Sometimes it takes a father to know when a young man is ready to step into adulthood by stepping to the plate of holy matrimony. This was the case with Vikram Chatwal, the 34-year-old scion of a sprawling, multicontinental hotel-and-restaurant chain, Hampshire Hotels, controlled by his father, Sant. The family owns eleven hotels in Manhattan, including the Majestic and the Dream in Times Square, which has a Deepak Chopra spa and a Serafina restaurant.
Chatwal is the president of the boutique division of his father’s company, as well as “creative consultant.” But it’s strictly a day job. He’s also a Bollywood actor, better known for dating Gisele—he got a G tattooed on his arm—and hitting New York nightclubs in a red or white turban with P. Diddy and Naomi Campbell.
“I thought, Let him live life, and one day he’ll settle down,” said Sant, a major Democratic fund-raiser who is close to the Clintons, sitting in a guarded hotel suite in Bombay, wearing a red turban and white flowing shirt and pants. To Sant, however, the day when Vikram would choose a wife and settle down wasn’t coming fast enough.
Raised in an Upper East Side penthouse and sent to the United Nations International School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Vikram now lives high above Central Park in Trump International in an airy condo filled with African and Indian art and drives an Aston Martin. “Vikram would say, ‘I want to charter a plane for Kate Moss,’ and I’d say, ‘Who’s Kate Moss? Okay, charter the plane.’ I gave him a car and a driver and a cook,” said Sant.
Vikram’s decadent lifestyle was beginning to raise eyebrows outside the family circle, too. When Vikram’s younger brother, Vivek, was married four years ago at Tavern on the Green, Bill Clinton’s toast included a pointed barb about Vikram’s drinking.
So Sant began to work on his son. Vikram, at first, wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about the idea of getting married. “There are a lot of sacrifices, and it’s not easy at all,” Vikram says. “It’s a job, the amount of energy it takes. But you can’t avoid the family and the culture. You have to accept it.”
In other words, a father knows best—especially a fabulously wealthy father whose traditions dictate that he find his son a bride. So the search was on.
Two years ago, Sant called up Raja Dhody, an old friend in Bombay who was married to an Indian socialite named Queenie, a former Miss India educated in London who Sant thought was a good model for the kind of wife Vikram should have. Raja immediately thought of a well-educated model with lovely manners whom he’d met on the social circuit in Bombay. But Raja had a hard time remembering her name. Sant pressed the issue. “I called again and said, ‘I am very upset you can’t get me the number of this girl. I’m going to call the chief of police in Bombay!’ ”
Queenie finally tracked the girl down. Her name was Priya Sachdev, and she was 25 at the time. Like most models, Priya really wanted to act. But she had also studied at the London School of Economics and worked as an investment banker for a year, just like Vikram. Her dad ran a garment-export business and a large auto dealership. Queenie Dhody went over to Priya’s parents’ house and took a picture that she quickly e-mailed to Sant, who liked what he saw. He dubbed Priya “The Park Avenue Project,” a code name he shared only with his staff and his wife.
As it happened, Vikram and Priya had already met, briefly, at an Indian wedding. Queenie and Raja held a dinner party to rekindle their acquaintance. “We connected,” says Priya. “He was very honest, and we had so much in common.”
Priya, for one thing, was far from a shrinking violet. “I’ve been an actress and a model in Delhi, so it’s very natural for me to be in front of the cameras,” says Priya, stretching her Angelina Jolie lips into a perfect, shiny smile.
“She was always the most popular girl in her class,” says her younger sister, Charu. “And she was always planning these elaborately themed birthday parties. Priya is all about recreation and drama.”
But Priya is also relatively clean-living. “I had a very sheltered life,” she says. “It’s lovely to hear about Vikram’s exciting and crazy experiences. It’s nice to live through his eyes. It opened me up.
“Vikram has sobered up so much, and I think he really wants to settle down.”
Though they had a few dates, Vikram didn’t seem to be in a great hurry. So Sant ordered him to India for a month, to adjust his attitude. Sant even canceled his son’s flight back to New York to make sure the couple had ample time to get acquainted.