- Queen has spent time with both Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya recently
- Sheikh has made application against wife in High Court to be heard on July 30
- Queen knows Sheikh, 69, well and pair met at Royal Ascot just to weeks ago
- Princess Haya met Queen privately for tea at Windsor Castle during horse show
The mansion stands in picture-perfect splendour overlooking Kensington Palace on a tree-lined private road known as Billionaires’ Row guarded by liveried gatekeepers.
Outside, on Britain’s most expensive street, all is calm. But behind the bullet-proof glass of the mansion on Palace Green, a menacing domestic drama is being played out.
It involves one of the world’s richest men, the racing-mad ruler of oil-rich Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and his glamorous, Oxford-educated much younger wife Princess Haya, who has not been seen in public for weeks.
Intriguingly, it also involves the Queen who, as a friend to both husband and wife, has found herself unwittingly drawn into this most explosive of marital rifts, placing her in the most delicate of positions. For we can reveal Her Majesty has, separately, enjoyed the company of both Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya in recent weeks.
The story began after a spate of reports from the Middle East that the couple, who married in 2004, had fallen out and that the princess, who is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, had ‘fled’ to Britain. She was said to be fearing for her life.
The Daily Mail has established that the Sheikh has made an application against his wife in the Family Court Division of the High Court to be heard on July 30.
The case is set to be one of the most expensive and fiercely contested in history, with the couple employing Britain’s two best known celebrity divorce lawyers to represent them.
Sheikh Mohammed has hired Helen Ward, who handled Guy Ritchie’s split from Madonna, Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s from second wife Slavica and pop singer Cheryl Cole from footballer Ashley Cole. Princess Haya has hired Fiona Shackleton, whose clients have included Prince Charles in his divorce from Princess Diana and Prince Andrew in his split from the Duchess of York.
There are fears that the Queen, who is close to both the Sheikh and his pretty wife partly through a shared love of horses, is in danger of being inadvertently dragged into the feud.
She knows Sheikh Mohammed, 69, extremely well. His Godolphin stables at Newmarket, Suffolk, is one of the world’s most successful racing organisations while the Queen met him at Royal Ascot just two weeks ago. Unusually Princess Haya failed to appear. As one of the sporting world’s most celebrated couples, they are usually side by side at the racetrack.
Both had horses competing in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes but only the smiling sheikh was in attendance with an all-male entourage and photographed meeting the Queen and Prince William.
The Queen, however, also has long-standing and warm links with the family of the princess, whose Anglophile father was a staunch ally of the UK and close friend of the British royals. Prince Charles attended King Hussein’s funeral in Jordan in 1999.
Princess Haya, 45, who owns racehorses in her own right and competed for Jordan as a show-jumper in the 2000 Olympics, met the Queen privately for tea at Windsor Castle during this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show in May.
It took place two weeks before the sheikh took legal action against his wife. High Court records show he made an application due to be heard on May 22 before Mr Justice Moor. Such hearings are held in private and the outcome is not known. Court records show a fresh hearing is listed for July 30 before the President of the Family Court Division.
At one stage reports emanating from the Gulf suggested that Princess Haya had sought sanctuary in one of the Queen’s palaces. If true, such a move would potentially be embarrassing for the British Royal Family and its traditions of fair play and even-handedness.
Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, key British allies around the Persian Gulf. In fact the princess is thought to have been staying in her vast £85 million townhouse opposite Kensington Palace, which she apparently bought without her husband last year. She is said to have come here with a separate £31 million fortune to begin a new life.
She has not been seen in public since May 20 and her social media accounts, which are usually full of photographs of her charitable and philanthropic work, have not been active since February.
Sources have told the Mail that she fears abduction. She has had roots in Britain for years. Her father sent her to school first at Badminton and then at exclusive Bryanston in Dorset for her A-levels. She went on to Oxford where she read PPE at St Hilda’s College.
After university she became an accomplished horsewoman, moving to Ireland where she was taught by the great Irish showjumper Paul Darragh. Invited to compete in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics she turned the offer down on the grounds that she was not ready.
She represented her country four years later at the Sydney Olympics. At the time the 5ft 2in princess said she had no time for romance because she was too busy training. She is half-sister to King Abdullah II of Jordan. Through his mother, born Antoinette Gardiner, he is half-British.
Princess Haya’s close connections with Britain mean there is little likelihood of the authorities here forcing her to return to Dubai.
Harrow and Sandhurst-educated King Hussein was always close to the royals. In the late 1980s he lent the Duke and Duchess of York his Surrey mansion while their £5 million marital home Sunninghill Park was being built.
As Sheikh Mohammed’s second wife, Princess Haya did not remain in the background, the traditional role of Arab spouses. Now stories are circulating about the reasons behind the split. There is talk of legal non-disclosure agreements being signed by staff amid claims of large sums of money being paid out.
Just what lies behind her flight to Britain is not clear. But there are rumours that it may also involve the mystery over the case of Princess Latifa, Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter, who allegedly escaped Dubai and was subsequently seized off the coast of India by commandos and forcibly returned to her home.
The Emirati authorities dismissed allegations over Latifa’s treatment and abduction at the time as fiction, claiming she was ‘vulnerable to exploitation’ and had been kidnapped. Princess Haya then, along with former Irish president Mary Robinson, defended Dubai’s reputation over the incident. But yesterday it was reported that Princess Haya had learnt new facts about the case and consequently came under increasing hostility and pressure from members of her husband’s extended family until she no longer felt safe there.
Human rights lawyers have questioned whether the sheikh should be allowed to take advantage of Britain’s legal system bearing in mind claims of human rights abuses of British citizens in Dubai.
Rodney Dixon QC represents British academic Matthew Hedges who was kept in solitary confinement in the UAE for nearly six months last year on bogus spying claims.
Mr Dixon told the Mail: ‘It is totally inappropriate for the sheikh to be able to use Britain’s justice system, known for its fairness, because it suits his personal interests, when his own country’s legal system is so unjust and cruel to British citizens.’
As things stand the princess’s case will pitch two of London’s most formidable lawyers against each other. Lady Ward, known as the ‘Grande Dame of Divorce’, who works for Stewarts Law of London, has handled break-ups of celebrities from film directors to footballers.
She boasts she works ‘17 or 18-hour days if I have to’ and once claimed: ‘I always make sure that we arrive at court at an unexpected time and enter through a back door which the Press never hang out at. Then, of course, they might get a look from me as we go through the door of the courtroom.’ The reference to her ‘look’ relates to the piercing gaze and sharp intellect that has earned her a fearsome courtroom reputation.
Lady Shackleton was dubbed the Steel Magnolia for her charm and determination after securing Prince Charles a divorce settlement in 1996 which saw Princess Diana lose the title HRH. She handled Prince Andrew’s £2million divorce from the Duchess of York the same year.
She had a glass of water thrown over her by Heather Mills during her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney in 2008. Baroness Shackleton represented the Beatle and ensured Miss Mills received only £24 million of the £125 million she had sought. She became a life peer sitting on the Tory benches in 2010 and remains the personal solicitor of Princes William and Harry. Meanwhile, the sheikh’s first and ‘senior’ wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum, 57, spends a considerable amount of time at the family’s Longcross estate in Surrey, but adopts a more conservative lifestyle in keeping with traditional Arab leaders’ spouses.
The sheikh is believed to have 23 children, 12 with Sheikha Hind, two with Princess Haya and the others with four ‘subsidiary’ wives. The only clue to this domestic crisis is from a melancholy poem alleged to have been written by him which talks of ‘betrayal’ and has been posted on an Instagram account linked to him. It includes the phrase ‘you cheated the most precious thing’ and ‘I gave you trust and space…the biggest mistake you did was to lie.’
Sheikh Mohammed is known to enjoy writing poetry.
Meanwhile, back at ostentatious Palace Green, the only sign of activity was the presence of a car full of twitching security men parked outside.
Normally this is an address where you take up residence if you want everyone to know you have arrived — but for Princess Haya it is not just a refuge. It is also a gilded prison.