Jemima Khan takes to cricket field for charity


“Here, sit down next to me,” said Jemima Khan. “Try a bit of this foie gras. And you’ll have to help me with the wine, I have absolutely no palate for wine. Taste the Chablis…”

You might, with some justification, suspect that your correspondent has flipped and is describing a fantasy playing only in the cinema in his head. Alternatively, if you believe that this scenario actually took place, you might tut and mutter about the idle rich.

That would not be fair. (Jemima) Khan’s fiscal status is not in doubt, but idle is the last adjective that could be applied to her. I had fortuitously intruded on the menu selection process for Cricket Unites for Children, a charity event in aid of Unicef, at Lord’s, on Sunday June 24, and into which she has been pouring her considerable energies.

The idea, she explained as a convoy of delicious dishes was ferried to and from our table in the Thomas Lord Suite, was that cricket fans of comfortable means should have the opportunity not only to meet their heroes — Shane Warne, Kevin Pietersen, Brian Lara, and Andrew Flintoff — but to bowl at them or bat against them.

So the nets at the Nursery End will be employed from 5pm until 7pm, and every attendee who has stumped up the necessary — £5,000 for a table of 10 — will be able to say that they have faced the best that the cricket world has to offer. Then they get dinner, which I can personally assure you will be splendid, fine wines (ditto), a question and answer session with Flintoff and Co, and an auction.

“We’ve got some great stuff,” she explained. “Including Shane Warne’s actual, sweat-stained Ashes shirt.”

Yuk. That almost put me off my rib of beef, but Jemima has form in the celebrity auction area. “Halfway through every event, when I’ve just sold two weeks at my mother’s house, she looks up at me as if to say: ‘Hello? That’s news to me’.”

The idea for the cricket event came about because Khan, having been formerly married to a cricket icon, has become a cricket mum. Every weekend she takes her sons Sulaiman, 10, and Kasim, eight, to the indoor school at Lord’s for coaching, and ferries them across town so that they can play for Chiswick Under-11s.

“Sulaiman is a reluctant but talented leg-spinner,” she said. “He really wants to bowl fast, like Dad. And Kasim is just very fast.” She has converted the back driveway of her house into a practice wicket for the boys. Does she bat against them? “Are you joking? They’re too frightening.”

The easy assumption is that the boys must have been inspired by their father. Not so. “When I met Imran he had already given up cricket and was dedicated to politics, and when we lived in Pakistan the boys seemed bored by anything to do with cricket.

“No, what switched them on was the Ashes in 2005. Since then, they have been obsessed, and I have just gone along with them.” Khan is a particular fan of Warne, who has his own children’s charity. “I think he is absolutely charming,” she said. “It’s funny to think that I never really knew many cricketers before, and now I’m befriending quite a few.”

Khan’s work as a Unicef ambassador has recently focused on children affected by Aids. As the mother of two boys, she was particularly moved by the story of a pair of brothers. “Both parents had died of Aids, and the four-year-old was infected while his elder brother was not. Then the brothers were split up to go into homes.

“I met Raphael, the older one, and asked him if he missed his little brother. He just started crying. Eventually they were reintroduced, and it was unbelievably poignant: the little boy was very ill, and you could see that it was probably the last time that they would be together.”

It is a bit tricky to square such pitiful stories with fine food and fine cricket, but in order to help, people must do what they are best at. Jemima Khan is employing her social skills to try to help those whose plight has touched her.

It is easy to be cynical about fund-raising, less easy to get on with it. But one minor sporting issue remains to be resolved. Should Sulaiman and Kasim deliver on their early promise, would they play cricket for England or Pakistan?

“That,” their mother said, “is the million dollar question. But I am happy that they love the game. Passion in any sphere of life is very important.”

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