Has Imran bowled his last maiden over?

As the cricketer's love match culminates in a surprise declaration, Angela Lambert wonders if we will ever know the score
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is the classic match. He is famous, handsome and twice her age - and on top of all that, as one former girlfriend put it: "more charming than any man has any right to be". Mmm, know the sort. She is young, beautiful, rich, intelligent and well connected.

It is, leaving aside her intelligence (few heiresses have been valued for possessing brains as well as beauty), the stuff of Mills & Boon, of Victorian romance, of gossip column headlines. It soon will be - mark my words - the subject of a dozen obsequious full-colour pages in Hello! magazine.

The only remaining question is: how did Jemima Goldsmith, the ravishingly lovely 21-year- old Bristol University student (English is her subject, and her nationality is British) and 42-year-old Imran Khan, dashing sportsman (cricketer, Pakistani, and a warrior caste Pathan to boot) manage to keep their relationship from the prying eyes of the press for so long?

Well, partly because he - a born-again Muslim with high political ambitions - had said so many times that he would only marry an equally devout Muslim girl, probably in an arranged match, that even hardened journalists had come to believe him.

Partly because she has four sisters, one of whom, Clio, isthe wife of Sir Mark Shand, who is the brother of Camilla Parker Bowles, and you all know who she is. These sisters - two whole, two halves, so to speak - acted as teachers and decoys, distracting some of the limelight from their baby sister.

It may also be partly because Imran had - or was thought to have, but now we know better - a "steady girlfriend" (as the nauseating euphemism has it) in the form of the blonde television presenter Kristiane Backer. She, incidentally, was so sure that she was in with a chance that she converted to Islam.

And because, finally, the union of a Muslim and a Jew is rarer than hen's teeth - and Jemima is half, although not technically, Jewish. Her mother, Lady Annabel, is an upper-crust English rose. Her father, Sir James, whose name has never been far from the gossip columns since he eloped with a Bolivian tin millionaire's daughter at the tender age of 21, is Jewish.

Pakistan does not even recognise the existence of Israel. Stand by to see that particular policy change. If it does not, Imran's political ambitions will have to be stood down, at least until his young wife has proved that her conversion to Islam is real.

However, the main reason why they managed to keep it secret for months is that all the parties in the run-up to their surprise engagement announcement on Saturday had simply kept their mouths shut.

I suppose you have to be as rich as the Goldsmiths to be immune to the temptation of a few thousand sweet smackers in return for blabbing anonymously about your friends and relations.

When I was at Oxford at the turn of the Sixties, one of the undergraduates there was another handsome young cricket idol whom all the young women adored. He was called "Nube", by which yearning nickname we claimed as our own the Nawaub of Pataudi.

I went to his rooms once - in Queen's College, I believe - on the transparent pretext of selling him some short-lived, intellectually pretentious university magazine. It was called Gemini and it folded after three or four issues. Nube could not have been more charming. He bought a copy, smiled ravishingly, and I was out of his rooms in three minutes flat.

His name would never have been "linked" with that of any undergraduette (as I blush to admit we were called in those days). First of all, he was Indian, and seriously serious about his religion. Secondly, he was serious about his studies. Thirdly, he was serious about cricket. We palpitated in vain.

So what is it with Jemima, that she has succeeded in capturing the heart- throb of three continents? One "friend" points out that "she is extremely rich, connected to the European royal families and major business groups around the world, and she will take him places". Well, maybe.

You would have thought that the captain of the Pakistani cricket team had "been places" already, but perhaps that is not quite what is meant. She is certainly rich: how many 20-year-olds buy their first proper dress from Versace? Royal families ... well, I dunno. Are they really still a social draw nowadays?

Another "friend" said, "being so young he knows he can mould her". Spare me, oh Lord, such friends as these!

What is it with Imran, then? He has all the glamour of the "older man" and the allure of the notorious rake. He is cosmopolitan, charismatic, and extraordinarily handsome. Add to this the fascination of his Pathan ancestry, for the Pathans are the warrior class of India and as devastating as the Japanese Samurai in looks, tradition and martial skills, and even if young Jemima never wants to see any child of hers wield a cricket bat, she still has plenty of reasons to be bowled over.

Do not be too convinced by those who say that, with a devoutly Muslim wife, albeit one who is Western in origin, he can never aspire to the highest office in Pakistani politics. Rajiv Gandhi married an Italian woman, and it did not stop him. They are suckers for romance on the Indian sub-continent (have you ever seen their films? Mills & Boon is positively raunchy by comparison) and young Jemima in a veil will have them all at her feet.

Now that he has given up cricket (has not played since 1992), it is said that Imran Khan's most serious preoccupation is with the cancer hospital in Lahore that he sponsored after his mother died of cancer two years ago. It needs £11m to get it up and running and will then need constant injections of funds. To Sir James, that is easy: hardly more than wedding present money.

Oh yes: how does Jemima's father feel about their engagement? Given his own history of elopement, even if he did disapprove he would have far too much sense to say so.

In his own words - as relayed, naturally, by his press representative - Sir James is delighted and wishes his daughter much happiness. Modified rapture, then, as Nancy Mitford would have said.

In the last resort, the couple will find they have many friends in common. The same old names crop up over and over again ... Koo and Susannah and Mick and Bianca; Jamie and Alana and Cosima, Tamara and Johnny and Tim ... boo-ooring.

Social life up there in the vertiginous heights of the glitterati is like the Internet. You surf from one party to another, regardless of continent or time-zone. Concorde here, private jet there, and fast cars everywhere.

Come August, it is Nantucket or a millionaire's yacht off some Greek island. (Not that the Mediterranean has quite the attraction it once had, in the days of Jackie and Onassis: the water is too polluted and the south of France is pass these days.)

Come February, and it is Verbier or Gstaad. Come June, and it is Ascot or Longchamps. Imran Khan must be wearying of all that.

A student of English literature with the longest legs in London and finals on her mind must make quite a beguiling change from clubbing. And furthermore, young Jemima has real class.

Imran's statement to the press on Saturday said, "I'm extremely happy to announce that I have found someone who shares my ideals in life. Having studied the religion, Jemima has converted to Islam ... Both our families are extremely happy about the match."

He wears a medallion round his neck which has engraved upon it a verse from the Koran: "God says to a man: am I not enough for you?"

Once she has completed the process of conversion, Jemima's new name will be Haiqa Khan (I can think of more euphonious names). She will take second place to her husband in all except the domestic sphere.

She will be regarded as a dangerous temptress by other men and, lest they succumb to a glance from her dark eyes, a flick of her long blonde hair or the sight of her slender limbs, she will be expected to veil herself when in public from head to toe (as even Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's Prime Minister, does).

News has it that she will visit Mecca soon after her wedding, although I had always thought this was a pilgrimage undertaken only by men.

In short, conversion for young Jemima Goldsmith, after her upbringing in a non-observant part-Jewish family may come as something of a shock.

But she is said (by Imran, it is true: the process of deferring to male authority has clearly begun already) to have embraced the faith "through her own convictions", and if the first persuading factor was that of being in love - well, there are worse reasons.

Imran Khan has evidently decided that God and marriage are what he wants. Jemima wants Imran - and who can blame her? It sounds like a splendid match.

It would be churlish to recall that we all said the same thing about the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer 15 years ago.

Jemima Goldsmith is no blushing innocent, however, and she looks to have a great deal more intelligence and common sense.

Who could wish Imran and his fiance anything less than real love and great happiness?