And with the king, five plane-loads of advisers
The Telegraph, October 30, 2007
By Caroline Gammell
Arriving at Heathrow yesterday afternoon, it is understood that five Saudi Arabian planes flew King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud and his followers on his first state visit to the UK.
His 23-strong official all-male entourage is said to include just 13 members of the Saudi royal family but it is understood that hundreds of other people have accompanied the monarch on his four-day trip.
Among them are up to 30 advisers including members of his cabinet, interpreters, economists and specialists familiar with Britain.
More than 100 officials have been brought over to tend to all King Abdullah’s personal needs including cooks, maids and barbers. A number of his wives — he has married over 30 times in his life — may also be in attendance.
The 84-year-old, who suffers heart problems and is not in good health, is thought to have brought a number of doctors and nurses. One source said he would “effectively have a travelling clinic with him”.
The final large section of the entourage is the king’s security, with personal protection officers and officials to liaise with the Saudi community in the UK. Dr Youssef Choueiri, who teaches Islamic studies at Manchester University, said: “The enormous entourage, the things they carry around with them — this is the trademark of the Saudi Arabian royal family.
“They are the only family who still conduct themselves in this way, they are used to having such huge numbers of people around them.”
The 13 male family members accompanying King Abdullah — including his national security adviser, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who has been linked to last year’s controversial defence fraud investigation — will stay with him at Buckingham Palace. The rest of the party are expected to stay in Mayfair for their three nights in Britain.
Claridges is said to be a favourite, with entire floors booked out in name of the House of Saud in the past. Also popular with the Saudi royal family — particularly King Abdullah’s late brother and predecessor, King Fahd — are the opulent surroundings of The Dorchester on Park Lane.
The king’s schedule is busy, with meetings with the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales, but it is thought that he and his party will have a certain amount of time at leisure before they leave on Thursday. Said K Aburish, a critic of the Saudi royal family and author of The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, said shopping, eating and evening entertainment would be enjoyed.
But he said King Abdullah was not nearly as extravagant as his brother King Fahd, who apparently once lost $6?million in three hours at the Monte Carlo casino.
Shopping will certainly be on the agenda and Harrods is expected to keep its doors open past its usual 8pm closing time, to allow the younger members of King Abdullah’s entourage full access to the department store — an honour extended in the past to dignitaries including the pop stars Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.