As the first Indian invited to Queen Charlotte’s Ball in London this year, Kolkata-born Shivina Kumari is living her best life in London.
A risk advisor with Goldman Sachs and an alumna of St Andrews, Scotland, Shivina, who has royal roots, joined debutantes from all over the world at the ball this September. Her participation, alongside debutantes from notable families in the UK, US, Europe, and China, as well as those of exceptional talent who applied to be part of the ball, reflects the new, changing face of a tradition put in motion by King George III as a present for his wife Queen Charlotte 244 years ago.
“In the past, the Ball was all about girls from notable families who were presented to the monarch,” says Shivina of the event that ‘introduces’ 22 young women into society each year. “But as the world changed, it took a hiatus; then, it relaunched under the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset and it is no longer limited to girls from notable families. There are girls who are in the US Air Force, military and the naval forces; additionally, there are girls in academics and entrepreneurship who have raised millions in charity. It’s really taken a new form.”
The pinnacle of the tradition known for over two centuries as the London Season, the Ball was hosted in partnership with Harrods Private Client department and the foundation of the late Prince Nawab Mohsin Ali Khan, whose president is Mrs Frances Stainton, a former London mayor and politician.
“I was honoured when Jennie Hallam-Peel [chairman of the London Season] told me during the interview, which is more like an informal chit-chat over tea, that I would be a debutante this year,” says Shivina. Something about this ball resonated with her. “It is for a good cause and symbolises a changing world as it features so many young professionals and achievers. What truly appealed to me is that participants aren’t defined solely by their family backgrounds,” says the young lady, who sees it as an opportunity to make our country proud.
Royal Roots & A Cosmopolitan Childhood
Growing up in Kolkata, Shivina and her sister Raveena lost their mother when the former was just two years old. They were brought up by their maternal grandparents, the late Apji Vijai Singh of Koela (who passed away in 2021) and his wife Rani Aruna Singh of Jodhpur, daughter of Maharaj Prem Singh of Jodhpur, one of the most redoubtable polo players of his generation. While her father, Ravi Sethia, an industrialist from Kolkata, remained in the girls’ lives — he would drop his children to school at La Martiniere for Girls every day—her grandparents were the dominant influence.
“I had a truly multicultural upbringing,” says Shivina. “We would be in Kolkata for eight to nine months of the year, and the rest of the time, we would be in Jodhpur [where her grandmother lives currently, in Vijai Vihar, a sprawling bungalow in the residential area of Ratanada] and the family’s garh (fort) in Koela, near Kota.”
She moved to Scotland at age 17 and has been in London since 2019. “I studied math at St Andrews, but also learned how to code,” says Shivina. Today, she analyses financial risk scenarios for Goldman Sachs at her office near St Paul’s Cathedral. “It’s quantitative work, so I look at the risk of say, trade during Brexit or the ongoing war [in Ukraine]. It’s never a boring day at work,” she says. With her city digs in Waterloo, Shivina loves to walk around London, rather than taking the tube. She’s started riding at the prestigious Guard’s Polo Club near Windsor and is enjoying rekindling old family connections from her grandfather’s polo-playing days—Arjuna-awardee Maharaj Prem Singh was invited by Prince Philip to revive polo in England—including reconnecting with the family of Lord Cowdray, who own one of the world’s oldest polo clubs.
A Glamorous Event In A Royal Palace
Queen Charlotte’s Ball, held at One Whitehall Place (once a royal palace) in Westminster, took place inside the magnificent Gladstone Library. Presented by her maternal uncle, Thakur Mahiraj Singh of Koela (who flew in from Australia), Shivina was welcomed by her grandmother, the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, as well as other dignitaries, both royal and non-royal. She dazzled in a white hourglass, fitted, A-line Bethany gown, designed by Rebecca Ingram from London bridal boutique Maggie Sottero. “I had two fittings a month before the Ball,” says Shivina.
The debutantes, ranging in age from 17 to 26, included Isabelle and Madison Applewhite, hailing from an old American revolutionary war family; Madison holds the distinction of being a US Air Force officer. There were debs from China, like Melody Zhao, an advocate for UK-Chinese charities, Tiantian Gu, the daughter of a Chinese tea baron, and a brilliant university student from Africa, pursuing her education in San Francisco.
The event included an auction that saw an emerald ring donated by the McKee family (who are big in aviation in the US), and a bottle of whisky donated by one of the presidents of the ball. Each debutante was escorted by a uniformed cavalier from the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. Shivina’s partner for the evening was George Tribe, the chairman’s grandson, with whom she gracefully danced the waltz and later enjoyed the Scottish Reel dance.
A City Girl At Heart
Stepping into a fairytale for an evening, Shivina hasn’t lost touch with her roots and remains committed to giving back. Both she and her sister visit Koela each year, where they own farmland and have inherited a hunting lodge that they want to develop into a small hotel. They have also founded the Apji Vijai Singh and Rani Aruna Kunwar Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to their grandparents. “We go to villages near Koela and Jodhpur to educate women about sanitation and menstrual health,” says Shivina. In the UK, she’s a young patron for Firefly, that works with children’s education and poverty, part of the Quintessentially Foundation started by Queen Camilla and her nephew Ben Elliott.
She’s hoping to rope them in with her own foundation, as India holds a special place in Ben’s heart. At the moment, though, Shivina is happy being the London girl about town. She enjoys wearing outfits from Harrods and brands like Self Portrait (favoured by Princess Catherine of Wales), Chanel bags (from her grandmother’s collection, and her mother’s vintage dresses), shoes by Steve Madden, her grandfather’s vintage Rolex, Hermès jewellery and Chanel No. 5 perfume. She also loves chiffon saris (from her grandmother, of course), with matching vintage silk petticoats. “I love classic colours, pink and navy blue and emerald green,” says Shivina. While in London, what’s the next big party she would like to attend? “I wouldn’t mind going to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Diwali party at 10 Downing Street,” she says. “I hear it’s really something.”
Photos: Raveena Sethia And Shane Anthony Sinclair/Getty Images
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!