Peter Hellyer: Sheikh Mohamed leads tributes after chronicler of UAE's past dies aged 75

Historian and journalist who began decades-long association with Emirates in 1970s hailed as 'true friend of nation'

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President Sheikh Mohamed has extended his sympathies to the family of Peter Hellyer after the author, columnist and cultural historian died on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

Hellyer, who was 75, began a decades-long association with the UAE in the 1970s when he moved to the country to develop documentaries about the overseas visits of the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

“I extend my sincere condolences to the family of Peter Hellyer, who served the UAE with devotion for many years and made a lasting impact in the fields of archaeology, the environment and the media,” Sheikh Mohamed wrote on Twitter.

“Peter was a model of dedication and generosity, and we pray that he rests in peace.”

Hellyer helped establish the English-language service Wam, the state news agency, headed up foreign language radio broadcasting for Abu Dhabi and served as managing editor of the Emirates News newspaper.

He was a long-term information adviser to the National Media Council.

He was awarded citizenship for services to the nation and in 2013 received an Abu Dhabi Award, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a civilian in the emirate, for his work in identifying key archaeological sites in the UAE.

This included the discovery in the 1990s of a Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas island.

Hellyer's death was confirmed by his family and tributes poured in on social media and elsewhere paying tribute to his rich legacy.

A 'true friend' of the UAE

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Hellyer, through his love for the UAE, “became one of its sons”.

Salem Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said Hellyer was a great historian who dedicated more than 50 years to the UAE's environmental and archaeological heritage, notably on Sir Bani Yas island.

“His devotion to this land will inspire us to preserve our environment, monuments, and history,” said Mr Al Qassimi. “His legacy endures.”

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State, said he was a “true friend of our nation”.

“Peter’s dedication has left an indelible mark on our history,” said Ms Al Kaabi. “It was great honour to have shared in both work and friendship with him.”

Zaki Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to the UAE President, said Hellyer spent decades in the service of the nation. “I have known him since the 1970s … as a loyal friend, a distinguished journalist, a diligent archaeologist, a writer and a researcher,” he said.

Mansoor Abulhoul, UAE ambassador to the UK, said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss. “His immeasurable contribution to our national narrative and pivotal role in our media landscape are a testament to his love for the UAE,” said Mr Abulhoul. Edward Hobart, UK ambassador to the UAE, also paid tribute to Hellyer.

“I met him 12 years ago when I very first arrived in the UAE, he was always interesting and thoughtful and a great bridge between the UAE and UK. My thoughts are with his family,” said Mr Hobart.

Hellyer was also the author of numerous books about the country and was a regular columnist for The National. Readers of his contributions to the opinion pages will remember he pursued a wide range of interests in his columns, although his central themes were heritage, archaeology, the environment, politics and society.

Mina Al-Oraibi, editor in chief of The National, said: “Incredibly sad to hear of Peter Hellyer’s death. Peter’s enormous role in documenting the UAE’s past and present cannot be exaggerated.

“Peter and his long-time friend, the late Ibrahim Al-Abed, were instrumental in laying the foundations for the UAE’s media scene and never hesitated to advise and support any journalist who reached out to them. We will miss his writings in The National and thank him for his years of contribution. My condolences to his family.”

Martin Newland, the launch editor of The National in 2008 and a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, said: “Peter’s love of the UAE and its heritage made him a fascinating person to talk to”.

“His sensitivity to and knowledge of Emirati culture made him an invaluable ally for anyone trying to engage in the media, business and cultural arenas,” he said. “Above all, he was an excellent conversationalist and accomplished writer. The country will miss him.”

Hassan Fattah, who was editor from 2009 to 2013, said Hellyer had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the UAE, its history and its personalities. “He was a good friend to The National and a great friend to me personally, and will be very much missed,” he said. “I will especially remember him for his wit and support in the early days.”

The tributes being made reflected this work spanning archaeology, heritage and journalism, and how generous he was with his time to researchers, journalists and historians.

“Thank you for everything you did for Abu Dhabi and the UAE,” said Sultan Al Qassemi, founder of Barjeel Art Foundation. “You will be missed. Condolences to Hisham, Perihan and the family.”

Bel Trew, chief international correspondent for the UK's The Independent newspaper, said it was “heartbreaking news”.

“Peter Hellyer one of the kindest, most gentlemanly people I know has left us,” she said. “A true polymath who dedicated his life to the UAE. We first met him in 1980 when he worked with my mother on Abu Dhabi TV [and] radio. You will be greatly missed.”

Nick Cochrane-Dyet, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce Abu Dhabi, and a lifelong friend of Hellyer, said that “we have lost a good person”.

“He will be remembered very fondly for all of the amazing work and dedication to this country which he loved,” said Mr Cochrane-Dyet. “The proof of his dedication can be seen in the number of books and articles that he published over the years.”

Ian Fairservice, managing partner of UAE-based Motivate Media Group, said it was “unbelievably sad news” and he extended his sympathies to the Hellyer family.

“We worked together for many years, on so many projects and his contribution in terms of researching and recording our region’s heritage and culture is incalculable. Certainly, Motivate and our archives and library owe Peter a huge debt of gratitude – as do I for his personal support and encouragement,” said Mr Fairservice.

“I was privileged to count him as one of my closest friends for over 30 years and deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to have a long and meaningful conversation with him, albeit on the phone, just a week ago. It’s surely a comfort that generations to come will continue to learn from the knowledge and understanding of the Arab world that Peter shared through his insightful work as a writer, editor and documentary maker.”

Condolences will be held at the InterContinental Hotel, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi from July 3 to July 5 from 6pm to 10pm.

Updated: July 04, 2023, 12:26 PM