Imran Khan - sex symbol, matinee idol and pin-up cricketer - is not fantastically good looking. Maybe it's because his eyes are particularly small, his nose contrastingly large, his facial skin slightly mottled and his chest hair peeks through the gold chain over his T-shirt neck. He looks as if he's just woken up after a hard night of drinking, although, being a good Muslim, he doesn't drink. And he appears exhausted. Anyway, it's difficult to see what all the fuss is about.
'I never thought I was good looking, ever,' he says in his accent that is a hybrid of Oxford and Lahore. 'People started saying I was when I became successful, so I equate it with success. My sister used to say I was ugly, and I agreed.'
He doesn't have any of the flirtatiousness or overwhelming charm one expects either, but he does have a presence, a great gentleness, and what New Yorkers call mensch. Does he like being a sex symbol? 'It's one of those things you don't take seriously.'
He is, after all, one of the world's greatest all-round cricketers, an Oxford graduate in PPE (albeit a third) and a proud Pathan from an affluent Pakistani background. In the Eighties, he became part of the high-society Party Set, a darling of the paparazzi, he practically lived in the St James nightclub, Tramp. Once constantly spied in the company of beautiful women, his companions have ranged from artist Emma Sergeant to actress Stephanie Beacham, Susannah Constantine (erstwhile partner of Lord Linley), the daughter of the exiled King of Greece, and Sita White, daughter of Lord White of Hanson. He's now 64, but the image of the hunky playboy lingers. However, most of the women he steps out with are now sensibly married and cynics say he only escorts them to get press for the cancer hospital he has built in Pakistan. So will Imran remain a bachelor?
His eyes light up when we start to talk about women, but he doesn't smile easily. 'People always assume that the reason I'm scared to give up my independence is because I have lots of women around me. That's nonsense. It has nothing to do with that . . . '
Does he like his playboy image? 'It used to bother me when my mother was alive because she was religious and it upset her. But it doesn't matter now.' He doesn't think the image justified. 'No. Playboys have a lot of money and time, and I've never had either.' Well, is he a womaniser? 'No. People just say that because I'm a single man.' He says he doesn't have a girlfriend at the moment.
He doesn't want to discuss whether he finds affairs fulfilling. He crosses his arms self-protectively. 'Er, by answering that question I put myself in a difficult position because this will get quoted in Pakistan. And in Pakistan, the mere fact that you admit you're having affairs upsets a lot of people's sensitivities.
'I respect my own culture and a lot of young people look up to me. It's a big responsibility for me not to make these admissions in public. Everyone knows I'm a single man and a normal man. But there's no need to stick it down their throats.'
Imran's Eastern roots are particularly noticeable in his beliefs about giving children tremendous attention, love and security within the framework of an extended family. 'I think you should give the children everything. The way British children are raised is alien to me.'
His own childhood was otherwise idyllic. Holidays were spent in the Himalayas or jungles and he wanted for nothing. He describes his childhood as growing up with a 'security blanket'.
We return then to the subject of marriage. He uses words like responsibility, self-denial and sacrifice. He takes marriage very seriously indeed. (He doesn't believe in living with someone.) 'Marriage for me is one of the greatest responsibilities a man has to take. I think a man is a failure if the marriage fails.' He deflects from the questions by doodling. 'You shouldn't just marry for the sake of security. There's a lot of self-denial involved, it's a complete change of life. I'm not scared of the risk. No, I don't think I am scared of commitment or intimacy either. I just believe that if you make that commitment, you have to be able to live up to it. You must be able to make it work.'
He says an arranged marriage is still a possibility for him. 'Maybe that's what I'll end up doing. I'm not looking for an ideal woman. If something is meant to happen, it will. I have learnt you have no control over certain things in life. I don't live in the future.'Suggest a correction