April 27 The star exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery's current show, "The Indian Portrait", depicts the 17th-century Emperor Jahangir, resplendent in curled whiskers, golden waistcoat and three-dimensional jewels, holding a globe. The largest- known picture from the Mughal period, it could also be a symbol of the most successful Indians today: rich as kings, highly educated and urbane, they hold the world in the palm of their well-manicured hands.
One of the most striking trends charted by the Rich List in recent years has been the rise of Asians living in Britain: the metals tycoon Lord Paul, who has lived here since bringing his daughter Ambika for medical treatment in 1966 and became a peer in 2006; the more recently ennobled Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra beer; and Bijay and Bikhu Patel, whose Waymade Health care, built up from a single chemist's shop, turns over £300 million a year. Last year, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal was ranked as Britain's richest man, worth an esimated £11 billion. What the publication of tomorrow's Rich List will not show, however, is the number of super-rich Indians who come here just for fun.
A growing number of these Bollygarchs, as they are called in an inevitable comparison with the more familiar Russian billionaires, are making their homes in London. How long they will spend in them is open to question, because they collect houses with the same carefree swagger as they do racehorses, polo teams, private jets and luxury cars.
But don't despair of catching a glimpse of them. We are on the brink of prime Bollygarch-spotting season. They appear in May and June, and Christie's will hold its Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale on June 9 and 10, with a party hosted by Usha Mittal and Lord Linley, while Sotheby's Indian sale takes place on June 15.
Latest on the scene are the Ruia brothers, the flotation of whose energy company, Essar Holdings, by JP Morgan Cazenove, will put £5bn into their pockets. At least one of the Ruias brothers is looking for a house, within easy distance of Heathrow. Although India is moving very fast in economic terms, entrepreneurs do not yet have access to sophisticated capital markets, such as those in London — and if you have a lot of money, it is nice to be near it.
Over the past couple of years, it is Indians who have made the market for homes costing over £10m. In this, the newcomers have followed the lead of Lakshmi Mittal, who bought a town palace in Kensington Park Gardens for £70m in 2003. The suave and immaculate Cyrus Vandrevala, a technology investor in his 30s, who started Intrepid Capital Partners, lived at Claridge's for six months with his heiress wife Priya before buying somewhere for £20m at the end of 2008.
"The wealthy Indian community are not highly leveraged and are therefore in a perfect position to buy property at a hugely discounted rate," he has said. Indians' buying power has been enhanced by the weakening of the pound, particularly since many businessmen transact in dollars. While the Vandrevalas chose Holland Park, other Indian buyers have been drawn to Mayfair and St James's. The hospitable Naresh Goyal, owner of the Jet Airways, India's largest domestic airline, likes London so much that he more or less commutes to India from his town house overlooking Regent's Park.
"Indians tend to like grand spaces for entertaining," says Jonathan Hewlett of Savills, "as do the Russians" — a difference between the nationalities being that Indian families are often large, and may, as back home, live together, with several generations sharing the same property.
Just as Britain enjoys a love affair with India, it is pleasing to know that they can feel warmly about us. "I remember talking to one Indian multi millionaire," says Philip Beresford, compiler of the Rich List, "who said that the British should never have left."
They like Britain's public schools, our legal system and lack of corruption. At home, these spectacularly successful businessmen are celebrities; just like Bollywood stars. In the U.K., they can relax — even the very rich are generally safe from kidnap, and while we might not have thought much of our climate recently, the British weather is considerably more temperate than that of Mumbai.
History is also a "great force", according to the Indian marketing guru Suhel Seth. "Remember that the beauty about an Indian," says this irrepressive phrasemaker, "is that he always wants to demonstrate to the folk back home that he has arrived. He wants to be more British than the British, but also to prove to his erstwhile colonial master that he can cock a snook at them."
Indians continue to fascinate the British with their princely entertaining style. While the Vandrevalas decided against buying Aristotle Onassis's yacht, they are reported to have purchased one of the latest Boeing Business Jet 3s for £80m, one of only 10 available. In this they are trumped by the flamboyant Vijay Mallya, who keeps four jets for his own use, although he does own the Kingfisher airline, as well as the beer company of the same name.
As well as residences in California, New York, Monaco and all the main cities in India, Mallya owns a castle in Scotland, a country house in Berkshire and a London house. Catch him when you can: he spends most of his time on his planes, amid a décor of luxurious sofas, granite-topped bars and Impressionist paintings, the wardrobe in his bedroom at the back allowing him to emerge faultlessly dressed for whichever of the many roles he is about to play. (This astonishingly energetic man likes yachting, racehorses and African game lodges, as well as classic cars; a former racing driver, he speaks eight languages, is a qualified scuba diver and pilot, loves music and collects art. He is also a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, where he has championed the plight of street sweepers.)
For the jets and cars, the jewels and parties are only the toys of deal makers. Equally striking, in many cases, is the work ethic and philanthropy that drives them. The Vandrevalas, as well as being major donors to Elephant Family, the charity established by Mark Shand, the Duchess of Cornwall's brother, with 260 life-size Indian elephants about to be placed all over London to raise money and awareness for this endangered species, have set up a foundation to help support sufferers from mental illness.
To enormously successful Indians, philanthropy is regarded, in the words of the Hinduja Foundation's website, as a "sacred social responsibility of all enterprise". Lakshmi Mittal has given millions of dollars to tsunami relief and other causes. Mittal's son and heir apparent, Aditya, who recently gave £15m to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the biggest single donation it has ever received, says that he may want to "dedicate my life to philanthropy at some point".
Anil Agarwal, who founded the mining group Vendanta Resources, is developing a "world class" Vendata University at Orissa in India to "nurture generations of global leaders". London is used to waves of the exotic and super-rich; the new generation of elegant, quietly spoken, but lavishly generous Indians are as welcome as any.