The other day, we introduced you to Prince Aly Khan, his childhood, as well as his passion for horses and women. Today, we will delve into Aly Khan’s remarkable life and accomplishments. In the following installment, Part III, we will take a look at his clothes and his fatal accident.
The Life(style) of Aly Khan
Apart from Aly Khan’s success with women, he was a well-known socialite, sportsman, soldier and, later, a surprisingly capable diplomat. On top of that, he was always a man full of energy and willing to take risks.
Aly Khan’s Record Breaking Flight…Without a License
Considering his energetic nature, it hardly surprises that Aly often went to bed at half past three at night just to wake up a couple of hours later. Moreover, in 1932, Aly Khan embarked on the longest civil flight at the time – a perfect example of his affinity to risk. His plane was the only one out of four that completed the journey, although he had no radio, and not even a pilot’s license (he obtained his license later in 1937). He later claimed, “It was fabulous fun. We flew from Bombay to Karachi to Delhi to Calcutta, then across the Bay of Bengal to Akyab and Rangoon, all across Malaya to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and finally to Singapore. We then flew back again. Naturally we didn’t have a radio; most planes didn’t in those days, you know, and we were all bundled up in heavy flying gear and wearing goggles. Major Vetch and I took turns at the controls, though at that time I didn’t have a flying license and didn’t get one until a couple of years later in Cairo.”
It’s All About Competition and Speed
Aly Khan was equally interested in racing cars, skiing and, of course, horses which involved a fair share of horse race betting. In total, he broke his leg three separate times while skiing and escaped death by a hair on numerous occasions in car races in France and Italy, as well as flying. When he wanted to participate in the famous Mille Miglia race, his father spoke up, claiming that he was not familiar enough with the 7,000 curves in the course, which ultimately kept Aly from participating.
He had always been overly competitive, and wanted to prove to everybody that he could do everything they could, just quicker. Consequently, he was always at the top of the hunt, taking huge risks. In point-to-point races, he was so reckless that his father made him ride in flat races exclusively.
Aly Khan’s Lavish Lifestyle
In addition to his sporting endeavors, Aly Khan lead an excessively lavish lifestyle, spending about $3 million a year at the time. In today’s dollars, that would be roughly $30million a year! A man of his position had, of course, quite a bit of real estate. For example, he owned a New York apartment overlooking the East River, a manor house just outside of Dublin, Ireland, a great house in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, Chateau d’Horizon on the French Riviera, and a villa on the Normandy coast. Since he felt like it, he had another villa built on Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
Aly Khan put his homes to good use, and was known as a lavishly welcoming entertainer. In addition to holding parties at one of his mansions, it was not unusual for him to invite 50 guests out to dinner at the most expensive establishments in New York, London, Paris or Rome. Interestingly, he would negotiate for days over a small sum of $100 when he sold a horse, only to be incredibly generous to someone who was in trouble the very same day.
Despite his stamina, energy and endurance, he never seemed quite able to be punctual.
Aly Khan – a Decorated WWII Veteran
During WWII, he joined the French Foreign Legion, admittedly one of the toughest military regiments in the world. In 1940, when stationed in Syria and the Germans were about to march in, he deserted and joined the British forces. Eventually, Aly Khan was decorated with the American Bronze Star for distinguished service with the U.S. Army, and received the French Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre with Palms on 15th August 1944 in Paris. In addition to that, he was very active in the middle and far east promoting services, awards and prizes for Ismailis.
The Death of His Father Aga Khan III
When his father died in 1957, Aly Khan inherited an enourmous amount of money. Unbeknowst to Aly, in a move that greatly upset him, his father bypassed him as a spiritual leader by naming his then 20 year old grandson, Karim the Aga Khan IV. With regard to that matter, the will stated, “In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years…including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community that I should be succeeded by a young man who…brings a new outlook on life to his office.”
Aly Khan at the United Nations
After this shock, Aly became acquainted with Pakistan’s president Iskander Mirza in November 1957, who then offered him a position as the country’s permanent spokesman in the United Nations. Aly Khan accepted and was formally announced on 6th February, 1958. On 17th September the same year, he was elected Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, as well as Chairman of the Peace Observation Committee.
After his appointment to the UN, Aly Khan was not pleased with the decor of Pakistan House, which was nothing less than an imposing mansion just off 5th Avenue in NYC. At his own expense, he had it overhauled on a whim. Subsequently, his diplomatic parties and dinner receptions were so spectacular that an active black market emerged for invitations to Aly Khan’s.
Overall, he was one of the most well known figures in the world at the time. When a journalist once asked him whether he was annoyed by the hounding of the people on the streets in NYC, he replied, “Maybe I shouldn’t mention it, but it doesn’t happen only in New York, you know. It’s the same wherever I go—Turin, Paris, Karachi, even in South America. Most people seem to know me. If they don’t recognize me, they always look twice, and you can tell they are thinking, ‘I’ve seen that fellow somewhere before.’ “
In Part I of this series about Prince Aly Khan, we covered his childhood as well as his passions for horses and women. Stay tuned of Part III, where we will look at Aly Khan’s wardrobe and his lethal car accident