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5th Muharram 1436 | Friday, Oct 31, 2014
World

Muslim boy who's secretly married UK mayor's ex-wife

Friday, 15 January 2010
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January 15:

London, January 16: Last week, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, lingered a little longer than usual over his morning newspapers.

From their pages stared pictures of two weddings - two decades and many worlds apart.

The first wedding was his own, to society beauty Allegra Mostyn-Owen in 1987.

The nuptials were, at the time, described as 'like La Dolce Vita and Brideshead rolled into one'.

A magical affair, the young bride wore white, a long veil flowing from her flower-strewn hair. The photograph shows two bright young things, a golden couple who had met at Oxford University, embarking on a life together, full of hope.

Alas, hope was not enough, and the marriage did not last. Which brings us to the second photo, taken last summer and featuring the same bride, but this time wearing traditional Muslim dress, her blue eyes and English rose complexion jarring with the bright purple ensemble.

Her husband had been strategically cut out of the picture - with good reason. A full 22 years younger than his bride, the Pakistani groom has not yet told his family or friends of the marriage.
Abdul-Majid, who has not found favour with his inlaws

But when the news broke, one man could not have been more delighted. Boris Johnson duly contacted his 45-year-old ex-wife, and heartily congratulated the new Mrs Dilshad Farha Raji Shekha Jaan Khan Kali Gori, as she will henceforth be known.

Alas, Allegra's family were not so forthcoming in blessing the exotic union, and have made it clear that their new soninlaw is an unwelcome addition to their venerable aristocratic clan.

Perhaps disconcerted by Allegra's avowal that she is happy to welcome a second wife into her home if her 23-yearold husband so wishes - noting that 'the Prophet said it was OK to marry up to four women' - the Mostyn-Owens are anything but happy.

Indeed, Allegra says: 'My mum accused me of spoiling her Christmas by announcing my marriage to "that one". She is sure that I am heading for a nervous breakdown and divorce, and that the rest of the family will have to pick up the pieces.'

Her father has expressed fears that his only daughter has been recruited by Muslim fundamentalists, and is bemused by her flirtation with Islam and choice of partner.

As Allegra admits: 'My father was very annoyed, saying he'd only tolerated "him"' (the Muslim) because our relationship had kept me off the booze.

'Nobody asked his name, whether we were happy, what our plans are, and what his livelihood is.'

So how did this aristocratic heiress, feted by the most eligible men of her generation, come to marry a Pakistani immigrant? And just who is the mystery man cut out of her wedding photo?

His name, the Mail can reveal for the first time, is Abdul-Majid - known as Majid to his friends, but as Mr Majid in the UK, to avoid the complication of his full, lengthy Islamic name.

But in order to understand quite how strange the union between Allegra and her second husband is, perhaps we had better go back to the beginning.

Born in 1964, Allegra is the only daughter of acclaimed Italian writer Gaia Servadio and wealthy upper-class landowner and art historian William Mostyn-Owen. A privileged existence amid the upper echelons of society seemed assured.

In 1968, Life magazine went to Scotland to interview Gaia, describing her as 'a dreamy-eyed blonde who lives in her husband's 17th century castle, Aberuchill, and hasn't the slightest idea how many rooms it contains'.
Boris Johnson and wife Allegra

Something of an eccentric, Gaia had just written a steamy novel. The magazine commented: 'Her husband's friends find her an amusing oddity.'

Pictures of a young Allegra illustrate the piece. Tiny and blonde, she is dressed in a tweed coat and oldfashioned 'Mary Jane' shoes, skipping

beside her mother 'on a shopping tour of London's fashionable Bond Street'.

Allegra's father worked at Christie's auction house, and the family maintained a London residence where they regularly entertained visiting dignitaries.

Bright and hard-working, Allegra won a place at Oxford University. She met Boris during her first term, in 1984, when he stumbled into her room at Trinity College on the wrong night for a party.

'I was reading this textbook,' Allegra would recall, 'and suddenly there's this stranger at the door, who goes, "Oh, oh, oh, oh". We drank a bottle of wine and talked. He made me laugh.'

Boris was reading Classics at Balliol, becoming president of the prestigious Oxford Union. Charming and beguilingly buffoonish, he did not appear to woo Allegra - who had many suitors. So striking were her looks that she even appeared as cover girl for the society magazine Tatler.

'I didn't really think Boris was making a play for me, despite the fact there was lots of curry-a- deux at the Kismet Tandoori,' says Allegra.

'After I did the cover for Tatler, people decided I must be beautiful. I got declarations of love every day. I didn't want anything to do with them. Boris felt like a safe place - but not for very long.'

The pair married on September 5, 1987, both aged 23. The grand reception at Woodhouse, a Mostyn-Owen estate in Shropshire, featured a string quartet.

Boris arrived in the wrong clothes and had to borrow trousers and cufflinks from a guest before walking down the aisle. Within an hour, he had lost his wedding ring.

After a honeymoon in Egypt, the newlyweds bought a flat in West London and Boris started work as a management consultant. He left after just a week, saying: 'Try as I might, I could not look at a growth profit matrix and stay conscious.'

Allegra, who trained as a solicitor, joined the London Evening Standard, and Boris decided that he, too, would be a journalist, at The Times.

But there were already stirrings of unease in the marriage. Allegra has said: 'When we got married, that was the end of the relationship, instead of the beginning.'

Her parents were separating after 28 years together, and friends say Allegra needed support that Boris seemed unable to give.

In 1989, he became Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. Allegra joined him there, but she felt isolated as her family disintegrated, and the following February fled back to London.

One friend said: 'Boris was distraught. He desperately wanted Allegra. That was probably the only time the comic mask dropped. He was very, very unhappy.'

The couple did reconcile briefly, but to no avail. Boris began to pursue Marina,

the daughter of BBC correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler. She was heavily pregnant by the time Boris's divorce was finalised in March 1993, and they married 12 days later.

Deeply wounded by the break-up, Allegra withdrew from society circles and took up art. Her mother reflects: 'When she was younger, people would say that with her beauty and wealth, she would have the world at her feet. 'And after she married Boris, it seemed they would, indeed, have it all.

'But they were not compatible. Boris is a man who needed someone very obedient and silent, who would be willing to stay in the background and create a soothing home life, while giving him space to build a glittering career.

'My daughter wasn't that kind of person. She's not always been the most self-confident person, but she's very strong-minded. Boris was very ambitious, and Allegra is very sensitive.'
Boris in his day-to-day role, as Mayor of London

Today, Allegra tells me that her mother was 'quite wrong' about this. 'The problem with Boris was not that he wanted a submissive wife. Mum saw it differently because she wasn't keen on him as a son-in-law. In any case, for the record, he is very women's lib, if sometimes slow with the washing up.'

But seemingly at sea after her marriage to Boris broke down, and searching for a new kind of fulfilment, Allegra began to teach at a workshop for young Muslims at a London mosque. She has run a class for five to 14-year-olds at the Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque in East London's Forest Gate since January 2005.

After the 2007 London bombings, her work took on a more serious nature. Mosque president Istiyaq Ahmed describes her as an 'excellent and hard-working' teacher.

He says: 'She is not a Muslim, but has been an important part of our attempts to deradicalise our young people.'

The Mayor of London has supported her work, visiting the mosque for the first time in October 2008 and telling an audience which included his ex-wife: 'Our cultures are intertwined.'

Initially, Allegra's mother, Gaia, was glad to see her daughter find a new role in life after the devastation of her divorce. She said: 'In the end, Allegra did not like the competitive world Boris so enjoyed.

'The divorce was very painful, and Allegra suffered greatly. It took her a long time to regain her confidence, but she has since found happiness in her work as a ceramist and painter.

'She is independently well off, thanks to her father's money, and is very much her own woman. Allegra has a mission to try to create a better world through teaching. I'm proud of that.'

Alas, those comments were made before Allegra's new marriage, which has now driven a wedge between Allegra and her family. So how did the relationship come about?

Thanks to her work at the mosque, Allegra became interested in Islam, and in November 2005 went to Lahore, Pakistan, for the wedding of a new Muslim friend, Iftikhar, who helped out at the mosque book store.

It was there, the Mail has learned, that she met Majid (the name means 'servant of the glorious one'). It was his job to chaperone the beautiful Englishwoman around the sights of the city.

The pair became good friends, and vowed to keep in touch by phone when Allegra returned to Britain. It was during the course of their subsequent long- distance phone calls that a more romantic fondness developed.

Encouraged by Allegra, Majid came to England to continue his education, with Allegra filling in his immigration forms. And it was in Britain that Majid proposed. Allegra says that it would have been unthinkable for them to have embarked on a physical relationship before then. 'As far as my husband is concerned, fornication is not his cup of tea,' she says. 'He would find it intolerable to conduct a relationship without the prospect of marriage.'

In fact, the pair married in a register office last summer, but held a ceremony in a mosque earlier that year. It is safe to say it was not a family affair.

'For my relatives, a wedding is a public thing,' says Allegra, 'but for my husband it is a private affair, about your relationship with your God.'

The news of the wedding apparently ruined the Mostyn-Owen Christmas. Allegra says: 'My younger brother was offended that I kept referring to "whites". My older brother asked me if I had converted. He also said he would be there for me when I had a breakdown, for which I thanked him.'

A friend says that the family did not for a moment believe Allegra and Majid's relationship was serious. After all, there is a huge age gap.

The friend, who asked to remain anonymous, says: 'They dismissed him as Allegra's latest adventure, her sexual toy. Now they find he is their son-in-law. They were completely taken by surprise.

'They believe Allegra is fragile and needs to be protected. They are livid.'

The family were no doubt particularly perturbed by Allegra's pronouncement that she is happy to live as part of a commune of wives.

'At my current ripe stage in life, I realise that I am unlikely to conceive children,' she said, 'so we have agreed that so long as he chooses a good partner, then I am happy to live together in an extended family.'

Fiercely guarding her new husband, she says that he will be 'angry' if she talks about him. 'He is not a tiny little person who wants a passport,' she says. 'He is private, charming and talented. He is intelligent. He is a businessman.

'My family have clubbed together and see only the negative side of this news.

'I don't think I did anything hasty or aggressive. Everything was properly done. He had been introduced to my brothers, and my mother had met him informally. My husband will be very angry if I say anything else.'

But her friend, Elfat Darwich, who runs Artiquea gallery in London, says of Majid: 'He speaks very good English. He is a clever, smart guy with a good education who likes to discuss politics. He was a student, but I believe he now works in computing. He seems very nice.'

If Allegra's family were less than thrilled about the marriage, the reaction of her new Muslim in-laws remains uncertain. Extraordinarily, Majid has not told his family and friends back in Pakistan of his unconventional marriage.

Why not? Allegra says that such things cannot be rushed. 'He has to tell his family in his own time. He wants to tell his mother face-to-face, but Pakistan is a long way away.

'If I talk more about him, his mother will hear of our marriage before he has had time to tell her. I can't let that happen.'

Ominously, he is even keeping his marriage a secret from his London friends, so the pair are living a twilight life at her home in Shepherd's Bush, West London.

Yet still Allegra does not question her new husband's reticence in declaring her his bride, saying simply: 'We are very happy.'

One can only hope that this second, secret, marriage proves more enduring than her first, very social one.

--Agencies--

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