That Time Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II Gave Saudi Arabia’s King a Lesson in Power

Press Association/AP


Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is known to have a wicked sense of humor, and some mean driving skills. One day back in 1998, she deployed both spectacularly to punk Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Back then, Abdullah was a Saudi crown prince visiting Balmoral, the vast royal estate in Scotland. The Queen had offered him a tour of the grounds—here’s what happened next, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles:

The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind. To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. His nervousness only increased as the queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

Royal custom discourages repeating what the Queen says in private, Cowper-Coles explained, but the anecdote was corroborated by Abdullah, and became, in the diplomat’s words, “too funny not to repeat.”

Abdullah went on to cultivate the image of a reformer as king. One thing he didn’t change, despite the Queen’s badass stunt: women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia.

 

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