Icons / February 2017

The Enigma of Arrival: Aly Khan

Jockey and womaniser Prince Aly Khan pulls top trio behind Gianni Agnelli and Porfirio Rubirosa as we celebrate three of the icons who have continuously inspired and empowered The Rake over 50 issues.

Our third founding father was an unfathomably wealthy racehorse owner, jockey, womaniser and UN sweet-talker descended from no less than the Prophet Mohammed. At a time when poverty in India was “quivering” (to quote Nobel laureate VS Naipaul), Aly Khan was the maverick only son of the Aga Khan, one of the richest aristocrats in the world, and had much in common with kindred rakes par excellence Agnelli and Rubirosa – restlessness, a gift for diplomacy, cosmopolitan looks and outlooks, Riviera chateaux and countless high-society romances.

If ultimately he suffered the same sad fate as Rubirosa, his start in life (born into a multi-millionaire dynasty in Turin) resembled Agnelli’s. The son of the Nizari Ismaili Aga Khan and an Italian ballerina, Aly had an unusual education: he was privately tutored as a boy, sent off to Cairo at 18 to train in “Imsak” (an Egyptian sexual art form), and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, which he interrupted to become a war hero. The French Foreign Legion posted him back to Egypt, then he served as a captain in the Allied landings with such distinction he received both the Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre (future forays into southern France would be rather more leisurely).

Khan's admission that he had been "involved with several women" was quite the understatement: he romanced Margaret Wigham, Viscountess Furness (who was seeing then-Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, at the same time), Pamela Churchill (like Rubirosa), Zsa Zsa Gabor (like Rubirosa), Judy Garland, Kim Novak and Simone Simon. Khan allegedly used to dip his fingers in rosewater to sustain his lovemaking for as long as possible. One conquest said that he used to flare his nostrils from across the table at women he admired, “like Rudolph Valentino in the silent movies” (or, indeed, one of his horses). 

Somehow he found time to marry twice, first to fellow dynast Joanna Barbara Guinness. Within seconds of seeing her at a dinner party, Khan introduced himself with the words: “Darling, will you marry me?” Though already married, she relented and converted to Islam to marry Khan, but it didn’t last as Khan couldn’t remain faithful. Then came Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth, who quit cinema and divorced Orson Welles to become Aly Khan’s second wife (Welles called him “a nice man, a charmer”, but “the most promiscuous man in Europe” and totally wrong for Hayworth).

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Contributor

Ed Cripps

Ed is a screenwriter and journalist. His TV CV includes Episodes, Fresh Meat and Made in Chelsea (his first series of which won a BAFTA). In 2016, his piece on The South Bank Show came second in The Observer's Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism. In addition to The Rake, he has written for the TLS, MR PORTER and Little White Lies.