Some of the famous friends of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was a gracious host with a vast circle of frienda. During the winters he had a stream of guests in Rajpipla. He owned a sprawling estate called ‘The Manor’ in Old Windsor, England, not far from the Windsor Castle of the British royal family.

The Manor, Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s home in Old Windsor, England.

On any given day one could find the who’s who of British, and indeed international, society at a party hosted by the ever-smiling Maharaja at Windsor. Among his close friends were Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur; the Aga Khan III; the famous author Barbara Cartland; Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond; another writer Vincent Charles Buckley, and several of royalty, nobility and aristocracy.

They would enjoy a game of croquet or take a boat ride on The Thames, if they were not playing golf or tennis. Butler McCartney would take utmost care to make every guest feel welcome. There was space enough on the estate for the Aga Khan’s flamboyant son Prince Aly Khan to land his small plane and nonchalantly walk indoors

Maharaja Vijaysinhji (right) hosting Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur at Vijay Palace, Rajpipla.

Maharaja Man Singh was more than 22 years younger than Maharaja Vijaysinhji. He was adopted to the gadi of Jaipur, and became ruler as a young boy. Maharaja Vijaysinhji was in many ways a mentor to him, and they shared a passion for polo.

Aga Khan III

Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili sect of Islam, on the other hand, was more than 12 years older than Maharaja Vijaysinhji, and they had horse racing in common. The Aga Khan won the Epsom Derby five times, including in 1952, sadly the year after Maharaja Vijaysinhji passed away, with the same trainer Marcus Marsh and jockey Charlie Smirke as his good friend in 1934.

The famous author Barbara Cartland, Queen of Romance, lived through the 20th century, to almost 99 years of age. It is estimated that she wrote well over 700 novels, several adapted for television. Various accounts put down sales of her books at 750 million to more than two billion copies.

Barbara Cartland

About Maharaja Vijaysinhji, Barbara Cartland wrote in the late 1920s, “One very popular person at the Café de Paris and everywhere he went was the Maharajah of Rajpipla, who was always known as ‘Pip’. He had an income of £ 200,000 a year, and lived a dual life because in England he was democratic, unassuming and increasingly jovial. In India he was very much the dignified ruler over millions of his people who revered him. Over here Pip won the Irish Derby and the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (before he won the big Epsom Derby in 1934), and his Sunday afternoon parties at his house at Old Windsor were legendary. In the East, Pip entertained in his enormous palace those who enjoyed big game hunting, like the Duke of Sutherland, polo players and anyone who wanted to gape at his state army, vast fleet of motor-cars and the royal ceremonial by which he was surrounded.”

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming was best known for his James Bond series of spy novels. He came from a wealthy family of merchant bankers, Robert Fleming & Co. He worked for Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during the Second World War. Fleming visited Rajpipla, staying at the Sommerville Guest House. He drew from his wartime service experience while writing his James Bond novels. Ironically, Fleming also wrote his first James Bond novel, ‘Casino Royale’, in 1952, the year after the demise of Maharaja Vijaysinhji. It was a huge success. He wrote eleven James Bond novels and two collections of short stories till 1966. The James Bond stories rank among the best-selling series of fictional books of all time, selling over 100 million copies worldwide.

V.C. Buckley’s book ‘The Good Life’.

V.C. Buckley too came to Rajpipla. His books include The Good Life: Between The Two World Wars With A Candid Camera, ‘Draw Back the Curtains – An Autobiography’, ‘With a Passport and Two Eyes’, and ‘Tickets, Please’.

He wrote about Maharaja Vijaysinhji just after he won the Epsom Derby, “At his Windsor house he entertains informally. The long dining-table is adorned with racing trophies, and on Saturdays and Sundays one may be sure to find at least twenty people seated around it, as I did only last Sunday. By knowing the Maharajah I was able to see an Indian State, and I was vastly struck by the interest he took in the welfare of his subjects and the quiet, dignified manner in which he attended to everything – affairs of State, sport and the job of being host. I am glad he has won the Derby, and with such an appropriately-named horse as Windsor Lad, for it is a fitting reward to such a hospitable resident of Windsor.”

For over three decades, the ever-smiling Maharaja Vijaysinhji spent happy times with his good friends, the memorable moments captured on paper and film by many of them. He was a multi-faceted personality, ruler, sportsman and a man of great taste.


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