Wasim and Shaniera Akram are one of Pakistan’s most celebrated power couples. They first met in 2011, when Wasim was on a visit to Shaniera’s hometown, Melbourne, and they clicked immediately. “It was love at first sight for me,” shares Wasim. “Luckily, Shaniera said yes!”
The two are individuals with fabulous achievements and a strong sense of self – Wasim Akram is renowned as the best left-arm fast bowler of all time, setting many records during an illustrious international career spanning 19 years, while Shaniera was at the top of her game in PR. Together, they make a great team, enjoying a level of honesty and compatibility that sees them through all the highs and lows of life. They are a close knit family and the first priority for both is their children – their 11 month old daughter, Aiyla, and Tahmoor and Akbar, Wasim’s sons from his first marriage to the late Huma Akram.
Wasim and Shaniera devote a great deal of their time and energy to various philanthropic concerns, raising awareness about diabetes and working with orphanages to ameliorate their living standards. And while they may be a mega-watt celebrity couple, in person they are affable, down-to-earth and have absolutely no starry airs about them. Their profound love and respect for each other is quite apparent and they consider themselves blessed to enjoy such a strong connection. This is one happily-ever-after we could not be more thrilled about!
Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful baby girl, Aiyla! Would you like to share a bit about the joy she has brought to your world?
Shaniera: Thank you very much, she is just beautiful! When she was born, we had love pouring in from all over the globe, which was such a great feeling. Her brothers were so excited to meet her and instantly assumed their protective big brother roles. She is also the first grandchild on my side of the family so there were so many people waiting to meet her, especially my parents who were over the moon. She is like a little ray of sunshine that has come into our world! But I think it was Wasim who fell in love the hardest. He just adores her. He wakes up at 6am and runs into her room to see her. He’ll take her for walks and read stories to her, and he went to her first day at play group too – he was the only dad there!
When and how did you first meet each other? Please tell us about the courtship.
Shaniera: We met a few years ago in Melbourne. Wasim was there for work and we were introduced at a friend’s dinner party. I felt so bad because I couldn’t remember his name. We met for lunch not long after and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Obviously, living in different countries was going to be difficult but we were such good friends that we would speak every day on the phone or keep in touch via email.
Wasim: Then the time came when I wanted my kids to meet her and they loved her instantly as I knew they would. It was not long after that I told my sons I wanted to marry Shaniera and they were really happy about it. And to my luck, she said yes!
Shaniera: And the rest is history, as they say.
When you first met Wasim Akram, did you have any idea that he’s a huge cricket star back home?
Shaniera: [Laughs] As I said before, I kept forgetting his name! When we met for lunch a few days later, he mentioned that he used to play cricket but was currently working in commentary. I didn’t really think anything of it. Over the next few weeks, I kept noticing how people would respond to him, especially Pakistanis, Indians and Sri Lankans. He then told me he was “kind of a big deal back in his country”. So naturally, I googled him! Thanks to technology! [Laughs] But it didn’t really make any difference. My dad likes cricket but we are a family of five girls so I was more in to anything else but cricket.
“I have been a diabetic with type 1 diabetes for 19 years now. I was diagnosed when I was playing cricket and I continued to play post diagnosis…I didn’t let the disease control me, I controlled it.”
How did he propose to you? Did you accept immediately or did you mull over the decision and give it a lot of thought?Shaniera: He was acting really weird up to the day he proposed so I didn’t know what was going on. He kept asking all these strange questions and was acting nervous. Were you nervous, Wasim?
Wasim: I don’t get nervous….
Shaniera: So yes, he was nervous [Laughs]. All men are nervous before they ask a girl to marry them. But he totally nailed the proposal. He got down on one knee and produced the most amazing ring he had made for me. We looked at each other and laughed but we both knew that we were happy and in love so it was just perfect! I think when it feels right you don’t need to play games, or keep anyone hanging – you just do what’s in your heart.
When you first met, what qualities did you find most attractive about each other? Did you immediately know that you were meant to be together?
Shaniera: There was definitely instant chemistry. He made me laugh like crazy! We stayed in touch and that quickly developed into friendship.
Wasim: Well, it was love at first sight for me! Why do you think I was trying to be so funny?
Shaniera: Wasim had a warm presence about him. I liked that. In fact, anyone who knows him would say that he is very down to earth. That was important to me and I was attracted to that instantly. I could be myself around him.
“I felt Shaniera had the whole package, she was kind, witty, fun and unpretentious. Plus, she treats everyone equally. I admire that in a woman.”
Are you both very sociable? Do you entertain a lot or do you prefer to spend time relaxing at home?
Wasim: We are social when we need to be but mostly we enjoy our downtime at home.
Shaniera: Our lives can be very hectic sometimes so we try to create an equilibrium and balance. In fact, we are more social during the week and spend weekends at home relaxing with our family.
Tell us about your life as a family. What is a typical day like for you?
Wasim: If I’m not travelling then I stick to my regular routine which comprises a morning run with Shaniera at about 6:30am and then we have breakfast with the kids before they go off to school. We normally try to get all our appointments done in the morning so that our afternoons are relatively free. We have a light lunch together, followed by a swim in the pool with Aiyla and Akbar. Gym by 3pm, and then the rest of the afternoon is spent hanging out at home. At night we’ll either go out for dinner or Shaniera might cook something at home – which is always entertaining [Laughs]. But during the week we try to follow a healthy routine and are normally asleep by midnight.
Shaniera: When Wasim is home and not travelling we always spend time together and usually just hang out at home.
Wasim Akram, you are a multi-faceted public personality with a very busy life. How do you successfully balance so many responsibilities?
Wasim: I try to enjoy myself now. I try not to stress and instead just enjoy what life gives me. I spend time with my family and only keep good friends around. I make sure I don’t use my energy on negative people or pointless projects. I live for the now and give everything my best.
You are considered a cricket legend and have enjoyed a long and glorious career. How did it all begin for you? When and how were you discovered?
Wasim: I used to practice and practice, day in and day out! When I was a kid I loved playing all kinds of sports: table tennis, basketball, but mainly cricket. I was discovered when I was 19 and gave it my everything. I worked very hard on my skill and my career took off. My career was my life and I’m so honoured to have been able to play for my country.
Which moments, in particular, stand out in your memory?Wasim: Our victory in the 1992 World Cup was the ultimate!
Do you still hang out with your peers and friends from cricket? Are you close to them?
Wasim: Yes. I have friends all around the world. Some I met whilst playing on the field and some off of it. I am fortunate to still be in touch with most of the friends I have made in my career, and also to be close to some really talented people. Most have gone on to careers associated with cricket so I get to catch up with a lot of my old buddies when I’m working abroad.
Do you enjoy your role as a cricket commentator?
Wasim: I have been in commentary for quite a while now, over 10 years. I’m quite established in this field and really enjoy the work. I get to talk about cricket and use my expertise to comment on the game. To me, it was an ideal career move and I hope to continue it for a while yet.
You recently coached the Indian Premier League team, Kolkata Knight Riders. How did you find the experience and is it something you would care to do again?
Wasim: I loved the whole experience! I have been a mentor to KKR and worked in the IPL for seven years. It’s something very different and very exciting, especially in the days leading up to the finals. KKR are a fantastic team, we are all very close and have a strong fan following who support us all the way. I am also looking forward to the PSL starting early next year and am very excited about its potential. I’m hoping to see great things come out of the PSL in the future, In sha Allah.
Shaniera, were you at all apprehensive about marrying a cricket star with a different cultural and social background and moving to his country?
Shaniera: There are so many questions in that one question! Marrying a cricket star was not on my bucket list. Marrying a kind, honest, reliable man with a good job, aspirations, and strong family values was on the list. And I got that with Wasim. The cricket star is what he did before we met and I admire him for that but I fell in love with the man not everyone sees in public. He made moving to Pakistan easy for me because he understood what it must be like to be part of a different culture. He loved his country so I knew I would love it as well. Moving to Pakistan was easy because home is where the heart is.
What has the adjustment been like? How did you overcome the language barrier in particular?
Shaniera: I’m still learning Urdu. I can understand and speak domestic Urdu but still have difficulty socially. We travel a lot so my lessons are often interrupted. Wasim and the kids still translate for me when necessary.
Wasim: It’s been a funny few years, Shaniera has been known to say words that don’t mean what she thinks they do [Laughs]. We find it quite funny. But she’s doing so well and I love that nothing has deterred her and she still keeps at it every day.
Are you very hands on with household chores or do you leave it to the domestic staff?
Shaniera: When I first came to Pakistan I wanted to do everything myself but over the years I have realised that we have fabulous people who are there to help. I depend on these people not only with helping me domestically but to be involved in our lives. As far as I am concerned, everyone at my house is family and we treat them as such. I help them and they help me. But when we are abroad, in the UK or Australia for example, I do everything myself and I have to say Wasim is very domesticated also. He cooks breakfast for us and handles the BBQ, he helps with the shopping at the supermarket and we all try to make it a fun event when we go. He is also very hands on with the baby.
“Our daughter is like a little ray of sunshine that has come into our world! It was Wasim who fell in love the hardest. He just adores her. He takes her for walks and reads stories, and he went to her first day at play group – he was the only dad there!”
What do you think of our rich and spicy cuisine? Do you enjoy cooking for your husband?
Shaniera: I absolutely love Pakistani food. It’s incredible. And if you minimise the helpings of rice, naan and roti, Pakistani food is actually quite lean. Wasim and I always have a healthy variety of vegetable dishes, fresh salads and meat dishes on the table. I do love to cook Pakistani dishes when we are abroad but at home I leave it to the experts. I am constantly learning though.
Would you like to tell us a bit about your family and life in Melbourne? What was your childhood like?
Shaniera: I come from a big, loving family – I am one of four sisters. Growing up, my mother and father were my role models, and they worked very hard to provide an amazing life for my siblings and me. We were all privately educated and never went without anything. We were taught to love, be kind, to treat everyone as equals, to stand up for ourselves and to follow our dreams. Our family is very close knit, and is growing at a rapid rate. I’m very blessed to have them in my life. Melbourne is a beautiful city, and it was named the most livable city in the world for five years running. I have wonderful friends there who have loved and supported me and still hold my friendship as dear to them even though I’m not there all the time. I have friends like that all over the world and that’s true friendship.
Your career was in PR at the time you met your husband. Would you like to elaborate on some of the major projects you worked on?
Shaniera: I started in fashion when I turned 21, and owned a clothing boutique. From there I went in to PR and events. PR is about communications, connections and putting companies and businesses in touch with the right people. I was more of a consultant rather than a manager. I would advise a business or individual how to effectively maximise their company/product or event via PR and promotions. I have met some amazing people who were mentors to me and I still love sitting back and watching what they do. I have worked on major Australian fashion festivals, international events, clothing brand store openings, restaurants and product launches. It’s a very exciting industry.
Do you miss your work and would you consider resuming it at a later point in life?
Shaniera: As a human being, you never stop working. I think the day you stop learning new things is the day you need to change your life. I’m a mother of three now and that is the hardest but most rewarding job I have ever had. There is never a dull moment and our job isn’t 9-5pm, it’s 24 hours, 7 days a week for the rest of our lives. But it’s the best job in the world and you are constantly learning new things all the time. Apart from that I have come across some amazing business ideas and opportunities but I’m not in any hurry so you will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I have been devoting all my extra time to my foundation and to the people in this country who need my help. Rome wasn’t built in a day but I will spend my life building my foundation and helping out where I can.
Wasim, you are an ambassador for the International Diabetes Federation, and have done much on a personal level to raise awareness about the medical condition. This cause is very close to your heart, please tell us more about your work and the inspiration behind it.
Wasim: I have been a diabetic with Type 1 diabetes for 19 years now. I was diagnosed with the disease when I was playing cricket and in the prime of my career. I continued to play post diagnosis. I researched the disease, I understood it and then I embraced it. I didn’t let it control me, I controlled it. I made it work for me, especially now, I am almost 50 and I am fitter, happier and healthier than I would have been at this age. I run 10km every morning and gym in the evening. I want to share this with the world and let people know that you can live very happily if you understand the condition. I am a global ambassador and I am involved around the world in all diabetes awareness campaigns. I am also working with my foundation for an upcoming project in Pakistan to combat diabetes. We will educate diabetics and work to build an institute for diabetic assistance, including free medical and nutritional assistance for the public. It’s at very early stage but we are very excited about it.
Are there any tips on coping with the health condition that you would like to share with our readers? Do you follow a strict diet and work out daily?
Wasim: Yes! Sleep early, eat less carbs and sugar and exercise! At least 45 minutes a day will do wonders. If you see your mother or father or loved one becoming overweight or heading in this direction, don’t turn a blind eye. Take them for a walk, help them cook something healthy and nutritious, cut out all soft drinks, snacking and late night meals. Diabetes affects everyone in the house, not just the diabetic. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
What was your inspiration for founding The Akram Foundation in Pakistan, and what concerns does the charity encompass?
Wasim: Shaniera and I are both very excited at the launch of our foundation. We are currently helping smaller charities within Pakistan to get recognition and funding. As you know there are so many areas in Pakistan that need help so we are trying to help out where we can. At the moment we are working with schools and orphanages, to assist in medical aid, water and food distribution.
Shaniera: We are also working on some big projects that we will let you know about in the not too distant future. We are very excited about these ventures and hope we receive a lot of help from the general public. If you would like to register with us please go to www.theakramfoundation.com for more information.
Wasim, losing your wife Huma to protracted illness must have been a traumatic experience. Your sons were also very young at the time. What gave you the strength to cope and carry on and how did you find closure for your grief?
Wasim: It was a very traumatic time for all of us. No one should have to go through that. My world was turned upside down. The worst part was seeing my boys without their mother and not being able to do anything about it. I felt very lost. I had no choice but to survive and become a hands on father.
“My boys and I are very close and it was going to take someone pretty amazing for me to fall in love again. But then Shaniera came into my life and it was like the sun had come out again.”
We had become great friends and she helped me reprogram, I became strong again and had a second chance at life. I’m very lucky to have her. I think in life you need to keep going, and however painful it might be, you have to learn to come to terms with your grief and find a way to cope.
Stars are often built up into larger-than-life icons, only to be torn down at the slightest pretext. Do you ever feel the pressure of stardom? That you have to maintain a certain persona all the time?
Wasim: I have always been myself and never tried to be anything I’m not. Maybe that’s why people still like me, I don’t know? Being a sports star is different from being an actor or a singer. It’s a different ball game altogether [Laughs]. Fame has its upsides and downsides but generally I have been pretty lucky and have had wonderful fans and support throughout my career. So thanks, everyone!
Who are your real life heroes?
Wasim: In cricket, I would say Imran Khan!
Shaniera: My hero is you, Wasim!
Wasim: Thanks, love!
Shaniera: A hero is someone you admire, respect and look up to and I feel that way about my husband. He has fought hard for his life and to be the person he is. He has not had everything given to him on a platter, he’s had to work very hard to be who he is and has made the best out of every situation. He has battled tragedy and fear and loss and come out of it a bigger and better person. To me, Wasim is my hero!
Up Close & Personal With Shaniera & Wasim Akram
Favourite holiday destination?
Wasim: Anywhere with my family.
Shaniera: Anywhere on a beach.
Wasim: J. makes good perfume.
Shaniera: At the moment it’s Elie Saab.
Which authors do you like to read?
Wasim: James Patterson
Shaniera: I’m very eclectic. So anything goes with me when I eventually get time to read. But an OK! magazine will do just fine for my travel reading [Laughs]!
Favourite movies & TV shows?
Wasim: Episodes, Spy, and I loved Hoff the Record.
Shaniera: The same as Wasim, plus I’m currently watching Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones and Modern Family.
Diet and exercise regime…
Wasim: Morning run wherever I am, evening work out at the gym; early to bed and early to rise.
Shaniera: Coconut juice (as it’s hydrating) lemon water (for its alkalizing properties), protein and vegetables (healthy low carbs), massage, run and a good night’s sleep!
Favourite local and international designers?
Wasim: I just bought a Hugo Boss suit! Boss is classic. I also like Reiss, Michael Kors, 2XU fitness gear, and J. South Calli.
Shaniera: I’m loving Deepak Perwani, Faraz Manan, Zara Shahjahan, Lorna Jane, Body Focus, Gul Ahmed, Michael Kors, Sophia Webster shoes, Zimmerman, 2XU sportswear – and anything online at the moment as it’s more convenient for my lifestyle.
Which cuisines are you partial to?
Wasim: I love contemporary Japanese. Always, anytime.
Shaniera: Oh, me too! Nobu is our absolute favourite.
How do you unwind and detox after a hectic day?
Wasim: Swimming, a healthy take away and a movie.
Shaniera: Or a quiet date night together at Okra, that’s always relaxing and very enjoyable because we can catch up on everything whilst eating great food.
Shaniera, can you share your beauty regimen with us? What are your must-have make-up products?
Shaniera: I’m a MAC girl! Love everything they have.
You have a beautiful complexion; please tell us your secret recipe for a glowing skin.
Shaniera: I believe it all comes down to genetics. Pakistani women are born with amazing hair and skin and I envy their beauty. I am grateful for what I have been born with but there is no stopping the ageing process.
“Life’s too short. Live, love, laugh and let be – that’s my advice. Marry a man who adores you no matter what and you will never have a problem with age.”
Give your body an equal amount of rest, exercise, work and play and you can never go wrong. And be a happy, positive person, for that always reflects in your complexion.
INTERVIEW: SARA AMIR TURAB ALI
MAKE-UP AND HAIR: RUKAIYA’S SALON AND SABS
PHOTOGRAPHS: HASEEB SIDDIQUI
STYLING & CO-ORDINATION: FIZZA FURQAN