Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, recently shared a photograph on Instagram showing three generations of his family together in the UK. Pictured with him are his twins, Sheikh Rashid and Sheikha Shaikha, and his father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
Quickly garnering hundreds of thousands of likes, and thousands of comments, the photo is a testament to Dubai’s longstanding relationship with the UK, dating back generations.
In 1959, more than a decade before the UAE was formed, a young Sheikh Mohammed made his first trip to the UK with his father, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed — who was ruler of Dubai at the time — and brothers, Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Hamdan.
Dubai was still a British protectorate at the time, and the trip was a matter of great curiosity for the British public — with newspapers such as The Times carrying stories and photos of Sheikh Rashid’s delegation.
Sheikh Rashid met Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, visited the Land Rover factory and went to see the crown jewels in the Tower of London. He was also pictured in a remarkable photo, cementing the rising status of Dubai and its relationship with the UK.
Slightly more candid in nature, the photo showed the Dubai ruler behind the controls of a London Underground train, driving along the Piccadilly Line to Hounslow. Although Dubai's discovery of oil was still years away, the emirate's visionary leader was starting to position it as a business centre, dredging the Creek to allow larger ships access for trade, and facilitating the opening of several new businesses, hotels and banks.
Reflecting on the visit, Sheikh Mohammed wrote: “I was a young boy, and my father, Sheikh Rashid, took me with him in the summer to England. He had an official trip there, and he went primarily to facilitate the building of the airstrip in Dubai.
“My father was determined, arguing that he knew what Dubai needed best, and he insisted on it. We won permission to build the airstrip on that trip.”
Sheikh Mohammed also wrote: “The most exciting place that he took me was Newmarket. He told me all about the history of racing in England. It was probably the Romans who first held properly organised horse races there, but the first officially recorded race was in 1377, in Newmarket. Ever since then, this town has been known as the home of English horse racing.”
Sheikh Mohammed noted that Britain and Dubai shared a great appreciation for horse racing, which was not just a hobby but “a true Bedouin, and Arab, heritage”.
“My father taught us to love horses as we do our family, he taught us that we should participate and practise this art form and sport, knowing above all that it is a code of chivalry.”
Reflecting on the trip, he wrote: “I realised it was my ambition to bring the modern sport horse, a descendant of our Arabians, back to my country, and to put the Middle East on the map of racing as the heartbeat of horse sports once again.”
In the years since, the Dubai ruler and his family have developed one of the world’s great stables, Godolphin, which this year won a second successive Leading Owner Award at Royal Ascot. With its headquarters in Dubai, Godolphin has a stable in Newmarket, also home to the ruler’s Darley stallion project.
Dubai has also become home to the Dubai World Cup, which has rapidly grown into one of the most important and prestigious races on Earth.
In recent years, the ruler’s son, Sheikh Hamdan, made several trips to the UK, often sharing images of his summer travels to the country, including visits to London and the family’s Godolphin stables, as well as the F3 stables. Like his father, who attended Mons Officer Cadet School in the 1960s, Sheikh Hamdan trained at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
With his photos proving immensely popular on social media, Sheikh Hamdan’s most recent visit reminds many of his grandfather’s trip in 1959.
Just as Queen Elizabeth II visited Dubai in 1979 to inaugurate the World Trade Centre, earlier this year her grandson, Prince William, travelled to the emirate, meeting Sheikh Hamdan at Expo 2020 Dubai, reflecting a new generation of bonds between the two families.
Amazingly, in only a few decades, under the rule of Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai has grown from an obscure British protectorate into one of the world’s great cities. In that time, Dubai’s relationship with the UK has continued to thrive, a journey that has been captured in many images.
Scroll through the gallery below to see more of Sheikh Hamdan's travels