01 Apr 2006

For a Noble Cause

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, impresses on many fronts, not least of all her strength of character and conviction in the causes she believes in.

Princes Haya Bint Al Hussein is, well... totally disarming. With an instant greeting, warm smile and a friendly handshake, all dispensed simultaneously in a genuine manner, she disarms both apprehensions and the old-fashioned notions of what it is like to encounter a member of royalty.

She is the thinking man’s (and woman’s) idea of nobility. Very modern, very new millennium and very with it. Looking petite and pretty in apple green, an hour spent talking to her leaves one very impressed by the level of her dedication to the causes she believes in.

Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. She is married to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Haya is in town to attend the FEI general assembly which is being hosted in Kuala Lumpur (April 27 to May 2, 2006). She is also running for the presidency of FEI, which is the Federation Equestre Internationale, French for the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.

The FEI presidency election is a three-way contest and she has easily been the most visible contestant so far, instinctively touching base with the media here a few hours after she arrived in town. And that is basically her strength ­— effective communications skills, which is crucial in today’s highly-connected world. She has some interesting answers, when asked if she is a big fan of technology, especially after this writer saw her impressive online campaign for the FEI presidency, having registered the domain name www.fei-presidency.com no less! “Obviously, I have a fantastic team around me in my office and we work on a number of different projects. So, I have a very good back-up, I am not alone. “I think it is very natural to have a campaign website. One of the things we strongly believe in is in enabling the FEI and bringing it into a communications phase that’s fit for the 21st century. “Communications is very important to the international federation (of equestrian sports) ­— so having that website is important. Obviously the domain name gets a wider variety of people because they are actually looking for election information and they get us ­—rather than if they were looking for one candidate. So it was very natural,” she says in fluent English with a solid boarding-school timbre in her intonation and turn of phrase.

Haya is an Oxford graduate. She studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at St Hilda’s College. She speaks English, French, German and Arabic fluently. Although determined to deploy technology where communications is vital, on a personal note where her private life is concerned, she does prefer the oasis of calm that a life with minimal technological enablement assures. “(In my private life), I am not a highly technological person. I think technology is the way as well as the word of the moment and in order to function properly, you need to keep abreast of what is available and be able to be in constant communication with everybody.

“Personally, I do use what I need to but I do prefer nature and paper and pencils and writing. But I think the thing I probably use the most are the e-mail and mobile telephone,” she explains Do you have a Blackberry? “No, not yet,” she laughs. Do you plan to get one, then? “I am planning to get a Blackberry sometime soon, although I think there is something scary about being constantly available (via technology).”

Six years old when she got her first horse, the soon-to-be 32-year-old princess owns seven horses now. “They are jumping horses. They were my late father’s horses and I am keeping them. They are a little bit old now but they are very very good friends,” she says fondly. These horses are stabled in Dubai in winter and are moved to England for the summer, along with other race horses. She takes owning horses very seriously and points out that it is a huge social responsibility to look after the animals. “Horses, like all animals, don’t have the benefit of communicating in words like we do, so you have an enormous responsibility to take care of them once you have made a decision to be involved.” She pronounces that anyone who comes into contact with horses will end up loving them very much. “It is beautiful that where ever you travel, horses bring so many people together,” she says.

With the speed at which the world is moving today, it seemed appropriate to ask her if, in her dealings with the media, she was only comfortable to tread on safe or even cute topics or was she also confident in dealing with tougher issues and her answer seems appropriate. “I am very comfortable (talking about tougher issues). Whether in an interview, talking to a stranger or meeting someone new I think that if you are open and honest in what you answer and if you don’t fabricate answers and stay true to what your character is, that’s the best way to be in life, rather than stray from your real character,” she says.

Do you follow world politics? Do you keep tabs of current events?

“Yes. I watch the news three or four times a day. I grew up pretty much with parents who made sure we watched the news.”

What are your observations of the goings on around the world? What are you keen on?

“Obviously I am very keen on my work with the World Food Programme (a United Nations food aid programme). The fact is that I can see that, you know, coming from the Middle East and coming from a troubled region, there is so much going on in world politics which is so unnecessary. “When we are faced with so many natural disasters and we have issues like famine to deal with, I think in this day and age, it is unacceptable to have hungry people in the world and to be fighting wars.” It seemed only natural for her, and rightly so, to add, “I come from a family that has always fought for peace around the world. My late father was really a champion for it and my brother carries on his legacy.”

Haya is also a voracious reader and reads everything she can get her hands on, “but mostly I love history ­— I like to learn about other parts of the world.” Her multilingual skills also helps her expand her horizon and her natural curiosity about people. “I have always wanted to learn more about people and be able to understand them and be able to talk to them. And I think that communicating with other people in their own language allows you to know them so much more. And in so many different cultures, the language is a clear indicator of their character. It was something that my late father very much encouraged,” she explains.

After FEI, will you be involved in other organisations? “FEI is my priority and, actually, sole objective. I have been very committed for a year to study the FEI, to listening to people, learning what the different national federations want. It has become a big part of my life and has become a full time job. “Campaigning for the FEI presidency actually only started two or three months ago. “I am fully dedicated to the FEI and as a result I haven’t looked into the future. Probably, communications being so important, if I was to get this job, I would be looking at making sure that horsesports had the best communications strategy compared to other international sports federations. I really, really look forward to seeing that horsesport gets the exposure it deserves.

What is your best memory of childhood? Not surprisingly, she instinctively says, with a big smile: “Riding horses, defintely!” Like a true leader meant for great things, she neatly ties up the interview, by adding, “It (horse riding) was such a passion for me and an all-encompassing part of my life and now to have it linked to the FEI ­— I have been so lucky to have dreams of riding in the Olympic Games and managed to get there (she competed in Sydney 2000). “I am so lucky for being a person who has seen so many good things happen. And now to be running for the presidency and to actually be able to experience all of these is a fantastic experience really.”