Chapter 44: King Hussein of Jordan

It was now some 20 years since King Hussein had returned to Amman to assume the active role of monarchy. I had followed his career with interest to the extent of reading any information available in newspapers. I had expected no more, but all that was going to change. We attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and were strolling around, as one does, when a figure broke away from his own party, at the trot, and greeted us warmly. It was King Hussein. He was very much his own man and reacted naturally to his emotional feeling without bowing to decorum. This moment was the start of a very happy train of events that would last for the rest of his life.

In 1974 King Hussein’s 40th birthday was to be celebrated in a grand manner. The Jordanian Embassy told me that he wished to include friends from Britain. They were notifying two named schoolfriends from Harrow. Would I choose an officer who had been amongst the cadets with him at Sandhurst and head the group?

In the event we started out on an adventure of rare quality. The function itself was a colourful display in a country with a long history. Amman itself was important more than 2000 years ago. An encyclopaedia describes it as having ruins including ‘Byzantine basilica, baths, theatre, temple, etc’ and that is only Amman. We were delighted to discover that a tour of the country had been planned for us after the few days of celebrations were over. The colourful events in the capital showed off a wide variety of national and tribal dress and the general festival fever gripped everyone there. I was interested to meet Crown Prince Hassan, another most impressive member of the Royal family.

Before leaving Amman we had visited Jerash, thirty miles to the north. It was a Roman city dating from 170 BC. Much of the original colonnaded stonework is still standing to induce the feeling of a delightful and prosperous caravan trade centre. Heading south there were ancient castles before reaching Petra, the secret valley developed by the Nabateians in antiquity and a great showpiece in world terms. Some days were spent at Aqaba at the southern tip of the country which was fast becoming a popular tourist resort. Returning to Amman an invitation from King Hussein enabled us all to meet him in relaxed surroundings and thank him for superlative hospitality in his fascinating kingdom.

Over the years greetings were exchanged at appropriate times and our interest and admiration increased as Jordan’s great leader became firmly established as a world figure. His son, Prince Abdullah, followed in his father’s footsteps and entered Sandhurst as a cadet. For the Queen’s Parade, the moment of passing out from cadet to commissioned officer, King Hussein had been invited to take the salute as her representative. We were invited to attend and it was a great ceremony in bright sunshine. In the milling crowd after the parade dismissed a young cadet miraculously discovered me. It was Prince Abdullah who shook my hand saying, “I had to meet my father’s Company Commander”. It was another illustration of the humanity of his splendid family.

It was in April 1987 that my blind brother Nigel died sitting peacefully in his window seat at Southill. With his limited sight he had been a popular and active contributor in many ways. For us this was surely a family affair with support from the family and the many friends he had made. We were astonished therefore when a letter from King Hussein was delivered, saying how sorry he was to learn of our loss and perhaps Sheelah and I would welcome the opportunity to visit Jordan together as his guests. A decision was easily made and we set forth on the happiest expedition imaginable.

From leaving our house to delivery back there some weeks later, everything had been arranged in detail. A chauffeur arrived to take us to our flight and Jordan Airways delivered us to Amman where VIP organisation passed us through to a Mercedes with a Warrant Officer driver who was to be ours for the duration. The programme for our stay was revealed at our hotel. Our travels were comprehensive but there is little room for a travelogue. Amman itself is full of interest as are the desert castles to the east. Jerash has been mentioned and the Dead Sea was easily visited. Wherever we travelled meals and accommodation had been arranged in advance. In the springtime countryside there was a profusion of wild anemones and other flowers amongst the trees.

Petra is a fabled place of world renown with its apparently classical buildings hewn out of the native rock. Similar stepped stairways lead up through the mountains to dramatic viewpoints. Akaba, the important harbour in the south, had developed into a fine seaside resort, well adapted for shipping and as a holiday resort. Back in Amman we were shown round the fine Arab stables by one of his twin daughters. Finally we were able to see King Hussein and thank him for the great kindness that we had met in all our travels.

David Horsfield talking to King Hussein
My last meeting with King Hussein.

My final meeting with King Hussein took place at a Defence Council Dinner in London. His priorities had not changed. The important heads of the Services and others were lined up to be presented to the King. He happened to look round and saw me amongst those of us watching the ceremony. True to form he broke away from the great men to join the spectators, shake my hand and say how glad he was to see me there.

Dinner ended he was leaving the hall with the top table group when he broke away once again to say his farewells to me. A diplomat who was watching thanked me, tongue-in-cheek, for saving the Middle East for Britain. The king and I were not to meet again but the story does not end there. Amongst other exchanges was a letter in 1996.

‘Dear Sir, It gives me great pleasure to write and congratulate you on the occasion of your forthcoming 80th birthday on December 17th 1996.
I wish you a very happy birthday and - although I am not able to personally celebrate with you - please know that you are in my thoughts on this happy day.
Sir, Noor joins me in sending you and your family our very best wishes and warmest personal regards.’

King Hussein was to die of cancer in his prime two years later in February 1999. King of a small country he had played a full part on the world stage. It was a great honour, pleasure and education to have served him. Humanity was an important part of his nature. I try to follow his example.

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