Hazel accepted my friend request after three months: Yuvraj Singh
All set to tie the knot in just a few weeks, Yuvraj Singh, cricket’s most colourful star and one of India’s most eligible bachelors, tells Brunch why he’s finally ready for commitmentUpdated: Nov 05, 2016 21:02 IST
In 2007, when Yuvraj Singh parted ways with Kim Sharma, his actress girlfriend of four years, their breakup was ideal fodder for rumour mills. Many reasons were cited for this turn of events; some said it was due to her obsessive behaviour, others said it had to do with Singh’s mother disapproving of her.
Theories about the cricketer missing Sharma abounded but they died a natural death with time, and soon after, speculation ran rife that Preity Zinta and Singh were dating. Sometime later, Singh was back in the news; this time, it was his alleged romantic involvement with the then-emerging actress Deepika Padukone. Two years ago, when word about his supposed relationship with actress Neha Dhupia trickled in, it was an addition to an already long list of alleged dalliances: the all-rounder is said to have dated actresses Preeti Jhangiani (2007), Minissha Lamba (2009), Riya Sen (2010), Shazahn Padamsee (2011) and Anusha Dandekar (2012) as well.
It would not be an exaggeration to call Singh a bon vivant; his impish charm is known to set women’s hearts aflutter. But now is an interesting time in his life, for Singh – or Yuvi, as he’s fondly called – has kissed goodbye to his colourful past and is all set to embark upon a new phase in his personal life. The cricketer has been engaged to his lady-love, actress Hazel Keech, since last year and come the last week of November, the good-looking couple will tie the knot. The cricketer is hesitant to divulge too many details though. “There’s a sangeet and a wedding ceremony in Delhi, in addition to another ceremony in my home town, Chandigarh. The ceremonies will be over before my birthday on December 12. I do not wish to reveal more as it is a private affair,” is all that Singh is willing to say.
Even at the bachelor party thrown for him, the models are all eyes for Singh, but the groom-to-be is blithe. And if he’s nervous about taking the plunge with Keech, he’s certainly not letting on. “Unlike most people who show interest in my life only because they are driven by some agenda, Hazel is a genuine, honest person, who knows the real me. The fact that she takes no interest in my on-field life is refreshing,” he gushes, as he sits down for the interview. “She shares my attitude towards life – both of us love goofing around and we believe in working hard. Life is interesting when you have such a partner.”
When Hazel ignored Yuvraj
The Hazel-Yuvi love story seems straight out of a Mills & Boon classic. One would think that the couple hit it off right away, but the cricketer has a different tale to tell. “I first met Hazel in 2011 at a friend’s birthday and what caught my attention was her delightful smile. As it happens, she wasn’t smiling at me. But I did catch her attention later that evening; I even complimented her work in the film, Bodyguard,” Singh recalls. Chuffed that their chat had gone off well, he reached out to her through their common friend. What followed was something he wasn’t prepared for.
“I must have asked her out for coffee seven to eight times, but she kept ignoring the topic! I have been shot down earlier but to be refused so many times was something else – she left me bewildered. I guessed she was dating someone else and decided to move on,” he recounts.
Cut to three years later, and Keech wafted into his life again. Okay, it wasn’t serendipity. “In 2014, I saw her on my friend Angad Bedi’s Facebook friend list. Surprised that she had become friends with him after just a brief introduction, I told Angad to stay away from her because I liked her. I then sent her a request but she accepted it only after three months.”
Is he sure she made him wait that long? I ask him in disbelief. Singh nods in the affirmative. “We became friends after knowing each other for three years and three months, and I told her that I had earned a date with her after all these years. This time, she agreed.”
A stickler for homework
Getting Keech to say yes to coffee was just the beginning; Singh devoted a fair share of time on ‘research’ in order to woo her. “I got to know about her work; that she had starred in the Harry Potter films and in the musical, Bombay Dreams. In fact, she was glad to hear that the latter was one of my favourites.”
Yuvraj clarifies that it wasn’t love at first sight for him either. “I don’t believe in it. Love at first sight happens when you are 16 or 17 years old,” reveals the cricketer. Surprisingly, he also says that he was extremely anxious before proposing to Keech last November in Bali. “I really don’t think I am good at romance, so I was understandably nervous,” he confesses.
The three Cs: Cricket, Cancer and Charity
One would think it is easy for a star like Yuvraj Singh to raise money for charity. But the cricketer says it’s not. “When I approach people for support, they expect me to sit with them and take photos with them. I don’t mind doing that, but it seems as though that’s not enough (for them to make a donation) either. Moreover, most corporate houses have their own CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives, and they have no room for other causes. This attitude towards charity needs to change in our country.”
To combat this problem and to ensure a continued supply of funds to the YouWeCan Foundation, Singh has launched the YWC fashion label, profits from which will go to charity. In September, he even organised a fashion show that had the likes of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Chris Gayle, Ashish Nehra, Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma join him on the ramp.
Singh lights up when talking about his NGO, which was born in 2012 out of the catharsis he underwent when he was recovering from cancer. It is currently funding the education of 25 underprivileged cancer-affected children. “We wish to educate more kids and eventually start paying for cancer treatment as well, but the problem lies in the fact that the culture of charity is not as big in India,” Singh says, lamenting the fact that while people overseas often donate without expecting anything, the same can’t be said for most folks back home.
The dour expression on Singh’s face as he speaks about his fundraising efforts is striking, particularly because it is difficult to reconcile it with his once-upon-a-time flamboyant image. Singh emphasises that the year 2011 brought with it a wave of change. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, the first thought that crossed my mind was the fear that I may never get to play for India again; later on, it sunk in that I may not live long either,” he explains.
Facing his own mortality made the all-rounder grow up much faster; it turned him into the mature person he is now. “I may be turning 35 this December but in my mind, I feel like a 50-year-old. Cancer can do that to you – it opened my eyes and made me realise that I wanted to give back to society,” says Singh, who has also set up the Yuvraj Singh Centre of Excellence (YSCE), and YouWeCan Ventures to give young cricketers and entrepreneurs a deserving platform.
Mum’s the word
He may resent missing out on cricket for a good three years, but there are things he’s grateful for too; his parents – Shabnam and Yograj Singh – for one. The cricketer is indebted to both of them, especially the former. “My mother is the strongest person I know; I owe all my resilience to her. She’s made sacrifices for me throughout her life; I think she fought my cancer battle as much as I did. I know I can never be as persistent as her, but hopefully, I will make a good parent.”
The road ahead
Singh is sure that his NGO will be an integral part of his future; if anything, he wants it to outlive him. “I will keep working in the field of cancer awareness, detection and treatment. I also want to work with younger cricket talent; I would love to coach them, especially when it comes to mental preparation. Having been through a lot of ups and downs, I know how important one’s frame of mind is when one walks onto the field.”
He’s had a few acting offers too, but filmmakers have failed to entice him so far. “Right now, my focus is on my game; I want to play till 2019 and give it my best.” However, he adds as an afterthought that he may consider a stint in the glamour world once he stops playing. “Maybe something to do with reality shows. But cricket is my priority now,” he stresses.
Hearing Singh talk about his current priorities jolts me back to the present. I ask him about his plans for the immediate future – his wedding preparations. To which the cricketer quips that he is still unsure about a lot of things, including his actual bachelor party! “My friends, including Angad, plan to throw me one but I am getting married in the middle of the cricket season, so I don’t think I will have the time for it.”
Fortunately, he has made time for a honeymoon, and the most likely destination is Hawaii. “My idea of romance is travelling together, preferably outside India where we can move around freely. Hawaii fits the bill and Hazel, adventurous that she is, can look forward to surfing and diving, while I laze around on the beach. Now that’s an idyllic picture, don’t you think?” he grins.
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From HT Brunch, November 6, 2016
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First Published: Nov 05, 2016 19:51 IST