Britain's Prince Andrew

GIVEN his lifelong interest in matters cultural and commercial, who could doubt what might first have attracted the Duke of York to Leyla Aliyeva?

She’s connected - the daughter of Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev.

Rich - with a plush penthouse overlooking Hyde Park in her international, multi-million-pound property portfolio.

Motivated - the London-educated editor-in-chief of a glossy magazine promoting her country, and a champion of worthy causes.

Oh yes. She is also strikingly beautiful, with huge brown eyes and tumbling dark hair. Even her mum is something of a looker.

Little wonder the duke and the glamorous Miss Aliyeva are said to have become friends while he forged links between the UK and the oil rich Caspian state in his role as a trade envoy for Britain.

The fact that her father has been accused of rigging elections and torturing protesters probably wasn’t their first topic of conversation in a country that welcomes him as a frequent guest.

But neither the duke’s considerable ego nor the 25-year-old socialite’s East-meets-West mission to attract wider interest in her homeland will have suffered during their time in public together.

The duke clearly likes to be seen in the company of attractive young women; Leyla could hardly have wished for a higher profile connection than a member of the Royal Family, until recently at least.

Leyla is married to dishy, U.S.-educated singer Emin Agalarov, whose billionaire father is close to Russian premier Vladimir Putin. She also has a close group of friends, once running up a bill of £300,000 for Cristal champagne at a gathering for a dozen girlfriends.

Leyla, who has two young children, is a leading campaigner for young people in Azerbaijan and has spearheaded a drive to encourage young Azerbaijanis to donate blood to sick children.

For the last 12 months or so she has been fronting a string of London events to introduce the West to the culture of Azerbaijan, once nicknamed the Paris of the East, in the run-up to its celebration in October of 20 years of independence from the Soviet Union. One was entitled Flying Carpet to Fairy Tale, an exhibition of antique Azerbaijani rugs at the One Marylebone venue in London.

Among the guests were Lord Mandelson, communications minister Ed Vaizey, Marks & Spencer tycoon Sir Stuart Rose and Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth - her husband Matthew Freud’s organisation was behind the event.

“I want people to know more about us,” said Leyla. “We have an amazing culture and history. I would like Azerbaijan to become a bridge between civilisations.”

Leyla is said to be “a strong mother”, taking the children with her on her travels around the world.

Yet friends also describe her as a “society girl”, fiercely proud of her roots but enthusiastically embracing Western culture. She studied Spanish at college and lived in Spain for a year in her teens. She Tweets, and, naturally, has a Facebook page. Yesterday - just hours after she found herself in the headlines through her links with Prince Andrew, it was updated with flattering photographs of her arm-in-arm with her husband.