Vijay Mallya dominates India’s drinks market, owns the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team of the Indian Premier League and a Formula One team
Vijay Mallya, his diamond ear studs gleaming, is in high spirits, ensconced in a leather chair in the small office of his private jet, winging its way towards Mumbai after a 34-hour whirlwind visit to New Zealand.
The Airbus is liveried in the bright red of his Kingfisher Airlines, with his initials, “VJM”, painted in gold on the engines and wingtips, embossed on the leather seats and decorating the China dinnerware. The plane’s cargo hold is filled with typical New Zealand tourist takeaways: cases of Pinot Noir and lamb chops.
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But it is the aircraft’s main passenger cabin – a thickly carpeted, faux living room with a bevelled-glass drinks cabinet, a small photo of Mr Mallya’s three children and paintings of Hindu deities by 19th-century Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma – that carries the real prize of Mr Mallya’s trip. Two bright red, padlocked temperature-controlled hampers hold three bottles of “Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Whisky”, abandoned in Antarctica more than a century ago by the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust, the body charged with preserving the legacy of early polar explorers, discovered abandoned spirits frozen in the ice under Shackleton’s base camp hut in 2007, and last year extracted a case of Mackinlay’s, labelled “1907 British Antarctic Expedition”. For the trust, these bottles are semi-sacred relics of a heroic age, when men risked their lives for the glory of conquering one of the world’s last uncharted terrains.
For Mr Mallya, whose Bangalore-based United Breweries Group acquired the Mackinlay’s brand...