Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee: A reminder of the special ties between the Saudi and British royal families

LONDON: As congratulations poured into London this week from heads of state around the world, two messages in particular recalled the special relationship that blossomed between the Saudi and British royal families throughout the reign of 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II.

Behind the formality of the cables sent by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wishing him “heartfelt congratulations and best health and happiness” on his Platinum Jubilee, lies a history of friendship dating back to the earliest days of his reign. , which began on February 6, 1952.

Her father, King George VI, died that day while Elizabeth, 25, and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were in Kenya on a tour of Africa.

After leaving England a princess, she returned home in mourning as Queen Elizabeth II. His coronation took place on June 2 of the following year.

Among the guests at the coronation were members of four Gulf royal families: the rulers or their representatives of the then British protectorates of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, and Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz, representing the 78-year-old King Abdulaziz, The founder and first monarch of Saudi Arabia, who had only five months to live.

Ties between the Saudi and British monarchies cannot be gauged by the frequency of formal occasions alone, although a review of the state visits record held by Buckingham Palace reveals an illuminating distinction.

Since the Queen succeeded her father, there have been no less than four state visits to Britain by Saudi monarchs, a number matched by only four other countries, including the UK’s close neighbours, the France and Germany.

The first to visit London was King Faisal, who was greeted with all the pomp and ceremony of a full British State welcome at the start of his eight-day visit in May 1967.

Queen Elizabeth II with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in 1967. (AFP/Getty Images)

Met by the Queen, members of the British royal family and leading politicians – including then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson – King Faisal traveled to Buckingham Palace with Elizabeth and Philip in an open carriage drawn by horses, pulled through the streets of London lined with cheering crowds.

During a busy eight-day schedule, the King found time to visit and pray at the Islamic Cultural Center in London.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with King Khaled of Saudi Arabia in 1981. (AFP/Getty Images)

His son, Prince Bandar, who graduated that year from the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, stood in for his father on a visit to inspect English Electric Lightning fighter jets being readied for shipment to Saudi Arabia. Later, the prince would fly Lightnings as a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force.

King Faisal was followed on state visits to Britain by his successors, King Khaled in 1981, King Fahd in 1987 and King Abdullah in 2007.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in 1987. (AFP/Getty Images)

In February 1979, traveling on the Concorde supersonic jet, Queen Elizabeth visited Riyadh and Dhahran on a Gulf tour that also took her to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

In Saudi Arabia, she was hosted by King Khaled and attended a series of events, including a desert picnic and a state dinner at Maathar Palace in Riyadh.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with King Hussein of Jordan in 1955. (AFP/Getty Images)

In return, she and her husband hosted a dinner for the Saudi royal family aboard Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia.

Poignantly, Britannia would return to the Gulf one last time, in January 1997, on her last tour before the royal yacht was decommissioned in December of that year.

However, the relationship between the two royal families has not been limited to major state occasions.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman in 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

Analysis of the Regular Court Circular issued by Buckingham Palace shows that members of the British Royal Family have met Gulf monarchs more than 200 times between 2011 and 2021 alone, the equivalent of once every the fifteen days. Forty of those informal meetings were with members of the House of Saud.

Most recently, in March 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a private audience and lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

He later dined with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge during a visit to the UK which included meetings with then Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson .

Serious topics, such as trade and defense agreements, are often the subject of such meetings. But good-humoured fun, rather than rigid formality, is often the hallmark of private meetings between royal families, as Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006, would later recall.

In 2003, Crown Prince Abdullah, the future King of Saudi Arabia, was the Queen’s guest at Balmoral Castle, her estate in Scotland.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in 2007. (AFP/Getty Images)

It was his first visit to Balmoral and, gladly accepting an invitation to tour the grand estate, he climbed into the passenger seat of a Land Rover, only to find that his driver and guide was to be the Queen herself.

Having served in World War II as an army driver, she always drove herself to Balmoral, where locals are used to seeing her driving around in one of her well-known Land Rovers. loved.

She is also known to have fun at the expense of guests as she smashes one of the vehicles along the narrow lanes and over the estate’s rough terrain.

Queen Elizabeth (2nd right) and Prince Philip (left) receive the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (right) and his wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser at Windsor Castle on October 26 2010. (AFP)

According to Sir Sherard’s account, Prince Abdullah did indeed take the impromptu fairground ride, although at one point, “through his interpreter”, he felt compelled “to implore the Queen of slow down and focus on the road ahead”.

Apart from the commonalities of their royalty, the Queen and the Gulf monarchs have always bonded over their mutual love of horses, a shared interest that dates back at least to 1937, when Elizabeth was an 11-year-old princess.

To mark the occasion of his father’s coronation that year, King Abdulaziz presented King George VI with an Arabian mare.

A life-size bronze statue of the horse, Turfa, was unveiled in 2020 at the Arabian Horse Museum in Diriyah, where it now occupies pride of place.

At the time of the unveiling, Richard Oppenheim, then Britain’s deputy ambassador to Saudi Arabia, highlighted how the two royal families had always bonded over this common interest.

“The Queen has many horses, and King Salman and the Saudi Royal Family also have a long-standing love for horses,” he said.

The Queen also shares that love with Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, owner of the internationally renowned Godolphin Horse Racing Stables and Stud in Newmarket, the birthplace of British horse racing.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai in 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

The two have often been seen together at big events in the horse racing calendar, such as the annual five-day meeting of Royal Ascot, considered the crown jewel of Britain’s social season, which runs this year from 14 to June 18. .

Team Godolphin has had several winners at Royal Ascot, where the Queen’s horses have won more than 70 races since her coronation.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth with the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. (AFP)

This weekend, as flags fly in homes and public buildings, thousands of events are taking place across Britain to mark its platinum jubilee, including street parties; the traditional Trooping the Color at the Horse Guards Parade; gun salutes; a Royal Air Force flyover, watched by the Queen from the balcony of Buckingham Palace; and the lighting of more than 3,000 beacons nationwide.

At the age of 96, Elizabeth – Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and monarch to more than 150 million people – has reached a rare royal milestone not just in Britain, but across the world.

By Friday, she will have reigned for 70 years and 117 days, putting her nine days away from becoming the second-longest-serving monarch in world history.

Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand from 1946 until his death in 2016 at the age of 88, reigned for 70 years and 126 days.

Only Louis XIV of France stayed longer on the throne, reigning between 1643 and 1715, for 72 years and 110 days.

The secret to Elizabeth’s longevity may lie in the words to Britain’s national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, which will be sung heartily at events across the UK this weekend: ‘Long Live to our noble queen…Happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the queen.

Garland K. Long