Muhammad Akram, famously known as “Akram the Black Cab driver in UK’s Pakistani political circles, met Imran Khan in 1986 at the Lord’s when few people knew Imran Khan and the two struck a long-lasting friendship that saw Akram serving as personal cab driver of Imran Khan during his frequent visits to the UK.
Imran Khan would often call Akram prior to his departure from Pakistan for UK and would request him to pick him from Heathrow airport. Akram was always there for his hero and leader and would drop the PTI leader to Annabel Goldmsith’s House in Richmond and to his political and social engagements. That remained a constant sight until Imran Khan got introduced to a new set of friends such as Zulfi Bukhari and others who owned flashy Bentleys and limousines.
Its around 2012 onwards that Zulfi Bukhari took over from Muhammad Akram and since then Zulfi Bukhari has been picking and dropping the PTI leader throughout his stay in London.
Dozens of rich friends and acquaintances of Imran Khan from London, Middle East, Europe and elsewhere attended the oath taking ceremony of Imran Khan and almost certainly all these people came to know Imran Khan in the last few years – or a decade – but the one face missing was Muhammad Akram. Many had hoped that senior PTI leadership will remember to invite him but there was no invitation.
He said: “For me its more than enough that my friend has reached where he wanted to be. Nobody invited me but that’s fine, I don’t want to be part of photo sessions and publicity and I was proud when I saw Imran Khan taking the oath. That was an emotional moment for me. Most of the people who were in the oath taking ceremony or visit Bani Gala are the ones who are there for their self-projection. I have no complaints from Imran Khan and I never expected anything from him since he is so busy and has thousands of things on his mind. I always told him that many of his advisors around him are in there for their own objectives and he always listened to me and I still maintain that.”
The story of Muhammad Akram is as fascinating as the story of Imran Khan himself. “I was in Lord’s to watch a match and saw Imran Khan being interviewed by a channel. I stood there to meet him. His friend told him that he will have to leave for a family commitment. I offered to drop Imran Khan at his Kensington flat. We exchanged number when I dropped him and I picked him up again the next day to take him for practise.”
Imran Khan was playing for the Sussex at that time and would spend most of his time in London for practise. He would take Akram with him for practise at the Lord’s and for extensive exercise in Hyde Park and other places where Akram would assist him in training. “It was Imran’s routine to train in the daytime no matter what and at night he would go out often with his friend Jonathan.”
Akram recalls the euphoria that erupted after Pakistan cricket team won the 92 World Cup and Imran Khan’s decision to set up Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. Imran Khan operated at that time from the Kensington flat and used the same apartment for his charity’s addresses. Its from the same venue that Akram and many others volunteered to advance the cause of charity. There were only a handful of people with Imran Khan and due to issues in communication at that time, volunteers faced daunting challenges to collect money. “I remember that donors used to call us on office number and would ask us to collect cheques from them. I would note the details of people in London and would stop by to pick cheques during my trips with customers around those areas. That’s the kind of effort we put in at that time.”
Then Imran Khan met Jemima Goldsmith and the couple fell in love. “Imran asked me to pick up a few books on Islam from the Regent’s Park Islamic Centre and drop to Jemima’s house. I picked up about five books and delivered on Jemima’s address and it was soon after that she embraced Islam after getting to know about Islam.”
When asked how he felt when affluent people with flashy cars replaced his black cab pushing him in the background, Muhammad Akram says he has no regrets. “It’s best to compromise in life and be realistic with the situation. I cannot reach where these people are and I cannot match their wealth but that doesn’t matter to me. I am happy with my situation and happy for Imran Khan,” says a smiling Muhammad Akram.
Muhammad Akram has turned 65 and he still does 8 hours shift on his iconic Black on the same London routes where he drove the current prime minister of Pakistan hundreds of times.