Beyond polo and fashion, Maharaja Padmanabh Singh is fighting for women’s equality with a collaboration with Airbnb
Currently 21 years old, he’s been dubbed the world’s youngest billionaire king. Not your typical monarch, he has also walked the runways of Armani and Dolce & Gabbana and is now working with Airbnb for a special cause close to his heart. We caught up with Maharaja Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur during his Highness’ visit to Thailand for the third annual 137 Pillars Polo Puissance event to get to know this multi-faceted royal better.
Your Highness, what brings you to Thailand this time?
Christopher Stafford from 137 Pillars Hotel & Resorts and a dear friend of mine, Robin Jertjun Lourvanij, very kindly got together and invited me to play in this polo tournament, The Silver Cup at Polo Scape. Thailand is definitely one of my most favourite countries. I think I’ve been here four or five times in the last five years. They invited me and all I need is a reason to come back to my favourite place, so here I am.
Polo is a popular sport amongst high society in Thailand and our readesr. Can you enlighten us about what polo is like in India?
Polo, of course, has a huge history in India. We are one of the countries that say that we founded polo and gave polo to the world. Of course there are other countries like Persia that would say the same, but we do have a lot of historical documentation and paintings from thousands of years describing the sport. There are paintings depicting the winner of the war playing polo with the head of their enemy. When the British arrived they made rules and formalised the sport. So we have a lot of history revolving the sport, especially in a city like Jaipur. Some of the best players came from Jaipur. We also have the most incredible polo matches hosted in Jaipur with the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and many others. But what makes polo in Jaipur so special is that the people are very much involved in it. People come to the polo ground every evening during polo season. The number goes up to thousands. They all have family history with this sport. People might be telling stories of how someone’s grandfather scored in a game generations ago and so on. That’s what makes it so fun.
When did your fascination with polo start?
In a city like Jaipur, it’s hard to stay away from the sport. To be honest, as a kid, I was never really attracted to it that much, even though I had to attend the polo matches we support. It was around the time when my grandfather passed away that I was sent to a boarding school. It was his life-long dream to see me play polo. After we lost him, one day at boarding school, I went to the horses. I started with showjumping. Then my father took me to Argentina where I met with my grandfather’s friends. They told me various stories, so I swallowed my tongue and decided to have a go at polo. It was like a bug that bites you and gets you addicted. I started spending a lot of time on the saddle, working with horses, travelling to other countries to train myself and playing with better players. At one point, I would be travelling three cities in two days to play two or three games.
How many horses do you have?
In polo, you need a lot of horses. Between my father and I, we have 20 to 25 horses. My father is not playing much nowadays, so I have to look after all of the horses, which is quite a lot of work because ideally, you have to ride all of them every day. Riding 25 horses every day is not an easy task, but you cannot complain about having too many horses. Some people have a hundred horses and still complain about not having enough. It’s really about having quality horses though and not the quantity. Every horse needs attention, and having too many horses, you tend to stop giving the attention each deserves.
Do you have favourite horses?
Of course, there are always those horses with the ability to win you matches. For me, there is this dark Bay mare called Y-7. That was her name from when she was bred, and I never changed it. She is now 13 to 14 years old, but every single time I am under pressure or when there is a crucial goal, she never fails me.
I recently imported a few more from England. There’s one called Music. She is spectacularly beautiful. I injured her ligaments three months ago, so she’s been standing in the stable—something very frustrating—but the veterinarian told me that she is finally ready to go again.
Being so well-travelled, do you have a favourite travel destination?
It’s hard to pick a favourite because each place has such different experiences. It all depends on my mood. Say, if I want to have the most beautiful time relaxing, as soon as I arrive in Thailand, every pressure, every stress I have suddenly disappears and I feel like I’m in zen. I chose to live in Italy last year because it’s a country with so much culture and history. I love art, and I can draw a lot of similarities between India and Italy. If I want to play a lot of polo, I go to South America.
For quite some years now, parts of the palace have been opened to the public as a museum. We have a good collection of arms, textiles and paintings, which walk you through the history of India and specifically Jaipur. When Airbnb approached us, my parents said there was no way we would do it. But after I had a discussion with them, we decided we could do it only if there’s a cause. There is a small unused room on the museum wing that we use for Airbnb. Proceeds from the room go to a foundation my mother runs called Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, a non-profit for the empowerment of women. We are also working with other international brands, all in the hopes of supporting this cause. While Rajasthan is one of the most attractive destinations in the world, we do have problems. Women are faced with terrible inequalities. Not so much in Jaipur, but in the rural areas women need to be given jobs and opportunities like men are. We need to address this problem.
Why is this issue important to you?
I grew up in a household with very strong women: my mother, grandmother, sister and great grandmother, who was the first woman in India to diverge from the purdah system that required women to cover their faces in front of men. She was the first to challenge that. So I came from a family that believes in equal rights for women. Historically speaking, India has been very liberal. It was only when we started having invaders that the idea of keeping women in private was introduced. Gender equality is a very fundamental issue, and if we cannot tackle such issues, we cannot get anywhere far.
People think I am always travelling or living abroad, but I really love my family and I love Jaipur very much.
— Maharaja Padmanabh Singh
How did you get involved in the fashion industry, walking the runway for Armani and Dolce & Gabbana?
To be frank, I never thought I would ever do that. It was when I was living in New York. I was 19 at the time when I got approached to model, and it was an opportunity I didn’t want to look back 40 years later and regret not doing. So I did it. I walked the runway. It was, in fact, a very fun experience. I made so many friends. My eyes were opened to this new world that I found quite friendly, and like my grandfather and father always say, the Indian society has always been a very stylish one historically.
How would you describe your style?
Very simple. I never like to wear too many colours or visible logos. I love wearing traditional Indian tailored costumes—it’s a great way to showcase our culture. Very simple, and always classic.
Tell me something about yourself that most people don’t know.
People think I am always travelling or living abroad, but I really love my family and I love Jaipur very much. I love spending time with my grandmother. She has seen different times and is so wise. I always learn something new by talking to her.
What’s one thing you cannot stand?
Pizza with ketchup.