Strange tales of a lonely, pampered princess

2014-04-27 15:00

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A South African woman who was employed by a Saudi Arabian princess for four months has lifted the veil on the unbridled opulence that cocoons Saudi Arabian ­royals and the startling class segregation system that characterises the culture.

Cay Garcia has written a book called Behind Palace Walls: Life in the Service of a Saudi ­Princess, which sketches a fascinating picture of royal dining rooms the size of rugby fields, complete with mosaic-embellished swimming pools that flank buffet tables groaning under strawberries stacked 2m high.

It also sheds startling insight into the loneliness of 27-year-old Princess Arabella, which is not her real name, who spends her days locked in her palatial room surrounded by three ­computers on her bed, updating four fake ­Facebook accounts.

Around her are boxes filled with possessions bought during a recent trip to Paris – all ­unopened – and more boxes full of expired antidepressants.

The book details how the princess torments her staff with hissy fits that have most of them swollen-eyed from crying for days on end.

“She thrives on drama as it makes her own life more ­exciting,” states the author, who wrote the book under a pseudonym.

This week, City Press interviewed 54-year-old “Mrs C” – as the princess liked to call her.

Garcia grew up in Pretoria and moved to Cape Town in 1985. She was working at a high-end jewellery store at the Canal Walk shopping centre when she decided to embark on a new adventure and enrolled at a local butler school.

She landed a job as the personal assistant and palace manager to a ­princess in the Royal House of Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital.

Riyadh is shrouded in mystery and no tourists are ­allowed there.

“Infidels”, or nonbelievers, are only allowed in if they are sponsored by an employer.

“In the holy city of Riyadh, they are so conservative, to add insult to injury, women are only permitted to wear black abayas [cloaks worn as an outer garment over clothing], whereas in Saudi’s coastal cities, they may wear pastel ones.

“I mean let’s face it, black isn’t everyone’s colour, you know,” says Garcia.

What’s more, if the mutawa (religious police) catch women speaking to men who are not their husbands or relatives, they can land in jail for prostitution.

Garcia took a risk and ­embarked on a steamy love affair with a Lebanese man who called her his habibi (darling).

Garcia’s contract began on October 1 2012.

She describes in lavish detail Princess Arabella’s palace, which has kitchens on four of the five floors. In these kitchens, Garcia one day collects 18 boxes of expired groceries, including two boxes of expired medication, mostly antidepressants.

The palace contains only plastic plants and ­flowers because the princess is petrified of bugs.

Garcia relays an argument during which the princess snapped at her for addressing her as “Princess”, insisting on being called “Your ­Highness”, which she says was unusually uppity even

by Saudi royal standards.

During another screaming match, the raven-haired Arabian beauty screamed at her: “You are a butler! You shouldn’t have any emotions! I have watched Downton Abbey [a British TV series] and you are nothing like that butler!”

Garcia states her disgust: “For the first time, I feel a strong dislike for this slip of a girl who ­believes she is superior to the rest of mankind – by accident of birth.

“The royal family owns Saudi Arabia. They are not above the law; they are the law.”

When Princess Arabella sends Garcia for psychiatric evaluation after an argument, the Saudi Arabian doctor tells her: “Never show your intelligence to any member of the royal family, as they all suffer from inferiority complexes.”

She couldn’t believe her ears: “Surely, this man must know that criticising the royal family is punishable by death?”

Garcia returned to South Africa early last year after ­arguments with the princess made life in Riyadh impossible.

She submitted 59?000 words on the adventure to Tafelberg publishers in December.

When asked if she would recommend the experience to others, she says: “It was amazing, but be careful what you wish for, hey.”

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