plans to bring up a family at her new home in Weybridge, that Richard Gere moment and what comes next in her career
Shilpa Shetty, the successful Bollywood actress with the glossy good looks, is getting married. But cast aside any thoughts of a white wedding. In India, women only wear white when they lose their husbands. So Shilpa, who is determined to hold on to her man, will be dressed head-to-toe in the brightest colour possible - red.
Her fianc� is 34-year-old London-born jewellery tycoon Raj Kundra and they will be married in a traditional ceremony in her home city of Mumbai in India. But the date remains a mystery... even to Shilpa.
A firm believer in destiny and karma (the Hindu philosophy that one's life is predetermined), she says she will be planning her wedding around the horoscope.
"It will definitely be before the end of the year, but it has to be on an auspicious day such as a solar eclipse," she says.
All I can say is heaven help the wedding caterers, but Shilpa, 34, seems incredibly relaxed about the whole thing. She isn't even engaged yet. "In India, we do things differently. The engagement is left until just before the wedding."
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The move to Weybridge
Her future husband, who presumably won't have any difficulty choosing a ring, comes with a house - on the exclusive St George's Hill estate in Weybridge, the celebrity enclave where Elton John, Cliff Richard and John Lennon have lived.
It's no secret that the mansion, cheekily christened 'Raj Mahal' by some tabloid newspapers, was originally purchased with a very different family in mind - Raj's first wife, Kavita, pregnant at the time with their daughter, Deveena, and his parents.
When cracks began to appear in his marriage, Raj put the house back on the market for �5.5 million, but as soon as Shilpa set eyes on it, she talked him into taking it off again.
"I love the silence," she says. "The house is well-secured and surrounded by tall trees, and after a long day in London it's so nice to come back to such a serene place."
Shilpa relishes her weekends in the Surrey countryside, particularly Box Hill, where she finds the views breathtaking. She also enjoys shopping in Weybridge and Kingston, and on Sundays they grab lunch at the nearest Toby carvery: "I can't say no to sticky toffee pudding with custard!"
But I doubt she's had much time for sightseeing because Shilpa has had a packed two years. A household name in India, where she has appeared in more than 50 Bollywood films, she shot to fame in the UK in 2007 after her appearance on Celebrity Big Brother with Jade Goody.
She was cruelly nicknamed 'Shilpa Poppadom' and the 'Indian' in the Big Brother house. But by the time she emerged, Jade had become a pariah (little did we realise what lay ahead), pop star Jo O'Meara was on suicide watch, model Danielle Lloyd had been ditched (temporarily) by her soccer star boyfriend, and Shilpa, according to the Bombay Times, was the "most recognised Indian face in the world".
Star of India
She met Tony Blair, curtsied to the Queen when she represented her country on Commonwealth Day and received hundreds of offers of work - commercials, modelling, presenting, book deals, film roles, even a part in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of the West End musical Bombay Dreams - totalling �10 million.
And yet she acknowledges that Jade, who died aged 27 in March this year after battling cervical cancer, was the architect of her fame. The two women made peace after leaving the Big Brother house and Shilpa even went on to host Bigg Boss, the Indian version of the show, in which Jade was a controversial participant until her shock cancer discovery.
"We buried the hatchet, but sadly, I never got the chance to spend time with her," says Shilpa. "The last time we spoke was two days before she got married. She invited me to her wedding and I congratulated her, and she seemed very happy. We had a history, some of it not very good, but I will remember her as a woman who had a lot of gumption. She lived her life on her terms and in her way. I have a lot of respect for that."
After Celebrity Big Brother, Shilpa became an even bigger star in the East and a symbol of modern India. But this was to prove a mixed blessing. When Richard Gere, star of films such as Pretty Women and Chicago, swept her into his arms and planted a kiss on her cheek during an appearance they made together in New Delhi to raise Aids awareness in 2007, religious fundamentalists and Hindu nationalists - who consider any display of affection to be taboo - were soon burning posters of the pair. A regional court in India even issued an arrest warrant against him.
Shilpa responded with a press conference, making headlines throughout the world.
"It was completely uncalled for, although it was only the lunatic fringe that reacted. It wasn't the general feeling in India. I belong to an industry where we're meant to entertain, and that's what Richard and I were doing. The news stations replayed the footage over and over again on prime time TV - they didn't talk about the HIV problem facing the country. And it saddens me that this was the image of India that went around the world."
She continues to walk a thin tightrope between East and West.
"I am perceived completely differently in the UK and India. Over here, I've carved a niche for myself and I'm seen as a business woman as well as an actress. In India, if a woman is too strong, then it can be a little intimidating. Luckily, I already have a man in my life or I would have been sunk," she laughs.
Finding her soulmate
Shilpa was famously single for years until she met Raj, her business partner-turned-boyfriend, in 2007. As an Indian woman of 33, she was said to have been under increasing pressure to find a husband, but was determined to wait until the time was right.
When they began dating, Raj's ex-wife accused her of being a home wrecker, but Shilpa denies any impropriety and says they only got together after the marriage broke up. She, nevertheless, maintained a dignified silence during the early months of their romance.
"There was a lot of mud-slinging in the beginning and I didn't want to be a part of it," she says. "I told Raj that he would have to fight his own battles."
Despite her tough talk, she describes him as the wind beneath her wings.
"I feel very lucky - to the point of actually feeling a little superstitious talking about him. He's my soulmate. I really believe in the whole karmic circle. He must have been part of my past life and he's come back... maybe we have some unfinished business."
That "unfinished business" appears to include having at least two children, which she concedes may mark the end of her Bollywood career.
"In India, it has been really difficult for Bollywood heroines to continue working after marriage because people want that feeling of ownership. But that's changing. Besides, I've already broken a lot of norms in this industry. The usual shelf life of a heroine is seven to ten years - maximum - and I've lasted 17 years! Nothing's impossible!"
As if to prove her point, since leaving Celebrity Big Brother, she has launched her own production house, a perfume and three mini-spas, released a yoga DVD and invested �8 million in one of the Indian Premier League's top cricket teams, the Rajasthan Royals, who won last year's title.
Her next challenge now, of course, will be ensuring that her wedding goes without a hitch.
"I want a small wedding and a big reception - to which I'll be inviting my family, friends and many of the Bollywood actors I've worked with over the years.
"Raj and I have a sort of mutual understanding," she laughs. "I've told him: 'You had a fair share of decision making in your first marriage; let me decide this one.'"
My Favourite Surrey
Restaurants: The Good Earth on the High Street in Esher serves great Chinese food and Il Ponte in Hanger Hill, Weybridge, is a really nice, quaint Italian joint.
Place to shop: The Bentall Centre in Kingston upon Thames. There's so much to choose from and the precinct makes shopping safe and fun.
View: The views of the park and countryside at Box Hill are breathtaking - perfect for walking, cycling or picnics.
Place to chill: My garden in St George's Hill, Weybridge. It's planted with lovely mature trees and shrubs and it's so peaceful. I really enjoy gardening... just don't ask me to name any plants!
Places to visit: Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking and Garsons Pick-Your-Own Farm in Esher, which is great for fresh fruit and vegetables. Last but not least, Chessington World of Adventures... I love fast rides!