'Pakistan's Britney Spears' Annie Khalid seeks fame in the UK - don't expect her to twerk for it
Annie Khalid speaks to Adam Sherwin about fleeing her unhappy marriage in Pakistan, and what it means to be a Muslim pop star
"Every little girl has a dream of how her wedding night will be," says Annie Khalid, the singer described as "Pakistan’s Britney Spears", whose corkscrew curls adorn billboards across the Indian subcontinent. "I thought that I might at least be conscious."
A disastrous wedding celebration, ending in police arrests, unleashed a sequence of events which resulted in Khalid, Pakistan's biggest pop star, whose music soundtracks hit Bollywood movies, fleeing to Essex to escape a husband she accuses of physical abuse.
An outspoken artist (her Tweets criticise the Pakistan government's treatment of non-Muslims), Khalid, 26, is launching a new musical career in Britain, with a single "Boom Boom", featuring dancehall star Beenie Man, released on Monday.
A staunch defender of Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab in public, whilst starring in glossy, Westernised pop videos, the Lahore-born Khalid will present a documentary in which she travels the world to reveal the changing face of Pakistani women. The BBC is in discussions to screen it.
But first she must come to terms with the marriage, now annulled, which threatened to halt the career of the face of major brands such as Pepsi and Lebara in Pakistan, where Annie sold five million records.
Last year Khalid, who made her breakthrough with a 2006 album called Princess, married a playboy Pakistani businessmen, Malik Noreed Awan.
During the event, a brawl broke out between police and residents due to the celebration running late into the night. Police arrested 15 members of Khalid’s family and friends. She was taken to hospital suffering from shock.
"Being hospitalised for two days was the last thing I expected to happen at my wedding," Khalid told The Independent. "I didn’t even get to attend the ceremony. But it happened and I can't let it define me."
Annie Khalid (photograph: Justin Sutcliffe for The Independent) The marriage swiftly deteriorated with Khalid escaping to Essex, where she had family and once lived as a teenager. She accused Awan of kicking and punching her and forcing her to submit to Murga, a ritual punishment in which the victim is forced into a painful squatting position.
Khalid says she feared for her life. Awan, who says the abuse accusations are baseless, accused her of stealing money and jewellery from him before she left for England.
Awan, who took a Pakistani actress as his new wife in February, was arrested by police following a fraud investigation into his business operation.
"The whole thing was like a really bad dream," Khalid says. "His accusations are laughable and he is in jail now which says it all. He told me I couldn't continue with music after I was married. I'd worked so hard to build up this huge following who were expecting new music and videos. Now there is no-one to hold me back or stop me."
Now focused on resuming her pop career, Khalid believes she can project the glamorous image which the Western music industry demands of female singers whilst staying true to her Muslim roots. "I pray five times a day but I don’t need to prove to anyone that I'm a good Muslim. I won't be twerking because I don’t think that's cool but if that's what Miley Cyrus wants to do, that's great."
A supporter of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party, who hopes to interview his ex-wife Jemima for the documentary, Khalid opposes any attempt to ban the Niqab. "My brother’s wife chooses to cover and she loves it," says Khalid. "She feels it is so liberating not to be under society's constant pressure to dress a certain way and to look attractive to people she doesn’t want to look attractive in front of."
Khalid despairs that terrorist acts, such as the Nairobi shootings, will ramp up anti-Muslim prejudice. "There are extremists in all walks of life. I know that Islam says it is not justified in any way to kill another human."
Her Twitter followers receive messages such as "Why can't we allow our Christian community who are just 1.6 percent of the country's population, the freedom to exercise their faith?"
She says: "I'm not a slave to the media of any political party. I'm careful what I Tweet but when things really hurt or upset me I say what I think."
She wants to collaborate with Ellie Goulding and the similarly outspoken M.I.A. and reels off a list of territories she now plans to conquer – "India and Pakistan take you to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, then the Maldives and Mauritius – it's great to be an Asian musician right now because there are massive markets out there."
After a turbulent year, Khalid has found new satisfaction living in Essex, where she spent her formative teenage years and is keen to sing live once again. "Most of my songs now are about being happy and grateful for being alive," she concludes.
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