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Shilpa wows Britain's bold and beautiful

india Updated: Feb 10, 2007 19:20 IST
Highlight Story

The brouhaha over racism in the Celebrity Big Brother house has died down, but Indian actress Shilpa Shetty continues to make news by sashaying across Britain and holding forth on the British bold and the beautiful, including on Prime Minister Tony Blair.

After Shetty distracted the attention of MPs in the House of Commons by sitting in the visitors' gallery and meeting Blair on Thursday, she travelled to Leicester, a city in the east Midlands with a large minority of Indian origin.

By all accounts, she is clearly enjoying her post-reality show peregrinations across Britain.

For much of the time this week, she has been chaperoned by Keith Vaz, Labour MP from Leicester of Goan origin. In the process, Vaz invited snide remarks in political circles of basking in reflected glory, appearing alongside Shetty in television appearances and elsewhere.

Ratan Tata may have recently taken over Corus in a multi-billion pound deal, but ask any anyone on the streets of Britain and you will be told that Shetty is the only Indian they know of. Every news media outlet, including the mass circulation 'Sun', has been devoting blanket coverage to Shetty's interaction with leading lights in Britain's political and social circles.

In between, Shetty and her mother Sunanda grapple with the continuing stream of sponsorship and other offers, many of them running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, including to present television shows in Britain.

In Leicester, she was expected to be given a rousing welcome, not only because her treatment on the reality show touched a raw nerve among the large minority of Asians there, but also because most of them voted for her victory. And Asians there did not disappoint her.

A large number of her fans screamed for her as she made a fashionably late entrance in the Indian-dominated Belgrave area as she was whisked out of a sports car in front of the adoring crowds. Many had waited for hours in freezing temperatures before she finally arrived at the Peepul Centre.

Dozens of photographers and cameramen, including many who had flown in from India, clamoured to see Shilpa as she arrived with mother Sunanda and Vaz, who was literally on home ground and was clearly the master of ceremonies.

Sabras Radio, a popular local radio station, claimed to be the first in the UK to interview her, while a minor scuffle among fans outside the radio station had the local police all worked up. The visit raised 5,000 pounds for her new charity foundation to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS in India.

Reports from Leicester say that she "dealt with the public and media scrum with her trademark dignified calmness". Her first reaction was: "Oh my gosh. I feel like I've come to a mini-India. Can I stay in Leicester?

"Big Brother hasn't changed me, but it's taught me never to do a reality show again. Also it's taught me how important it is to be dignified in any situation."

Local resident Krita Thakrar, 42, who works at the Shenton Primary School in Spinney Hill, said pupils had learned from Shilpa's dignified behaviour. She said: "The children have just taken her on like a role model."

But not every Shilpa Shetty story in the news media is celebratory. The Sun claimed that she faced accusations in a court in India of underpaying women workers at her family's factory.

The newspaper reported: "Investigators claim staff at the bottle-top plant were paid just Rs.86 - one pound - a day. The minimum wage is Rs.110. Men were also being paid more than female workers, which breaks employment laws.

"If the Bollywood star is found guilty, she faces a fine of between Rs.500 and Rs.2,000 for each worker. Shilpa, dad Surendra and mum Sunanda are directors of Esco Closures and have been named in papers filed by investigators.

"The family has run the plant since 1982. They employ 16 staff, including 10 women, 40 miles from Mumbai. Authorities said the family had failed to reply to correspondence about the probe and could face arrest".

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