People & Society

Reham Khan: Making and breaking news

Updated 21 Jun, 2018 07:31pm
Photo by Belal Khan
Photo by Belal Khan

Reham Khan’s story so far is of struggle and success, of self-proclaimed painful privacy and pronounced publicity — of struggle and pain in the United Kingdom, and success and publicity in Pakistan. She worked hard for years to be a public figure but now constantly preaches the virtues of privacy for public personalities. She is a self-proclaimed fighter but turns grumpy, if terms of contest are not to her liking.

Rewriting personal history with retrospective effect is a risky business, especially in the age of a demon known as the Internet. Damned is the information that self-registers once shared on social media and later found by nosy followers who then use it very unsociably. The World Wide Web remembers all its clients, willing or involuntary. Reham Khan is no exception.

Those who surf the Internet regularly by now know quite a lot about Reham Khan’s jumpy working life in the UK: she started her broadcasting ‘career’ in 2006 from a little known local television station in Middle England that provided legal advice to illegal immigrants or to overstaying foreign students desperately hanging on to menial jobs before being found by the British authorities and deported. Such channels pay pittance and employ rookies on short-term contracts. Employee turnover remains high there and mentioning the employer on a résumé is often considered a liability rather than an asset. Reham Khan’s case could have been an exception.

My first personal interaction with her was somewhere in 2007. She was looking for a job and I, as head of the European news operations of a leading Pakistani television channel, had one on offer. The job was not advertised but we were looking for a female reporter to fill a position that lay vacant after a staff member had resigned.

She came through a reference. “In her early thirties, recently divorced, mother of three, short of funds, lacks experience, desperate to work in media,” was the brief provided by the referee. The meeting was brief and did not leave an imprint apart from the fact that she sounded keen, was confident and was armed with an infectious smile. Her résumé was devoid of journalistic experience and the bureau that I headed was ill-equipped to offer on-job training to a candidate with no serious journalistic assignments on her resume but with high monetary expectations.

Many years later, when we happened to be together along with some media colleagues, for tea and snacks at Mansoora in Lahore – after Sirajul Haq took oath as Jamaat-e-Islami’s chief – Reham Khan denied ever visiting me at the channel’s office near the London Bridge.

Illustration by Zaka Bhatty
Illustration by Zaka Bhatty

For Asian audiences in the UK, her claim to fame was neither her broadcasting flamboyance at the Birmingham-based Legal TV; nor her move to an even smaller broadcasting operation, Sunshine Radio, in Hereford and Worcester, where she presented a breakfast show. In fact, it was her 14-second advertisement slot with Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan and, subsequently, a 30-second stint with Pakistani cricketing sizzler Shahid Afridi for a personal injury law firm, Claim Today Solicitors. Her broad smile, coupled with the catchy tagline of the commercial, “Don’t delay, claim today,” provided her the recognition – if not the money – that she needed as a divorced single mother of three. Clips of both ads are available online.

Her personal account of her life in the UK may sound a mélange of myth, mystery and fairytale, but she was not the girl about town. She has struggled like many of us, as the UK can be a hazardous place in the absence of a steady income or a secure roof over one’s head. But she did not let the first divorce from her cousin, a psychiatrist, in 2005 overshadow her time in the country. After all, she was a “free spirit”, pretty much like a “Bedouin”, as she once said in her own words.

Before she left for Pakistan, she even tried her luck in a locally produced short film that failed to find a distributor. Her acting adventure was hardly known to anyone apart from those who have worked in the film, in which Reham Khan plays a carefree character egging her married friends to enjoy life rather than wasting time on family affairs. The film remained buried on tape even after she became an anchorperson in Pakistan.

And then, she got married to Imran Khan. The producers of the film wanted to recover their investment. So they invited prospective buyers for sneak previews. Sources claim that Geo Television succeeded in acquiring the film — not to broadcast, but to possibly use against Imran Khan who had been very vocal about the channel’s alleged support for Nawaz Sharif’s government. Producers claim they are yet to receive the agreed fee from Geo Television.

By her own account, however, life did take a turn for the better before she moved to Pakistan. She joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) South in 2008 as a broadcast journalist, after doing a few short courses in journalism from little known institutions and stayed with the broadcaster for four years. But she was hardly known to the BBC viewers, nationally. Maybe because it is a behemoth of an organisation with over 20,000 staff and a weathergirl on a regional feed would hardly make news.

Mohammad Ali, White Star
Mohammad Ali, White Star

Why did Reham Khan leave the BBC? Only she can tell. Friends and former colleagues within the news organisation remain clueless about the reasons of her departure. But in 2013, Reham Khan moved to Pakistan and joined News One. She then hopped from one channel to another, every few months: from News One to Aaj News to Pakistan Television (PTV) and then to Dawn News. All in a span of less than two years. Her programme at Dawn News was meant to celebrate Pakistani heroes. That is where she won the heart of the most known hero of all times — at least for a few months.

The affair, the denial, the admission, the matrimony and the divorce — all point to the contradictions that have surrounded her ever since she filed for her first divorce in 2005. Only in her wildest dreams could she have envisioned her marriage to Imran Khan a decade after her divorce — and that she would be divorced again, in less than 10 months. Imran Khan’s family, friends and fans did not approve of the marriage and many believed it was destined for doom. They have been proven right.

It would be harsh to say that Reham Khan violated one of journalism’s golden rules that a journalist must not become a story. Yet, it had been her own decision and it will be her own decision as to how long she plans to remain a story. She probably is the news media personification of the old Christian saying, “those who decide to live by the sword, die by the sword.”

The flippant remarks by those who regularly claim their closeness to her or Imran Khan in Pakistan and the UK suggest both could have been an ideal couple had their lives not been spied and pried on by the 24/7 media. “Because both vied for a constant public life, the two preach and practice different things; can live almost duplicitous lives. They work hard to hide past lives; both are divorced with children; they practice contrasting lives in Pakistan and the UK; both love making up stories,” is a summary by their friends of the reasons that led to their divorce. On Imran Khan’s side, these are people who have worked for his party and raised funds for his philanthropic endeavours. On Reham Khan’s side, these are her old friends from her carefree London days. And for obvious reasons, none of the “friends” on both sides that I spoke to are ready to be identified by their name.

The outgoing year that began with a bang for Reham Khan is coming to end with threats of legal suits against her from her first husband. Throughout the year, he has been threatening legal action against a Pakistani channel for airing her accusation against him of committing domestic violence. He is now said to be in talks with his lawyers to start defamation proceedings against her in a British court.

Meanwhile, she has managed to pick up a job as an anchorperson, this time with one of the recently launched but least watched channels in Pakistan. With her patchy employment track record, this too, may not last long. But then, she has spoken to the British media about “explosive” stuff contained in a “diary” that she maintained during her time spent with Pakistan’s most mercuric politician, whose stories still sell well in Britain.

Sources working for a mainstream British media house claim to have met Reham Khan during her last visit to London. She is said to have demanded a hefty amount for divulging the details of her 10-month relationship with Imran Khan. The said media house thought her asking price was way above her story’s worth and has backed out for the moment. With a well-paid job in hand, Reham Khan does not seem to be in a hurry for now.

This was originally published in Herald's January 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.