Sloane Ranger to spear carrying Sikh warrior: The extraordinary transformation of Jonathan Aitken's socialite daughter
23:11 GMT, 26 August 2012
Unrecognisable: Former It girl Alexandra Aitken – now calling herself Uttrang Kaur Kalsa – in the Punjab state last week
Spear in hand. Check. Dagger (slung
over shoulder). Check. Turban. Check. Flowing white tunic. Check …
this is Uttrang Kaur Khalsa or, at least, that is the name she goes by
in India where she lives in an ashram (spiritual hermitage) and begins
each day at sunrise.
We know her, of course, by a rather
different name and reputation. Behind the ‘warrior chic’ uniform is
former It Girl Alexandra Aitken. Complete with a bag of bananas.
It was only last year that news
emerged that Miss Aitken, 32, daughter of former Tory jailbird Jonathan
Aitken, had married a Sikh warrior and was converting to Sikhism.
surprisingly, the revelations were greeted with bemusement and
scepticism in society circles.
Apart from anything else, Miss
Aitken’s nuptials were announced in Hello! magazine, hardly in keeping
with Sikh traditions.
Nor, more pertinently, was Miss Aitken’s former
lifestyle which consisted mainly of falling out of nightclubs in
revealing dresses and, on one memorable occasion, posing naked in GQ
Could there be a more unlikely
transformation Miss Aitken, photographed striding along an Indian
country road, is staying with a sect of yoga Sikhs in the Punjab village
The Sikh customs she has adopted could
not be further removed from her old life. Miss Aitken is no longer
allowed even to cut her hair and uses only a wooden comb.
The woman often seen in the company of
royalty at polo matches now spends much of her time in prayer,
apparently, often helping to scrub the temple floors with holy water at
the end of each day.
She is also, by all accounts, learning Punjabi and
studying Sikh religious history.
Why the spear and dagger Well, her
husband, Inderjot Singh, is a so-called ‘warrior’ Sikh (or Nihang Sikh).
However, few Sikh women carry ceremonial weapons, still less own an
iPod (in the photograph, headphones can be clearly seen tucked beneath
Miss Aitken’s white-and-purple turban), which has left many in the
It is not the only source of intrigue.
Miss Aitken, it seems, has not be seen
with Mr Singh of late and locals say he is no longer with her at the
ashram. Neither did Miss Aitken attend the recent funeral of Mr Singh’s
father, leading some to wonder if the couple might have split up.
Cross-cultural marriages, after all, bring their own particular strains
They met at the Golden Temple of Amritsar in 2009 when Miss Aitken was on a trip to India.
Speaking about that moment in an
interview last year, she recalled: ‘I was sitting on the roof of the
Golden Temple at about 3am, and the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in
my whole life walked in. He seemed 100 per cent man, gentle and
intuitive and poetic and sensitive, but also extraordinarily strong and
manly. And you don’t see many of these around. So I was like: “Oh wow!”’
Miss Aitken described falling for a
devout man who spent his time helping to feed and clothe the poor.
painted a picture of someone so religious that, when the two were
married the following year, in the temple where they had first fallen in
love, dozens of holy men left their caves to attend the wedding … Or
Flashback: Alexandra Aitken before her transformation, pictured with her father, former politician, Jonathan Aitken
The truth, as ever, is more
complicated. For some of Mr Singh’s friends and family have cast doubt
over his religious credentials and his involvement in the devout Nihang
It seems that, in fact, until his
mid-20s Mr Singh used to enjoy the party lifestyle, drinking, smoking
and flirting with girls.
His upbringing in the industrial city
of Ludhiana was quite conventional, born to a civil servant father and a
mother who was a clerk with the local electricity board. Apparently, he
found religion after a trip to — of all places — Australia, where he
went to college for a year.
‘When he was there he met a saint and
became very religious,’ said an old friend. ‘Before that, yes, he was
not so religious; he did like parties.’
Marriage: Alexandra Aitken on her wedding day when she married Inderjot Singh in India
So perhaps the former party lovers
were kindred spirits in that regard They certainly were quick to marry.
Friends were informed of Miss Aitken’s new life by email, with the
following subject line: ‘I am a happily married devoted mrs wife and new
The accompanying message read: ‘Hi,
heavenly friends. A very funny forgiving huge hearted saintly hero was
adventurous enough to marry me! We’ll have celebrations in London and LA
soon. Hope you’ll join us.’
In fact, the wedding was arranged with
such haste that Miss Aitken’s parents were unable to attend, leaving
them understandably upset.
They were not the only ones. While Mr
Singh’s parents appear to have been happy with their son’s choice of
bride, not everyone in the family shared their delight. Relatives
believed Mr Singh had polluted their pure bloodline by marrying a
Either way, Alexandra Aitken’s story
is an extraordinary one, even judged by the standards of her family’s
colourful history. Her father, a former Cabinet minister, famously vowed
in 1995 to use the ‘sword of truth’ against The Guardian when he sued
the paper for libel in a row over his dealings with Saudi arms traders,
but was later jailed for seven months for perjury.
At around the same time, the Aitken
sisters Alexandra and her twin, Victoria, discovered that Petrina
Khashoggi, supposedly the daughter of millionaire arms dealer Adnan
Khashoggi, was their half-sibling. DNA tests established that she was
conceived during an affair between Aitken and Soraya Khashoggi, the
ex-wife of Mr Khashoggi.
Until their father’s trial — he was
bankrupted by the legal costs of the libel case — the Aitken girls
enjoyed the luxury of live-in staff at an imposing town house in
Westminster and a home in Kent.
Their father’s fall from grace put an
end to all that. Victoria embarked on a ‘career’ as a rap artist in the
U.S. while Alexandra remained in London.
She attended parties, contributed to
Tatler and became part of the early Noughties Sloaney set, which
included Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Aged 21, along with Petrina, she posed
naked for that now famous GQ photoshoot.
Alexandra Aitken pictured at the The Times London Film Festival during her days as an It girl
Could she have imagined then that one day she would be scrubbing temple floors in the Punjab and wearing a turban
That tortuous journey, it seems, began
in 2002, with the first of her re-inventions. Miss Aitken earnestly
insisted that she wanted to be a serious actress. Although she did
appear in some short films, the career change failed to ignite.
Eventually, she left London, moving to Hollywood to offer psychic readings and teach yoga.
Along the way, she had dabbled in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Kabbalah.
Explaining her conversion to Sikhism
in that newspaper interview last year, Miss Aitken said: ‘I don’t really
think of Sikhism as a religion, more a path for anyone who is looking
for something more spiritual.
‘We live in a computer age where life
is increasingly stressful . . . people are desperately trying to find a
way to relax, to escape from everything.
‘As I see it, you’ve got one of two
options: you can either find a drug dealer, or you can find something
that’s going to give you a natural high. Everyone is looking for
something. I’ve found Sikhism.
‘But I didn’t just jump on the first bus going. I did my homework; I’ve read just about everything.’
However, she admitted: ‘Frankly, if
someone had told me ten years ago, when I was living the party girl
lifestyle in London, that a decade later I’d be a teetotal vegan [living
in an ashram], I wouldn’t have believed them.’