Sheikha Shamsa was 19 when she took a car and fled, but just weeks later she was found and sent back to Dubai — never to be seen again.
In July 2000, Anastasia’s I’m Outta Love was the number one song on the radio, Sydney was about to host the Olympics and Angelina Jolie had just married Billy Bob Thornton.
And in a spectacular country estate in Britain, a princess was about to make a desperate bid to run away.
That month was the last time Sheikha Shamsa Al-Maktoum, daughter of billionaire Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed al-Maktoum, has been seen in public after she escaped the family’s $134 million UK country compound.
What followed next involved abandoned Range Rovers, secret flights and “zombie” drugs.
For nearly two decades, Sheikha Shamsa’s fate has been a tightly-held secret and the world has largely forgotten her since her escape briefly made headlines in 2000.
However, she is far from the only member of her family to have made a dramatic attempt to flee their billionaire patriarch and life in Dubai.
In 2018, her half-sister Sheikha Latifa made her second attempt to flee Dubai. Then this week it was revealed the girls’ stepmother Princess Haya had fled to Londonwith her two children with the Sheik allegedly because of the treatment her stepdaughter Latifa was subjected to following her escape attempt, The Sun reports.
WHO IS SHEIKHA SHAMSA AL-MAKTOUM?
Sheik Mohammed al-Maktoum is the billionaire leader of the UAE and is believed to have 23 children — 12 from his first and most senior wife, Sheikha Hind, four with subsidiary wives and two with Princess Haya. It is believed Shamsa’s mother was one of Sheik Mohammed’s subsidiary wives.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE FOR THE ROYAL KIDS IN 2000?
Sheik Mohammed is one of the biggest racehorse owners in the world and for years owned the $134 million Longcross estate in Surrey. Every summer, Sheik Mohammed and his large family and enormous retinue would descend on the estate en masse.
Security around the children was exhaustive. Former employees told the Guardianbodyguards and a senior member of estate staff accompanied the kids (who all had code names) every time they left the estate.
Protection officers would track where they went and stay in constant radio contact. There were regular security drills. Entry to the estate was via a guardhouse and electronic gates and there were security cameras covering the vast property.
When Shamsa would go out riding a horse, a bodyguard would be forced to follow along on a mountain bike.
SHAMSA’S DRAMATIC ESCAPE
The first clue the then 19-year-old was missing was when a black Range Rover was found abandoned by the estate’s gates in July 2000, according to the Guardian. What followed was “chaos” according to the same report, with Sheik Mohammed arriving via helicopter from his other UK country property to manage the search for the missing teen, with staff using both horses and cars to scour the area for Sheikha Shamsa. The only thing that was found was her mobile phone, which it was believed she had dumped on purpose.
WHY DID SHE FLEE?
The short answer: freedom.
At the time news of Sheikha Shamsa’s escape broke, a friend said: “She just didn’t like authority, she didn’t want to be told what to do … She just seemed to have a Western girl’s head on her shoulders and a desire for a bit of freedom and perhaps was prepared to pursue that a bit more than the other children or girls, who all knew their place in the family.”
THE CAMBRIDGE KIDNAPPING
A woman claiming to be Sheikha Shamsa and her sister Sheikha Latifa have both alleged that one month after the escape, Sheik Mohammed’s security staff tracked the runaway royal down in August 2000 and forced her out of the country via private jet, ultimately home to Dubai.
In 2001, a woman who identified herself as Sheikha Shamsa contacted a UK solicitor and revealed details of the incident. In 2018, Sheikha Latifa posted a video in which she said of Shamsa’s ordeal: “Basically, a bunch of guys in a car drove up and grabbed her, kicking and screaming, threw her in the car.”
WHY DIDN’T THE POLICE DO ANYTHING?
They tried. After the woman identifying herself as Sheikha Shamsa got a message to that lawyer in 2001, he contacted police. They, in turn, started to attempt to investigate what had happened.
DCI David Beck from Cambridgeshire Police was put on the case, but his request to enter Dubai to speak to Sheikha Shamsa was denied. The Mirror has reported evidence found by DCI Beck “suggested that there may be some substance to what was being alleged”.
In December 2001, British ministers claimed Sheik Mohammed had “tried to intervene with the British government over the ongoing police investigation into the allegations”.
SO WHERE IS SHEIKHA SHAMSA NOW?
It is believed she is in Dubai. The BBC has reported Sheikha Shamsa has contacted British journalists in recent years about her situation.
Sheikha Latifa revealed in a video last year when she first saw her sister after she had been back in the UAE for eight years: “She was in a very bad state. She had to be led around by her hand. She wouldn’t open her eyes, I don’t know why. They would make her eat, then give her a bunch of pills to control her basically. The pills made her like a zombie.
“Right now she’s surrounded by nurses. They are in her room when she sleeps, they take notes of when she wakes up, when she sleeps, when she eats, what she eats, what she says, the conversation she says. These drugs control her mind, I don’t know what they are.
“And so her life is totally controlled.”