| Trinket trouble: The late King Fahd
The truth behind Diana’s diamonds
King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, who died last week, aged 84, was on the whole a kindly man but he once got me into terrible trouble.
This was when the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, as His Majesty preferred to be called, gave a lot of jewellery to Princess Diana, who was paying an official visit to the kingdom ' and I had accompanied her and Prince Charles as part of the press party.
I reported that Diana had received trinkets worth a million pounds. All hell broke loose. This was because Buckingham Palace had previously briefed the press that the British and Arab sides ' Charles and Diana were doing a tour of Gulf states ' would exchange only nominal gifts.
I knew people in Saudi Arabia which I used to visit quite a bit in those days. The King’s personal jeweller, who happened to be Indian, disclosed that Fahd would slip several rings onto his plump fingers and murmur dreamily, “Come back in the morning because tonight I am going to go to bed wearing all your rings.”
One of Fahd’s sons also made it clear that it was inconceivable that such a pretty princess (whom they all fancied like mad) would go away empty-handed.
Buckingham Palace hit the roof when my story appeared and called it fabricated. Jean Rook of the Daily Express, who was known as “the First Lady of Fleet Street”, gave me a public dressing down: “How dare you show your face! We are supposed to make stories up, not you.”
TV cameras were switched on as my colleagues turned on me with vengeance: “Are you considering your position'”
The point is that Charles and Diana went to Saudi Arabia because the kingdom was considered a vital Western ally. Its royal family, from Fahd down, were outrageously flattered and exploited by the West. But after 9/11 and the emergence of Brother Osama, Saudi Arabia and its ruler went from hero to zero.
Saudi Arabia’s problem is that it contains a) the world’s biggest oil reserves and b) Mecca and Medina. As the country which lays down the benchmark for the religion, it cannot deviate from rigid Wahabbi Islam.
I learnt much from a traumatised driver from the Indian embassy who had joined the curious after Friday prayers to witness a beheading in Riyadh ' “the head rolled down to my feet, the eyes opened and looked at me, blinked and then shut.”
Two years after Diana’s visit, by the way, my colleagues were gracious enough to apologise when the princess publicly wore the diamonds she had been gifted on that tour. Andrew Morton, who was also on that tour (and who was later to reveal the marriage rift between Charles and Diana), wrote a book on royal jewellery and devoted chapter three to how he and the others had (unfairly) crucified me in the desert sun.
| Laughter, the best medicine: Shazia Mirza
If you take the London bombings of July 7 and 21, there were five black men allegedly involved, against three Pakistanis. Yet, there has been no discernible backlash against Britain’s African and Caribbean population, nor has anyone questioned their loyalty to Queen and country.
This could be partly due to black sporting stars. It is quite common to find black athletes, Union flags wrapped around them, brushing away tears as they stand on a podium to the strains of God Save the Queen. Linford Christie, Dame Kelly Holmes, and Denise Lewis have helped ensure that it is much easier to be “black and British”.
This is why high expectations have been aroused by the Nottingham opening batsman, Bilal Shafayat, 21, about whom I wrote more than two years ago when he was the England U-19 captain. Despite the bombings, Bilal, whose father came from Pakistan, does not intend to shave off his Islamic beard.
“I had grown a beard because the Prophet Mohammed had a beard and I wanted to look like him in a way,” explains Bilal.
He would be a valuable Muslim role model were he to get into the England side and go on to be its captain (Nasser Hussain didn’t project his Muslimness).
Another role model, the Muslim comedienne Shazia Mirza, rang before flying off to the Edinburgh festival. After 9/11, she said, “My name’s Shazia Mirza, at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence,” but she is not sure whether she can risk jokes about suicide bombers (e.g. “does my bomb look big in this'”)
|Bollywood buzz: Rachel Shelley
Just when we feared Rachel Shelley was disappearing from view, she has been in touch to say she has been in an American TV series, The L Word, which follows a group of lesbians in Los Angeles. This is now being shown in Britain.
“The women love it because ultimately it addresses complex female relationships,” she says.
I always thought Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) should have gone off with the Elizabeth Russell character Rachel played in Lagaan.
Judging by the reaction to Fire, the jump from Lagaan to lesbians is one for which not everyone in India may be prepared.
British visitors who arrive believing that “India is the land of holy cows” quickly have their opinions confirmed when they find the animals resting right in the middle of busy traffic junctions, while lorries, buses and cars thoughtfully go around them.
England can be equally eccentric. My wife says she was taking a bus from the Cathedral city of Ely to the racing town of Newmarket in deepest Cambridgeshire last week when she found traffic coming to a standstill and a long tailback building up in both directions.
Play was halted by a mother duck which was crossing the busy road with her 16 ducklings, all of whom she clearly regarded as beautiful. She got across to the central aisle, gathered her brood and then crossed over and disappeared into the bushes on the other side.
Only after the last duckling was safely across did traffic resume. Not a single person hit the horn for everyone accepted that ducks have right of way.
Our office bus driver, who spent '650 on buying 13 tickets for family members to enjoy A.R. Rahman’s much anticipated concert in London, feels he has had his money’s worth. But the event very nearly did not take place.
Rahman urged the packed Wembley Arena to offer extra applause for his large orchestra because “they had to wade eight miles to the airport through the Mumbai floods”.
| Inside outside: Antonietta Sonessa
The British were hoping that Hussein Osman (real name Hamdi Isaac), the 27-year-old Ethiopian wanted for the July 21 attack on London, would be extradited as speedily as possible from Rome, where he was arrested.
But British journalists sent to Italy would not mind dragging out the story a bit ' they have taken a shine to his “sex bomb” lawyer, Antonietta Sonessa. One paper has discussed the most important part of the case ' “is the white lacy strap she is wearing part of a bra or a second vest”'