In the wake of the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Friday, discussions and stories about the Saudi leader’s life and policies have dominated the news media. One such story is a humorous anecdote about the king’s apparently harrowing encounter with Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.
How harrowing? The queen is rumored to have “terrorized” then-Crown Prince Abdullah with her driving skills, learned during World War II when she was but a princess and trained as a mechanic and military truck driver for the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service of the British Army.
Princess Elizabeth standing by an Auxiliary Territorial Service first aid truck wearing an officer's uniform in 1945.
The story was excerpted in The Sunday Times from a memoir by British diplomat Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2003. It begins with Abdullah -- then the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia -- visiting Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland.
“After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate,” wrote Cowper-Coles, who is said to have heard the tale from both Elizabeth and Abdullah themselves. “Prompted by his foreign minister the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah had agreed. The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, his interpreter in the seat behind.”
Little did Abdullah know, however, that his driver for the day would be none other than Elizabeth herself.
“To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off,” Cowper-Coles wrote. “Women are not -- yet -- allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.”
Not to mention a queen who can drive like the wind. According to Cowper-Coles, Elizabeth didn’t just drive the SUV, but rapidly whizzed along the estate’s roads as she chatted, prompting Abdullah to become increasingly anxious.
“Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead,” the diplomat said.
According to The Guardian, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving. Human rights activists have been campaigning for years to have the ban lifted.
Read the whole account, from Cowper-Coles' book "Ever the Diplomat," here:
— Shashank Joshi (@shashj) January 23, 2015
The British royal family said Friday that Prince Charles, “representing Her Majesty The Queen,” will be traveling to Saudi Arabia to “pay his condolences” following the death of King Abdullah, per The Independent.
With his death, Elizabeth, 88, has become the oldest monarch in the world. Abdullah is believed to have been about 90 at the time of his passing.