India has enjoyed an enduring love affair with London. Here’s a who’s who of Indian investors in Mayfair
Words: Shashank Kumar
India’s London connection is quite well-known in today’s times. British Indians form the largest ethno-national group in Britain’s capital. It really doesn’t come as a surprise to see that Britain’s first-ever Prime Minister of colour is of an Indian origin.
From a 19-year-old Gandhi arriving at the shores for his law degree in 1888 to London making its place as Bollywood’s modern-day dream sequence destination through the extravagant lenses of directors such as the Yash Chopras and Karan Johars, the connection spans history and culture.
A shared history binds the two countries and goes much beyond the politics that we are familiar with. In ancient Indian culture, the term ‘kala pani’, meaning black waters, referred to a taboo, a prohibition on crossing the seas to come to foreign lands. Yet Britain, and London especially, became one of the earliest lands motivating Indians to cross the kala pani. London became a familiar second home, owing to the shared culture, a way of life that was rooted in the homeland. The way the modern-day parliamentary democracy functions in India, the expanse of the Indian railways, and the new-age education system that most of today’s generations are familiar with have had some of their foundations carved off Britain’s influence.
Today, India stands as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, surpassing the UK’s GDP just last year and on course to becoming the third-largest global economy in the coming decade. Amid a period of economic uncertainty experienced across Europe and the West, India continues to grow unfettered.
With advancements in defence and space, industry and economy and indeed an exponential spike in its cultural influence across the globe, India is in its confident era that has led to a renaissance in India’s soft power in the global west.
The Mayfair Connection
As of last year, Indians in the UK, whether it is the diaspora living in the country for generations, students coming abroad for education or investors living across the world, are the largest group of people owning property in London.
The allure of Mayfair, even to an Indian who has never been to Britain before, is prominent. You still remember the ecstatic feeling when a roll of the dice brings you to the dark blue property on the Monopoly board. You then stack up your Mayfair property with houses and hotels, making the game miserable for everyone else sitting around the board.
The aspiration then transcends into ambition, and Mayfair manifests itself into the dreams of an Indian venturing into London. The appeal of Indians wanting to make luxury investments can be traced back to the Edwardian era, with the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad being one of the most prominent purchasers of real estate in Mayfair.
Today, the famous London district has become a favourite location for ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) from India. Akash Puri, Director of India Sotheby’s International Realty, attributes this to the change in perception among India’s ultra-rich, where luxury real estate investments are not just a posh second home in a gateway destination but also a necessity in building their wealth portfolios.
A confluence of factors ranging from an explosion in wealth increase among UHNWIs from India, which is twice the global average in 2022, to an increase in the real estate price points has led to Indians becoming the most prominent investors in Mayfair, well ahead of buyers from other parts of Asia, Europe, Middle East and Russia.
Here’s a who’s who of prominent Indians, from homeowners to hoteliers, restaurateurs to luxury retailers and business tycoons with billion-dollar companies who have invested in Mayfair.
The Hinduja Family
With wealth put at close to £35 billion as of 2023, Gopi Hinduja and his family are the richest people in the UK.
The Hinduja Group, a global conglomerate with a presence in sectors spanning the automotive, oil, banking and finance, tech, real estate, healthcare and media industries, amongst others, is controlled by four siblings- Gopichand, Shrichand, Prakash and Ashok.
The eldest, Gopichand and Shrichand, have been residing in London since the 1970s, establishing a notable presence in the luxury real estate market, including investments in prestigious properties in prime locations across the city.
Both the elder siblings have homes in Mayfair, which includes the boastful 25-bedroom mansion at the Carlton House Terrace. The 67,000 sq. ft home was purchased from the Crown Estate in 2006 for £58 million. Further, £50 million was spent on renovating the four interconnected Georgian houses where the family home presently stands. According to the chief executive of the asset management company contracted by the family, around 140 people worked on restoring the house at its peak, with the family formally making it their home five years later.
Once ranked as the third-richest person in the world and the richest in London, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal has made multiple luxury real estate investments in the city. His family home, purchased for £67 million, was the world’s most expensive house back in 2004.
Famously called the ‘Taj Mittal’, the lavish mansion in Kensington Gardens boasts decorations with marble sourced from the same quarry as the Taj Mahal in India.
As a wedding gift for his daughter, Mittal purchased an 18th-century 30,000 sq ft home at 21 Curzon Street in Mayfair, once home to the queen mother in the 1920s.
Sri Prakash Lohia
The Mittal influence on Mayfair’s luxury real estate market extends to his wider family as well. Married to Lakshmi Mittal’s younger sister, the Indian-born business tycoon and one of the biggest producers of polyester in the world, Prakash Lohia is affectionately known as the ‘Maharajah of Mayfair’ for his investment in the locality.
Assembling a team of historians, craftspersons and designers, the Indorama chief took on the restoration project of the 1770s Sheridan House in Mayfair, spending upwards of £50 million over the course of nearly five years.
Once on the English Heritage’s register of properties at risk, Lohia’s work in refurbishing the Georgian mansion was heralded by Timothy Jones, the then-principal inspector of the charity, describing the interiors of the lavish mansion as some of the “grandest in the capital.”
Pharma billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla and his family have had a long association with investments in Mayfair. The Poonawalla family became prominent by making low-cost vaccines and selling them globally through their pharmaceutical company, Serum Institute of India (SII). The family has made significant contributions to the pharmaceutical industry and has been associated with various philanthropic initiatives.
More recently, Adar Poonawalla, Cyrus’s son and the current CEO of SII, came into the foray for being at the forefront of manufacturing the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a move boosting the luxury homes market in London, Adar Poonawalla leased a 25,000 sq. ft. property in Mayfair, one of the largest mansions in the neighbourhood. With the residence’s rent coming close to £50,000 a week, a record in the affluent neighbourhood, Poonawalla’s investment is said to have supported a declining market hit by the pandemic and Brexit. The move has also helped in increasing staffing opportunities for luxury homes.
The flamboyant, self-made businessman Anil Agarwal was the first entrepreneur of Indian origin to list his mining company Vedanta on the London Stock Exchange back in 2003. With its inception as a scrap metal dealership, the company declared its annual revenue for 2023 at $18 billion.
Headquartering his business in the British capital, Agarwal bought a £20 million opulent abode on Hill Street almost two decades ago, joining the billionaire league of luxury homeowners in Mayfair. Now a British citizen with a net worth upwards of £4 billion, Agarwal and his family are one of the most prominent residents of Indian origin in the locality.
Apollo Tyres & Neeraj Kanwar
One of the world’s leading tyre manufacturers, India-based Apollo Tyres, set up their offices at Waterloo Place in St James’s as a supporting arm for their global operations. The company’s London subsidiary acts as a management consulting function for its wider business.
Neeraj Kanwar, the firm’s Vice Chairman and Managing Director, has been pivotal in the company’s growth from $450 million to $3 billion, and the strategic location of the company’s Mayfair office enables him to straddle the Asian, European and North American markets.
Jasminder Singh Family
Whilst Indian entrepreneurs in Britain don’t have as big a footprint in hospitality yet as compared to the Patels of America, billionaire hotelier Jasminder Singh owns one of the country’s biggest luxury hotel groups, the Edwardian Hotels.
Starting off as an accountant in his initial days, Jasminder Singh made his place in the big leagues with a big £115 million investment, acquiring the Intercontinental in Mayfair in 2003. Singh further invested close to £75 million in refurbishing the prized property, branded today as the May Fair.
Singh’s Edwardian group now owns 12 high-end establishments across London and Manchester.
Samyukta Nair, The Leela Family
Granddaughter of Krishna Nair, the founder of the Leela Palace Hotel Group, is among the newest to take Mayfair’s restaurant scene by storm. The brains behind the Jamavar and Bombay Bustle, now having moved full-time to London, Samyukta has been on an investment spree, redefining the culinary experience in the locality.
Over the last 18 months, the multiple award-winning restauranteur has established three of the locality’s most talked about places- the Shanghai-themed Mini Mei Fair, Koyn based on the traditional Japanese Izakaya and Socca, that serves food inspired by the French Riviera.
Comparing the neighbourhood to the Bombay of the olden times, she ‘endeavours to create the Mayfair’ that she and her family would cherish visiting.
Bollywood’s Second Home
Besides being an investment hotspot for various entrepreneurs and prominent names from India’s business families, Mayfair has made its place in the hearts of Bollywood’s biggest. London is arguably the favourite destination for the Indian film industry’s superstars whilst they are away from their busy shoot schedules.
The industry’s biggest, Shah Rukh Khan, renowned for the evergreen Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which is again set in London and his co-star in the film Kajol, both own posh summer homes in Park Lane.
Big Brother-famed Shilpa Shetty and her husband Raj Kundra own a property overlooking Oxford Street, with the family visiting the city every year.
The ‘forever young’ Anil Kapoor, too, has never been shy about expressing his love for Mayfair’s old-world charm, its architecture and the restaurants around. Whilst his daughter Sonam and her husband reside in their Notting Hill home, the Kapoor family owns a lavish apartment in Mayfair, living between there and their house in Mumbai.
Mayfair’s historical significance, exclusive amenities and quaint old-world charm have attracted prominent personalities both from the diaspora in the UK and the subcontinent’s globetrotters. These investors have been instrumental in shaping the landscape of Mayfair through their notable investments and strategic business decisions. Collaborating with local businesses and organisations, their partnerships have fostered growth, innovation, and cultural exchange, contributing to the overall vibrancy of the locality.
Real estate company Knight Frank reported that 9 out of 10 UNHWIs in India saw a wealth increase in 2022. The report further notes that an Indian UNHWI owns 5.1 houses, higher than the global average of 4.1. The interest of India’s rich in investing in the locality looks to rise in the coming years as the Indo-UK relationship further solidifies.