Kuwait's doyen of diplomats on why Queen Elizabeth is one of his favourite people

Longest-serving ambassador tells 'The National' how he forged a close friendship with the British monarch over decades in London

Queen Elizabeth II greets ambassador Khaled Al Duwaisan of Kuwait at a reception in London for members of the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace, in 2018. Getty Images
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They might come from distinctly different backgrounds but Queen Elizabeth II and Kuwait's ambassador to the UKshare an unrivalled commitment to their jobs.

After 70 years as head of state, the queen is the longest-serving monarch in UK history, while Khaled Al Duwaisan’s 29-year tenure makes him the longest-serving ambassador to the country.

For decades, he and the queen have been fixtures on the diplomatic social scene and at various state and royal occasions, which has given Mr Al Duwaisan an intimate insight into the monarch he says is “charismatic and wonderful”.

“Her majesty is very well-informed, she is aware of what's happening in the world. So that is why most of the diplomats, not only me, love her. She is a loveable person. And she understands everything,” Mr Al Duwaisan tells The National at his residence in London.

Having been appointed the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps by Buckingham Palace in 2003, it appears that the ambassador’s high admiration for the queen is reciprocated.

“When we go to her parties, we feel like we are going to a second home. She is a relaxed person, a welcoming person and has wonderful knowledge and information,” says the veteran diplomat.

“She asks me about Kuwait, about life there and things that are happening. And the royal family here have a good relationship with the ruling family in Kuwait, which makes my job very easy.”

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Buckingham Palace with then Emir Of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, during his state visit to Britain, in 1995. Photo: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

After nearly three decades in his primary post, the ambassador has grown a reputation for his hospitality as well as being one of the most familiar faces at royal occasions.

He remembers vividly the first time he met the sovereign, when he first presented his credentials as incoming ambassador in 1993.

“I took all of the diplomats with me ― who now have all became ambassadors themselves ― and we had a problem because we were wearing the Bisht [traditional men’s cloak] and they can't give their back to her majesty, so I was afraid that if they walked backwards they would probably slip,” he recalls.

After some thought and a lot of practice, the ambassador says he found a way for the men to move around the queen in the traditional dress without breaking protocol.

The Speaker of Britain's House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, during his first face-to-face diplomatic meeting since the pandemic began, with the longest-serving ambassador to the UK, Khaled Al Duwaisan. Photo: UK Parliament

In the pre-pandemic days, the ambassador used to see the queen “five or six times a year” at various social occasions, receptions and state visits, including two hosted by the late emir of Kuwait in 1995 and 2012.

Though he wasn’t in Kuwait at the time, his eyes shine bright with pride when he remembers the queen’s visit to the country in 1979, the first by a female head of state.

A junior diplomat in Washington at the time, Mr Al Duwaisan was not there to see the monarch being guided around the newly built Kuwait Towers, or watching a display of Bedouin dance close by and spending a day at the races, yet he nevertheless smiles widely remembering that she did all those things.

The UK's longest-serving diplomat

Mr Al Duwaisan joined Kuwait's Foreign Ministry in 1970. Before his posting to London, he served as Kuwait's ambassador to the Netherlands and Romania.

His arrival to the UK capital less than two years after the end of the First Gulf War marked a new and even stronger relationship than had already existed between Britain and Kuwait as a result of the Friendship Agreement in 1899 during the reign of Queen Victoria, “when I presented my credentials!” the ambassador has joked.

The Iraqi invasion of neighbouring Kuwait in 1990 was immediately condemned by coalition forces including America and Britain, who deployed the largest number of troops since the Second World War in defensive action.

Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, who was then Emir of Kuwait, and Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle during a three-day state visit in November, 2012. Getty Images

Having found himself trapped in his home country during the war while on a visit there from the Netherlands, Mr Al Duwaisan was forced into hiding and remembers tuning into the BBC World Service to keep track of the international response.

“We have huge respect for Margaret Thatcher in Kuwait because she rallied international support to liberate Kuwait in 1991,” he says, recalling the pivotal role of the former UK prime minister in persuading then US President George H W Bush to take action.

Mr Al Duwaisan also credits the queen and her influence for the successful intervention on his country's behalf.

“She has a huge influence over the Middle East. She meets the [British] prime minister every week and she speaks her mind. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, she was very helpful, so was Margaret Thatcher, and they are behind the role of Americans and British and French and others alike to liberate Kuwait. So she has a lot of influence,” says the ambassador.

After the queen, the late Lady Thatcher topped his list of courtesy calls when the Kuwaiti envoy first took up his post nearly three decades ago, developing a close personal friendship with her and an enduring gratitude to both British female icons for their role in supporting Kuwait.

In 1995, Queen Elizabeth appointed him an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

That same year, the monarch welcomed then Emir of Kuwait, the late Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, on a state visit that ended with a return banquet at Claridge’s Hotel for his British Royal Hosts.

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Arab dignitaries, attends a folk dance display in the shadow of Kuwait's water towers. PA Images via Getty Images

Close in age and values, the queen and emir’s warm friendship made for a jovial occasion, says Mr Al Duwaisan who recalls the monarchs being deep in conversation.

“She was a good friend with our late emir, Sheikh Sabah. She hosted him for a state visit and I was with them at the same table. I saw them talk and joke with each other. I don’t know what she said to him but he was laughing a lot,” the ambassador tells The National.

“The queen is always aware of the situation when a president or king visits her. She is so well-informed about the country, about current events about history so that's why emirs and presidents feel at home with her.”

Seventeen years later, the emir was welcomed yet again by the Queen on a three-day visit to Britain in 2012. Prince Charles accompanied Sheikh Sabah to Windsor where he was met by a glittering state procession and a guard of honour.

Ambassador Al Duwaisan welcomes Prince William at the beginning of his four-day visit to Kuwait and Oman in 2019. The Duke of Cambridge followed in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles who have both visited the Gulf states.

While both ceremonial state visits were bursting with the pomp and celebration expected of Buckingham Palace, the ambassador recalls the more intimate dinner at Windsor Castle in 1998 as “one of the best meals” he had with the queen.

“When we finished eating she took us to a place where I saw a sword [stretching] from here to the beginning of the table. And she told me that the sword had been given to her father by Sheikh Ahmed Al Jaber of Kuwait at that time and King Faisal when they came together in 1912. It was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that.”

In 2003, after the US and UK invaded Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein, Ambassador Al Duwaisan felt his mission was complete and began preparations to return home.

The queen delivers a speech during a state banquet for Emir Sheikh Sabah of Kuwait at Windsor Castle, in November 2012. Getty Images

The queen however, had other plans, appointing Mr Al Duwaisan the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, a role he has fulfilled with renowned dedication and generosity, advising more than 750 newly arrived heads of mission on diplomatic life in London and representing the body during at least a hundred state occasions.

Even when he reached the retirement age of 65, the Foreign Ministry made an exception and 29 years after taking up the post in London, he remains in the UK capital. Mr Al Duwaisan is also the Dean of Arab Ambassadors.

Perhaps inspired by the queen’s work ethic, the ambassador doesn’t look ready to hang up his many caps yet and certainly hopes the sovereign he so admires won’t be doing so anytime soon either.

You are lucky with this queen. She is not replaceable. Whoever comes after her won't be like her,” says Mr Al Duwaisan.

“As an ambassador and Dean of Arab ambassadors I feel a lot of respect for this lady so I wish her happiness, long life and good health.”

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Updated: June 03, 2022, 6:00 PM
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