David Brown and Richard Spencer
July 2, 2019, The Times
The younger wife of the ruler of Dubai is believed to be staying in a town house near Kensington Palace after fleeing her marriage to the billionaire race horse owner.
Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 45, has not been seen in public for weeks. One half of one of the sporting world’s most celebrated couples, she failed to appear at Royal Ascot last month with her husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Since then the Middle East has been flooded with reports that the two have fallen out, and that the princess took their children, aged 11 and 7, first to Germany and then to Britain. There were reports yesterday that Princess Haya was gearing up for a legal battle in Britain.
She is thought to be staying in an £85 million town house near Hyde Park, which she bought apparently without her husband, in 2017.
Sheikh Mohammed, 69, has published mournful verses about her absence. “We have an ailment that no medicine can cure,” one read. “No experts in herbs can remedy this. I have tried and tried again to meet you but my efforts to approach were in vain.”
David Haigh, a lawyer and former managing director of Leeds United, who was jailed in Dubai and campaigns against its legal system, said: “We have been told from various sources, including family, [that Princess Haya] is in London.”
The couple are both close to the Queen and the British royal family through their horse-racing connections. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, the Sandhurst-educated Anglophile who trod a careful balance between the West, the Arab world and Israel for 47 years before his death in 1999. The Prince of Wales attended his funeral.
Her half-brother is King Abdullah II, who is half-British through his mother, Antoinette “Toni” Gardiner, also known as Princess Muna al-Hussein.
Before she married Sheikh Mohammed, Princess Haya studied at Oxford University and represented Jordan in showjumping at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She owns racehorses in her own right. Sheikh Mohammed, who is worth an estimated £4 billion, owns Newmarket’s Godolphin Stables, one of the biggest horse-breeding and training operations in the world.
Princess Haya is said to have origin-ally sought asylum in Germany, perhaps to avoid embarrassing Britain, the former imperial power in the Gulf and still one of the closest western allies of the United Arab Emirates. As well as being ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed serves as prime minister of the federal UAE government.
According to leaks to dissident Middle East websites, he visited Germany last month to try to persuade her to return home, or to ask the German government to return her. She moved to London after his requests were turned down and he made clear that he would not pursue the matter further.
His wife’s close ties to Britain mean there is unlikely to be any objection to her staying. Sheikh Mohammed’s first and “senior” wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum, 57, a cousin, is believed to spend much of her time at the family’s Longcross estate in Surrey. She has a conservative lifestyle more in keeping with traditional Gulf leaders’ wives and has never been photographed in public.
Sheikh Mohammed is thought to have 23 children: 12 with Sheikha Hind, 2 with Princess Haya and the others with 4 subsidiary wives.
Two daughters have tried to flee the family in the past. Sheikha Shamsa ran away from the Longcross estate in 2000, aged 18, but was found and returned to Dubai. Her full sister, Sheikha Latifa, fled by boat last year but was intercepted by the Indian and UAE navies off the coast of Bombay.
Princess Haya later hosted a meeting between Sheikha Latifa and Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and UN human rights commissioner, intended to prove to the world that Sheikha Latifa was being well treated.
The campaign group Detained in Dubai, which released a video tape of Sheikha Latifa giving reasons for her attempt to escape and publicised her recapture, said that the departure of Princess Haya would be a “powerful indictment” of her husband.
“The real questions now are, what prompted Haya to leave, and will she reveal those reasons?” the group’s director, Radha Stirling, said.
An employee of the house at Palace Gardens referred questions about Princess Haya to her private secretary.
A spokesman for the UAE said: “The UAE government does not intend to comment on allegations about individuals’ private lives. As for whether it has raised such an issue with its German counterpart, the answer is no.”
- Princess Stephanie of Monaco, then 36, ran away to join the circus in 2001 with Franco Knie, a married elephant trainer.
- Princess Ubol Ratana of Thailand lost her royal title after marring an American, Peter Jensen, in 1972. She returned in 2001 after their divorce.
- In 2004 two wives of King Mswati III of Swaziland fled to Alexandra and London respectively after falling out with their husband, reportedly after he unveiled another bride.
- Charlene Wittstock, the South African former Olympic swimmer, was said to have tried and failed to abandon her wedding to Monaco’s Prince Albert II: reports that the palace dismissed as “ugly rumours”.