Queen Victoria's Last Love

Synopsis: In 1897 Queen Victoria antagonized family and court with her relationship with Indian servant Abdul Karim. Originally a waiter the devious and arrogant young man won over the queen by playing on her love of Indian cuisine and romantic view of the country,teaching her Hindistani,whilst she signed letters to him 'Mother',bestowing houses and gifts on him and his family. Already shocked that a Muslim should be at the heart of the court the Royal family stepped in when Victoria announced her desire to knight him and they threatened to have her declared insane if she went ahead. It worked. And in 1901 after the queen's death Karim was banished from Royal circles,returning to India where he died.
60 min

In 1897, Britain celebrated

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee -

60 years on the throne.

But the show of pomp and majesty

on London's streets

concealed a very different

royal story.

Behind palace gates,

a secret war was raging

over Queen Victoria's shocking

relationship with a servant.

Some said he was on the make.

Others that he was a spy.

But worst of all, he was an Indian.

It was a relationship that violated

Victorian taboos of race and class,

and set the Queen on a collision

course with her royal household,

who made their feelings plain.

"You are an impostor.

"You are from a very low class,

"and can never be called

a gentleman. "

This just enraged Victoria.

The worse the attacks got,

the more she defended him.

There was a place for everyone,

and everyone had place,

but Karim didn't have a place.

If one knew him today,

he would be a pain in the arse.

Abdul was not greedy.

Abdul was brown.

And therefore he was a threat.

And the Queen loved him

more than she loved them.

That, really, is what it was about.

This is a tale of love and loathing

at the heart of the British court

over the extraordinary relationship

between the most powerful

empress on earth

and her Indian servant,

Abdul Karim.

In June, 1887, in the 50th

year of Queen Victoria's reign,

a tall, handsome stranger

walked into the Queen's life.

And 10 years of trouble began.

Abdul, when he was young,

when he first appeared at court,

looked wonderful.

Queen Victoria always had a great

appreciation of male beauty,

and so when she saw these gorgeous

clothes of sashes and turbans,

um... kissing her feet,

how could she resist them?

Abdul Karim was one of two

Indian servants

who had arrived as gifts

from Her Majesty's Indian empire.

His role was to serve as the Queen's

khitmagar, or table hand.

But Victoria soon found Abdul

was a man of many talents.

We don't know exactly what Abdul

said in that first year,

when he starts to really

come to her attention.

All we know is that somehow

he must have appealed

to her romantic interest

in the Orient.

He started to tell her

stories of India,

and that hooked her.

As the Empress of India,

Victoria had long been fascinated

by the most exotic and important

jewel in her crown.

The dangers of the long sea voyage

made a visit to India impossible.

But now, Abdul brought India to her.

I think Victoria was just

enchanted and enraptured

with the idea

of being Empress of India.

He told her stories about India.

Fables about India.

India for her was exotic,

it was a place of spices and saris,

and a place of peacocks.

It was the India of her imagination,

which was a colourful and gay

and exotic space.

And Abdul satisfied her

imaginative curiosity.

She really desperately wanted

to know about her empire.

He certainly would have given her

aspects of Muslim history,

and one of the great stories

of Indian Mogul history

is, of course, Shah Jahan,

the Emperor,

and that's how

the Taj Mahal was built.

She must have fallen for

those great romantic tales.

Young Abdul didn't just feed

the Queen's romantic imagination.

Within a few weeks of his arrival,

he was also adding some zing

to the royal taste buds.

Evidence of Karim's

kitchen revolution

is recorded in the archives

at Osborne House -

Her Majesty's favourite residence

on the Isle of Wight.

Well, this is a ledger,

and it gives a fantastic account

of the mountains of food

that were consumed here.

The influence of Abdul Karim

is very clear.

In the luncheon menu here,

for instance,

every Sunday at lunchtime,

there was always a curry dish

provided on the menu.

And here, on the 13th of February,

it was a chicken curry.

"20th of August, 1887.

"Had some excellent curry prepared

by one of my Indian servants. "

And we know that Abdul Karim

and some of the Indian attendants

cooked these curries,

they prepared the meat

and procured their own spices

and so on,

and were given a corner

of the main kitchen here at Osborne,

where they could prepare

these authentic curry dishes.

I suspect she rather enjoyed it.

With Karim in her kitchens,

the Queen's palaces were transformed

into some of Britain's first -

and finest - curry houses.

But Abdul had ambitions

to be more than just a novelty chef.

Given his class background,

which was fairly humble,

I think most people in that position

would have been fairly reticent.

Abdul Karim was not.

What he says to the Queen

is that he is a very educated man,

to the point of implying

that he can be a teacher.

Abdul was eyeing promotion.

And in Queen Victoria, the would-be

teacher found an eager pupil.

At the age of 68, the Queen

was a figure of great authority,

and much revered by her subjects.

But her private life

was marked by tragedy.

Victoria had never fully recovered

from the death of her beloved

German husband, Prince Albert.

For two decades, John Brown,

her Scottish servant,

had been the Queen's most intimate

male companion.

But in 1883, Brown died.

And in Abdul Karim, the Queen

found the ideal replacement.

He was a very warm man, he was very

entertaining, he was jolly,

he was a very human person,

as such.

And maybe those were

the traits that, er...

attracted the Queen

to him eventually,

because he was a man who came across

as a man of flesh and blood,

and I don't think she was used

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Rob Coldstream

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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