It is, unfortunately, an age-old story: boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy’s family fail to see eye to eye with girl, and boy is caught in the crossfire.
But when the boy in question is the Olympic-medal-winning professional boxer and British Muslim sporting hero Amir Khan, and there are fortunes, careers and cultural expectations involved, the story becomes more bloody.
The girl in question is Faryal Makhdoom, his 25-year-old American wife. For the first few years of their relationship, Faryal, a part-time model with her own cosmetics company, kept a low profile.
Faryal Makhdoom is the 25-year-old American wife of boxer Amir Khan. Pictured, the coat (on chair) is from Shrimps, the dress is Chanel from @VintageFelix, the top is Nina Ricci and the tights are from Falke
Following their marriage in 2013 and birth of their daughter, Lamaisah, in 2014, Faryal moved from New York to Amir’s home town of Bolton in Greater Manchester.
But at the tail end of last year, a vicious public spat blew up between Faryal and 30-year-old Amir’s parents and siblings, with his family accusing his wife of dressing improperly for a Muslim woman.
Faryal countered with accusations of verbal and physical abuse at their hands. From both sides, angry remarks and insults were slung on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
Amir’s parents used a television interview to hit back at Faryal’s claims, calling her an ‘evil woman’, while his sister took to social media to claim Faryal was preventing the family from seeing Lamaisah.
Pictured (left to right), Faryal's parents Shaukat and Zia Makhdoom, Faryal and Amir, and Amir's parents Falak and Shah Khan - all together at the couple's engagement party in Bolton
Faryal has filmed a television interview of her own on ITV’s This Morning defending her modesty, as well as her style. ‘I’ve always been very modern in my dress. But I’m not a drinker, a smoker, a party girl – I respect my religion a lot,’ she insisted.
‘I love my wife and I love my family and I am right in the middle,’ Amir has said. ‘I want them to respect each other and for us to be one happy family.’ But this year began with Amir sacking his father, Shah, as his manager and leaving the UK for the United States with his wife and daughter; the couple were notably absent from his brother’s wedding celebrations in January.
Given the combative nature of Faryal’s ripostes to her in-laws, I am anticipating someone tricky and truculent to turn up for the YOU interview and photo shoot.
The woman I meet, however, on this foggy Monday morning in San Francisco could not be more of a departure from the diva I have been expecting.
Last year, a public spat blew up between her and Amir's parents and siblings. Pictured, the couple discuss on This Morning who may have leaked an explicit sex tape of the boxer
Incredibly tiny, Faryal arrives at the studio in an off-duty Wag outfit of Uggs, sweatpants and a leopard-print bomber jacket, her face barely visible behind a pair of gigantic sunglasses. She is polite, well mannered, softly spoken and seems even younger than 25.
And while she has stridently defended her Western dress sense against her in-laws’ criticisms, she takes me to one side to express her concerns about showing too much skin in the photographs.
‘I’m a Muslim woman, so I’d like to be covered up,’ she says, almost apologetically. ‘I can’t wear anything too sexy or revealing.’
It seems a little incongruous when, before I have even asked, Faryal goes on to detail the cosmetic injections she’s recently had under her eyes and which she has documented on her Instagram feed.
After their marriage in 2013, Faryal moved from New York to Bolton. Pictured, Faryal and Amir at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in London
‘Because of lack of sleep, genes, dehydration, I get bags under my eyes and I wanted to get them lightened. So I went to my doctor, Simon [Ourian, a renowned cosmetic surgeon in LA] – he’s Kim Kardashian’s doctor,’ she tells me proudly.
Faryal has also had fillers in her cheeks. ‘I like high cheekbones,’ she says. The unnatural-looking nonsurgical enhancement is something else her husband’s family and siblings have criticised Faryal for, likening her to Michael Jackson.
‘I’ve never had plastic surgery. Fillers and plastic surgery are two different things and I want people to understand that,’ she insists.
‘If other women had this money and if they had a husband who was famous, they would do it, too. If I wasn’t married to Amir Khan, I’d probably be a regular girl and I might not do it. But I’m in the limelight, I go to events, so it’s part of my life now.’
Another part of that life is having a husband who is perennial headline fodder. In mid-January this year, the Khan family conflict took a turn for the seedier when a sex tape was leaked online, apparently showing Amir engaged in an intimate act while chatting on Skype with an unseen, unidentified woman.
It was claimed that the tape was made after his lavish wedding to Faryal.
Faryal countered with accusations of verbal and physical abuse at their hands. Khan is pictured with his mother, father and brother Haroon (right) on a private jet
‘It was something that happened a long, long time ago, well before my marriage, well before I had my little girl,’ Amir claimed in a joint interview that he and Faryal gave at the time.
‘It’s upset me more than anything, but it happened when I was very young. I believe that someone [posted the video] out of revenge, someone close to us,’ said Faryal. ‘I’m not saying it’s a family member, I’m not pointing any fingers,’ added Amir.
‘We all have a past and we’ve all done stupid things,’ Faryal says today. But other women have since come forward claiming to have had flings and flirtations with Amir since their wedding.
Faryal waves her hand to dismiss the notion of his alleged infidelities, giving me an eyeful of her enormous diamond engagement ring.
‘When you’re in the public eye, a lot of people want to go after your marriage. I knew what I was signing myself up for,’ she says, firmly. ‘I know Amir better than anyone and the main thing is trust. I could be working with a hundred men and Amir would trust me. At the end of the day, he comes home to me.’
The 25-year-old Faryal is a part-time model with her own cosmetics company. She is pictured (right) wearing a Solace dress and rings from Kamryn Dame and her own collection
Home is currently a rented apartment in San Francisco’s East Bay area. Though the couple’s departure to the US was painted as them ‘fleeing’ the country to escape the feud, Amir is living on the West Coast to train for a comeback fight later this year.
‘His trainer, Virgil Hunter, is here,’ explains Faryal. ‘So this is a temporary move for us while he is training. We’re away from friends, away from family, away from anything that would distract him while he gets ready for his big fight, and then we’ll return to the UK.’
But it does give the couple some breathing space from his family. ‘Being away [from them], we might miss each other and be able to make things right when we get back,’ she says. ‘People say to me, “You shouldn’t have put your dirty laundry out there”, but it blew up because I’m Amir’s wife.’
While the two sides have traded slurs about money, modesty, access to grandchildren and control of businesses, it seems that at the root of the rift are conflicting expectations about a woman’s place and, in particular, a daughter-in-law’s place.
‘For some cultures, the daughter-in-law is there to have babies, to cook and clean. They don’t see that she can be an independent woman, that she can go out and work, and that husbands can help with the babies,’ says Faryal. ‘But it’s not about religion – I know religious families who are very sophisticated. It’s about education.’
Faryal has previously suggested that Khan's parents tried to break them up, adding that the family's treatment of her husband was 'disgusting'. Pictured: Mariyah with Khan's mother Falak (left) and his father Shah (right)
Faryal’s own father, Shaukat, arrived in the US aged 16, initially on a holiday with his own father. ‘His father wanted to take him back to Pakistan but he said, “No, I want to stay here and make some money,”’ Faryal tells me. He sent for her mother, Kousar, to join him a few years later and together they launched a succession of small businesses, including a Manhattan restaurant.
Faryal and her brother Mohammad grew up in Staten Island, a borough of New York popular with Indian, Pakistani and Italian families. It was a comfortable, affluent childhood; Faryal’s father has reportedly amassed a £7-million fortune from property investments.
‘My family is very religious but at the same time very modern. My parents taught us morals but also to be open-minded,’ says Faryal. ‘That’s why they moved to America. If we can’t be open-minded, then we should never have left our countries to begin with,’ she reasons.
Her parents valued education highly for both their children. ‘They pushed us in our studies. My family took education really seriously, whereas Amir’s didn’t,’ says Faryal. Mohammad is currently in medical school training to be a doctor. ‘I wanted to go to law school eventually and become a corporate lawyer,’ she recalls.
Faryal enrolled to study political science and journalism at Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences in New Jersey. Less than two years into her studies, however, aged 19, she met Amir, then 24, through mutual friends at a party in New York. ‘He said, “You’re like a girl I would marry.” I thought, what a total bull*******,’ she laughs.
They kept in touch on Skype, but she wasn’t fully aware of the extent of his fame until eight months later when Faryal was visiting London with her family and Amir drove from Bolton to see her. They were papped together outside Harrods. ‘That’s when I realised what a big deal he was,’ she admits, with a wry smile.
Faryal married Amir in a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York in front of 250 guests, followed by an elaborate celebration for 3,800 people in Bolton
A week later, Amir arrived in New York with his parents to surprise her. ‘They asked for my hand. We did it “the halal way”, as Muslims say, the right way of doing things. That’s when we officially started dating.’ Three months later, the couple were formally engaged.
Back then, she says, her relationship with Amir’s family was smooth. ‘When I got engaged, nobody said that my dress was too Western, or that I was too independent.’
But three weeks before her wedding, she was asked by Amir’s management team (which included his father and other family members) to sign a prenup. ‘In our culture, that’s really bad,’ she says, frowning.
‘I couldn’t care less about the money but my parents felt very insulted, especially because they are so well off. My parents didn’t make Amir sign a prenup.’
Faryal signed the document nonetheless. ‘I wanted to prove I didn’t want the money. I wanted Amir. He is the love of my life.’ Amir later cancelled the prenup when Faryal was pregnant. ‘I never asked him to do that,’ she insists. ‘But it made me happy because it showed that he loved me.’
The couple married in a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York in front of 250 guests, followed by an elaborate celebration for 3,800 people in Bolton. Abandoning her degree, Faryal moved to the UK to join Amir.
‘In my head, living with my new husband was going to be this fairy tale, but it was hard and I didn’t have any friends,’ she says. She didn’t immediately take to her new environs. ‘Bolton is very backward,’ she has said. ‘Compared to New York, it’s a village.’
Faryal (pictured with Amir in Miami in 2014) has been approached to take part in Big Brother
And living in close quarters with Amir’s family, albeit in a different house but in the same grounds, meant there was no let-up when relations became ever more strained. ‘It’s not a Muslim thing to live with your in-laws – it’s a cultural thing,’ she says.
‘Most American Pakistanis don’t do that. There seems to be a lot more of it in Northern England. I’m not against joint families – but when you have your own space you can be more independent and I think there are fewer problems.’
To that end, in spite of Amir’s £30-million fortune, Faryal is determined to carve out her own identity and career. She recently modelled at the Asiana Bridal Show in Birmingham.
‘When I was younger I wanted to model but I was always too short [she says she’s 5ft 3in but seems even smaller]. I love fashion and would like to model more.’
She has launched a make-up range, Faryal Makhdoom Cosmetics, just lipsticks at the moment which will soon be expanded. ‘And I’m going to design a clothing range that I’ll model too,’ she says.
This summer, she’ll also be opening her beauty salon FMK within the £5-million banqueting complex Amir is creating as a business venture in Bolton. ‘I’m too busy to run it myself but I want my name on it; I want to be able to go there and meet people…and get my hair done,’ she laughs.
And, in spite of her initial dismissiveness of Northern England, she’s coming round to her adopted country. ‘I love the UK, it’s home for me now,’ she says.
‘After Trump became president, my heart kind of drifted away from America. I’m so glad I don’t live in the US permanently. The amount of love I get in the UK is amazing,’ she says. ‘I’m “someone”. I can’t even buy milk without being recognised – sometimes I have to pinch myself.’
She might well soon be recognised beyond the milk run. A few days after we meet, Faryal reveals on Snapchat that she has been approached to take part in Big Brother, urging her followers to ‘tell me whether I should or shouldn’t’.
She hopes to have another baby next year. ‘My husband wants another child so badly,’ she confesses. Meanwhile, Lamaisah, she says, will be raised as Faryal was in the Muslim tradition. ‘But I want my daughter to be an independent woman – Islam teaches that. I want her to go out, get her career, do whatever she wants and I will support her one hundred per cent.’
It’s an attitude she’d like to see more of in her adopted community. ‘I want to see more British Pakistani Muslim women speaking up for themselves, getting out there and doing something,’ she urges. ‘Then, eventually, the stereotype – this idea of what a daughter-in-law should be – will die off.’
■ shopfaryal.com; @faryalmakhdoom