AT 68 Queen Victoria was the image of respectability – until she made a gloriously unsuitable new friend.
Abdul Karim was young, handsome, full of entertaining tales . . . and hated by Her Majesty’s court, country and her children.
As biographer Shrabani Basu told The Sun: “Not only is he Indian, a commoner, he’s a Muslim. He ticks all the wrong boxes.”
But in a story told in upcoming film Victoria And Abdul, the Queen refused to give him up and Abdul withstood the era’s brazen racism to light up the final years of her reign.
Victoria was so grateful she even tried to make her confidant a knight, but was thwarted by officials who threatened to declare her INSANE if she went through with it.
Judi Dench, as the monarch in the movie, says: “I am greedy and fat — but I am not insane.”
Judi, 82, last played Victoria in 1997’s Mrs Brown about the queen’s first great friendship with a lowly staffer, Scots ghillie John Brown.
When Brown died in 1883, Victoria — who had lost beloved husband Albert in 1861 — was bereft and fell into depression until 24-year-old Abdul arrived in her life in 1887.
Abdul had been working as a clerk in a prison in Agra, northern India, when his bosses were tipped off that Her Majesty would love an English-speaking Indian attendant.
He was selected and packed off to Windsor to work for her as a “gift” for her Golden Jubilee.
The queen was instantly impressed, writing in her diary on the day he arrived that he was “tall . . . with a fine serious countenance.”
Within weeks she was tucking into “excellent curry” and learning Hindustani.
The chirpy queen noted: “It is a great interest to me for both the language and the people, I have naturally never come into real contact with before.”
Meanwhile, almost everybody else around her was horrified.
Author Shrabani, 55, spent years in royal archives researching Victoria And Abdul, the book on which the film — also starring Bollywood’s Ali Fazal as Abdul — is based.
She said: “Tongues definitely wagged. They used to call him the brown Mr Brown. The papers’ gossip columns wrote about them.
“Her personal physician says: ‘She’s gone and taken him to Glassalt Shiel’, a little cottage up at Balmoral which she had sworn never to go to after John Brown’s death.
BAT’S A LOT
From 007’s £7k hat to an £80k C-3PO’s head… movie fans will need blockbuster budgets if they’re after iconic memorabilia from these classic films
floating to the top
It tipped to make £38million in opening weekend after sensational reviews
Here’s the lowdown on Sophie Turner – Game of Thrones actress and Joe Jonas’ girlfriend
bey for bond
Beyonce is set to record the next James Bond theme tune after Daniel Craig confirmed his return as 007
JAMIE EAST AT THE MOVIES
Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig help to create a smart, cool and funny gem in Logan Lucky
JAMIE EAST AT THE MOVIES
Detriot marvellously tackles the taboo of civil unrest making it a shoo-in for the Oscars
“So there is gossip going around and lots and lots of disapproval.
“But a sexual relationship, no. At some stage she is his ‘mother’ and at others his best friend.”
But she added: “The physical side was important. He had the same physical profile as John Brown — they were both 6ft tall.
“She liked a strong man next to her, caring for her.”
Abdul also enthralled Victoria with stories about life in India, of which she had been declared Empress in 1877 but which she never visited.
Shrabani said: “She couldn’t go to India because the journey took six weeks, but India came to her in the form of Abdul.
“He told her about the festivals, the Taj Mahal and she loved these stories. He was not formal, he was 24 and he treated her like a human being.”
In return, she acted like one, and the pair often discussed very personal matters.
Shrabani said: “She stopped short of discussing sexual positions, but she was discussing why his wife was not conceiving, and advising him on what day of the month she should be careful and a whole lot of instructions. She spoke frankly to him.
“When I read the journals I realised how much she loved him.”
The Queen refused to give him up and Abdul withstood the era’s brazen racism to light up the final years of her reign
Soon the Queen gave Abdul the title of “munshi”, or teacher — and in his own diary of the time he noted of the promotion: “It was a day I shall never forget.”
Shrabani discovered Abdul’s long-lost diary of his years in royal service during her research.
It is a treasure trove which also contains his impressions of places such as London Zoo and Madame Tussauds.
He also notes of a trip to Scotland: “Glasgow is a very dirty town but it could not be otherwise as it is purely a business centre.”
Meanwhile, Abdul’s promotion to munshi from mere attendant drew more jealousy from other courtiers.
Rumours circulated that one of Abdul’s close friends was in league with pro-independence Muslims in India and that he was sharing Victoria’s secret papers with them.
During one trip home to India Abdul was even followed by government spies — who found no evidence of any suspicious behaviour.
Shrabani said: “They tried hard to nail something on him and the staff decide to go on strike and that doesn’t work either.”
Instead, the Queen continued to treat him as a favourite, granting him his own land in Agra, having him accompany her on her European jaunts and seating him at the same table as princes. In 1894 he was elevated to the position of Her Majesty’s Indian Secretary, causing fury.
Writer Shrabani said: “There was disapproval of John Brown, but this one is even worse, The thing is that John Brown was never promoted, he stayed a servant. Yet within a year Abdul Karim is promoted to becoming the munshi — the teacher.
“It was racism, they called them the black brigade. This commoner had a room close to the Queen, he had his own carriage — the lords and ladies couldn’t take it.”
But the Queen ignored the sniping and did as she pleased — until she tried to knight Abdul in 1897. That was the final straw for her courtiers.
The Queen’s personal physician Sir James Reid wrote to her, saying: “The only charitable explanation that can be given is that Your Majesty is not sane.”
He added: “I have seen the Prince of Wales yesterday and he has said he is quite ready to come forward, because it affects the throne.”
With her eldest son, the future King Edward VII, against her the Queen backed down.
But she remained close to Abdul, and recognising he would not be well treated after her death, the canny queen ensured he was given extra land back in India and a pension.
Shrabani said: “There was a real beating heart there. She was passionate, she was way ahead of time. The fact was she took on her court on racism.”
Once she died in 1901 aged 81, Edward ordered that all Abdul’s treasured letters from the queen be seized and burned.
He was then sent back to India in disgrace, where he died just eight years later aged 46.
Shrabani said: “He was a broken man. He’d had the Queen as his best friend and after her death was treated as a common criminal.”
A RIGHT ROYAL ROMP
JUDI DENCH describes Queen Victoria as “a goer” – and certainly the Queen’s love life was always passionate.
As viewers of ITV’s costume drama Victoria will know, the young monarch had a raunchy relationship with Prince Albert.
In 1839, the year before the pair married, 20-year-old Victoria noted in her diary: “How handsome Albert looks in his white cashmere breeches with nothing on underneath.”
The pair later even had a button installed by their bed which, when pressed, would automatically bolt the door so their steamy nights would not be disturbed.
Unsurprisingly, the royal couple had nine children.
Albert’s death aged just 42 in 1861 sent the queen, also 42, into terrible grief. As passionate in mourning as in love, she wore black for the rest of her long life.
She also spent more and more time at Balmoral Castle, the Highlands love nest Albert had purchased for the pair in 1851.
On staff was John Brown, who was Albert’s favourite ghillie and when the prince died, the queen turned to him for comfort.
They became so close that gossips dubbed her “Mrs Brown” and there were even claims the pair wed in secret.
When he died in 1883 aged 56, Victoria wrote: “Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving a friendship between the sovereign and servant.”
Four years later, however, Abdul Karim arrived . . .