Inside the Secret World of Arab Playboys
The death of Sheikh Rashid, eldest son of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed, has shone a light on the high-spending, party-mad lifestyles of Arab playboys like him.
Did Majed Abulaziz al-Saud, a 28-year-old Saudi prince, sexually accost five women at a Beverly Hills compound, as police are now investigating, and which The Daily Beast reported Friday? This scandal broke following the end of another reportedly scandalous life. Monday in Dubai marked the end of the official grieving period for Sheikh Rashid, the fast-living eldest son of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed.
Rashid died, age 33, of a heart attack on September 19, according to the official account.
The royal family of the oil-rich emirate will no doubt be hoping that the conclusion of the mourning period will bring down the curtain. For many years speculation ran rampant that the charming and glamorous Prince Rashid, who lived a glittering life amply accessorized with racehorses, fast cars, and beautiful women, was a persistent drug abuser and sex addict.
In the UAE, the prince’s death has been greeted with hagiographic official obituaries.
In the West, however, the demise of Rashid has cast a rare beam of light on the secret world of the Arab playboys who flock every summer to escape the intense heat of the Middle East, and spend vast amounts of money on Western debaucheries.
The alleged behavior of some of these Arab princelings was highlighted again on Friday, after Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud was reportedly accused of attempting to force an employee to give him oral sex, before more reports of him sexually accosting five women surfaced.
This came just weeks after Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar’s ruling family fled the U.S. after being accused of drag racing his yellow Ferrari through LA while staying at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
In London, citizens are well used to this nonsense. The influx of oil-rich millionaires to the city has become an annual summer ritual, the most notable signifier of which are the serried ranks of gaudy customized luxury cars—gold-plated Range Rover, anyone?—parked outside landmarks like the Dorchester Hotel, Claridges, and Harrods.
The playboys, from oil-rich countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait, fly the prized vehicles to London for the season, at a cost of around $30,000.
Indeed, Qatar Airways gives over entire jets to the transport of cars to and from the Middle East in the summer.
“It is utterly bizarre,” says one London-based aristocrat. “You can still get a table for tea at Claridges in July, but it is absolutely full of Arabs. I am quite often the only English person there.”
Daniel Hallworth, a fixer who specializes in the temporary importation of cars to Europe for Arab clients, says the playboys who descend on London each summer are extremely rich and, although keen to flaunt their wealth, are also very private.
“Most of these guys are aged between 21 and 25, and there is serious oil money back home. They come to London to let their hair down, because life back home is actually very strict and quite dull. They don’t get to fly around and do crazy things. They come over here for the summer to have fun before they go back home and get married.
“We fly the cars to Heathrow, and get them put on temporary import. They usually come to London in July, and how long they stay depends on the weather. If it is raining a lot, like it was this year, they’ll get bored and head on to the South of France after a couple of weeks.”
Hallworth describes the playboys as demanding clients to deal with: “Anything they want done it has to be done now—tomorrow is no good.
“A lot of them stay in investment properties that they own, or else they take suites at the big hotels. The Dorchester is very popular because there is a car park out the front.
“They are mostly actually very sheltered. They are not really paranoid, but they are private. They don’t want anyone to know who they are or what they are doing. They give a lot of one-word answers. They are happy for people to look at their cars, but they wouldn’t tell just anyone their name.”
Frequently, irritation with the playboys boils over—a usually mild-mannered pensioner was found guilty of criminal damage in court the other day after keying a supercar that was racing up and down Sloane Street.
John MacGowan, of Islington, central London, told the court: “I came onto Sloane Street to be faced by an appalling noise caused by cars gunning in the street.
“Me and my friend found the noise painful as well as annoying and I asked a policeman to stop the first car, but it took no notice of the police."
“I stood in front and out of sheer frustration I just scratched the car."
The late Sheikh Rashid, who attended Sandhurst, the British Army’s officer training camp, is known to have been a regular visitor to London.
Given his father’s vast wealth, and a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at $1.9 billion, it is perhaps unsurprising that even by the standards of his fellow Arab playboys, Rashid’s excess was notable, with allegations of wild, non-stop parties at central London hotels now doing the rounds.
While it is predominantly males who live the high life in the West, the royal womenfolk of the Middle East are not above a bit of high-rolling in Europe’s capitals.
They often prefer Paris to London (for the shopping), staying in the George V or the Plaza Athénée (owned by the Sultan of Brunei).
Getting payment can, however, be an issue.
Take, for example Princess Maha bint Mohammed bin Ahmad al-Sudairi, sister-in-law of the late King Abdullah, who reportedly attempted to flee Paris’s five-star Shangri-La Hotel, where she and her retinue had occupied 41 rooms for five months—leaving behind a bill of more than $7 million.
The bill was reportedly settled within 48 hours by senior figures in the Saudi royal family, and Maha has now been “grounded” in Saudi Arabia in perpetuity.
Sheikh Rashid similarly fell into disfavor with his father, and was stripped of his order in the succession in 2008 in favor of his younger brother, Sheikh Hamden.
Rashid’s involvement in a homicide was said to be behind the change in succession, as revealed in a confidential memo sent from the U.S. consulate in Dubai back to Washington published by Wikileaks.
Acting consul general David Williams wrote: “It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler’s office, thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir.”
The astonishing claim was never proved.
In his final years, he was only infrequently allowed out of Dubai. The trips to London were curtailed. In 2011 a staff member told how he was sent to rehab by his family.
For the last few years of his life, Rashid was kept tucked away out of sight. He has been largely excised from digital records—it is surprisingly tricky to find much evidence of Rashid’s existence on the Internet. All but a few official images of him have been removed from the Web. Many of the pictures published of him in the last few days by the global media have actually featured his surviving brother, Hamden.
Although the sheik faced criticism at home for depriving his son of his royal birthright, any lingering doubts about the wisdom of Sheikh Mohammed’s decision have now been quashed by his death.
Meanwhile, the merry-go-round of money, bling, parties, and fast cars continues for his jet-setting compadres.