When the late King Fahd was his country’s crown prince he was in charge of the 1979 royal tour of his country by the Australian head of state and her husband – and this correspondent was the only Australian reporter accredited to cover it. The crown prince made a remarkable decision – for the purposes of protocol, the Queen was decreed to be an “honorary man” so he/she could be received by the then king!

For purposes of sheer pragmatism and of course with trade contracts in mind, British PM James Callaghan insisted Buckingham Palace go along with this bizarre situation. The tour took in all the states of the Arabian Gulf – and was incredible from beginning to end. But the riches of Saudi Arabia outshone all the others. I managed to get an interview with Fahd – conducted through an interpreter – but interesting nevertheless. It took place the morning after a banquet given in the Queen’s honour – a huge silk and carpet lined air-conditioned marquee was erected in the desert just outside Riyadh – and the guests were Saudi men. The only women, who were decreed to be men anyway, were our head of state and two attendants, the Duchess of Grafton and Lady Susan Hussey.

I asked the crown prince if he was impressed with the gift the queen gave his king – a silver tray engraved with the outline of the royal yacht Britannia; no comment. I asked one of the queen’s spokesmen what she thought of the urn of precious stones given her; her majesty was overwhelmed; oops that should be “pleased to accept it.” The Arabs at the banquet fled as soon as they had eaten, leaving a smattering of European men at tables and of course the royal party. As he/she walked passed me as he/she left at 9pm, he/she remarked quietly: “We are having an early night!” Oh dear – the stuff dreams are made of.

Peter Fray

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