“Can you imagine if the couple knew that it was Sheikh Mohammed photo bombing them?” Emirates Woman gets a rare sit-down with HRH Princess Haya, who opens up about her family life in a candid – and touching – interview.
Yesterday I had breakfast with a princess. Not just any princess, mind, but the glorious, gracious, refreshingly approachable and wonderfully chatty HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein.
Hosting a small, select group of media to an intimate morning on the breezy terrace of Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah’s Al Fayrooz Lounge, HRH Princess Haya circulated among guests in a relaxed and open manner, eager to regale us with stories ranging from photo bombing to social media and scorpions, while ensuring that every individual enjoyed one-on-one time with her. Such was her personable demeanour that I think it’s safe to say we all had to keep reminding ourselves that we were, in fact, in the presence of royalty.
HRH Princess Haya arrived looking as radiant as ever with an all-inclusive smile that permanently lights up her face. Honestly, if she didn’t already fill such imperative roles in society as a UN Messenger of Peace, the Chairperson of Dubai’s International Humanitarian City and wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, she would be the perfect candidate for the next Minister of Happiness role. Cheerfulness and positivity seem to radiate out of her every fibre.
“Thank you for writing such nice things about me,” HRH Princess Haya beams as soon as we are introduced – referring to my interview with her for the 35th anniversary issue of Emirates Woman. (The issue, for the record, was one of our most talked-about ever – proving the power of the UAE royals).
HRH Princess Haya admits she was at first reluctant to embrace social media, but has of late become more involved because she does see the benefit in it, especially when it is bringing light to much-needed charitable causes such as Haiti – where she personally oversaw the distribution of relief supplies following Hurricane Matthew.
“I always wanted to be a journalist,” HRH Princess Haya reveals, “and I’m passionate about newspapers and magazines – about holding the paper in my hand. So I was worried that conventional journalism was going to die out. But I can see that there’s a place for both. As long as social media does not become about the individual who is posting it. You have to know where to draw the line.”
It’s refreshing to note that as informal as the princess is, no one is allowed to take selfies with her, making it a morning where people are forced to put away their smartphones and really engage.
As effortlessly elegant as ever, HRH Princess Haya is wearing a patterned black, yellow and cream kaftan and comfortable flat black sandals, accessorised with a black and gold Louis Vuitton handbag. With her hair tied into a high ponytail she looks incredibly youthful – it’s difficult to believe that she’s 42 years old. The look is finished off not with a Cartier or Rolex watch, but rather a bright purple Fitbit to ensure she gets her 10,000 steps in every day.
“It’s the new one,” she tells me, “so you can pause the stopwatch. I’m training for the 24–hour, 90-kilometre walkathon.” Arranged by Dubai Sports Council on November 17 to 18 as part of their newly-launched Hamdan Bin Mohammed Sports Community Initiative, the walk will start at Zabeel Park passing prominent Dubai landmarks and utilising the various walk tracks at parks and beaches.
The keen sportswoman, who was the first female to represent Jordan in international equestrian sport, still occasionally rides horses, but predominantly for the benefit (and safety) of her children HH Sheikha Al Jalila bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who turns nine next month, and four-year-old HH Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“I ride horses now mainly to jump onto my kids’ ponies to check them out before they get onto them, because you know when horses are fresh they are like people – they can get jumpy – so if I see they’re not ready for the children, I jump on – the kids find it funny.”
When I ask if both her children share her talent and her passion for horse riding she answers, “Zayed just loves everything that his father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, does.”
“He absolutely loves the desert,” she continues, “everything that papa does!” She jokes that when they are putting everything in the laundry at the end of the day she’s always finding lizards and bugs in Zayed’s pockets. “Sheikh Mohammed is great. He believes that the kids need to get dirty every day to have fun! It’s also really good for their immunity.”
As a warm and compassionate mother, she admits it was traumatising to witness her daughter get stung by a bee when she was just two, but that her husband not only helped to keep her calm, he insisted that Jalila ride it out as a way of boosting her tolerance. Sheikh Mohammed himself built up a resistance to scorpion stings from a young age, thanks to the elders in the tribe purposefully stinging the children to increase their resilience.
“They were the small white ones,” she is quick to point out, “so they weren’t deathly, but Sheikh Mohammed was always waking up finding scorpions in his bed. They used to sit by the fire with hot coals to warm the area that had been stung. With scorpions, it’s not actually the venom that kills you, but the pain, as the poison stays localised, so slowly you start to get used to it.”
There’s a sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her husband, and her admiration for him and her children is palpable.
She is also full of praise for Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with whom she spent time on their recent visit to Dubai.
“They came to see the International Humanitarian City (IHC) and I also went with the Duchess of Cornwall to the Al Jalila Foundation. They were both lovely. I felt sorry for them though as they visited three countries in around three days – it’s a lot of hard work. They were giving a lot of their time to everyone too – they spoke to many people and made a huge effort with everyone they met,” HRH Princess Haya says.
“Unfortunately,” is her concise answer when asked if she travels much, but she says her schedule is not nearly as hectic as that of the Prince of Wales and the Princess Consort.
“I usually travel once every three weeks for about one day.”
Unlike Camilla, who was photographed with four, martial-arts-trained female Emirati bodyguards while she was in the UAE, HRH Princess Haya travels with male bodyguards as that’s how she grew up and what she’s used to. “If a woman suddenly told me to sit down, I would be like ‘why?’”
Tucking into our dainty portions of fresh fruit, bircher muesli, eggs benedict, smoked salmon, pancakes and muffins, HRH Princess Haya surveys the scene before her. Taking in the latticed balcony overlooking the verdant grounds of Al Qasrand the twinkling ocean, again she is effusive about the high regard she has for her husband. “Sheikh Mohammed brought me here long before this hotel was built, when it was just a pile of sand, to talk over his plans for the area. His vision is truly incredible.”
She leaves us with a good-humoured anecdote that took place on the very beach before us. “We used to come here often as the hotel is full of tourists, so no one recognises us. One day Jalila wanted to go down to see a wedding that was taking place so we all got as close as we could to the bride, only to have the photographer ask us to please move as we were in the frame. Can you imagine if the couple knew that it was Sheikh Mohammed photo bombing them?” she giggles.
We’re pretty sure the newlyweds would be mortified to learn that they’d missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. If it were us the photographer would have been fired.
Images: Supplied, courtesy of HRH Princess Haya