Sixty, Single and Saudi

Dear Diary,

Last weekend after a lovely afternoon shopping and trying on make-up, M and I slumped in Wonderbar in Selfridges for a much needed pick-me-up.

There was an older woman sitting just to my left who kept looking over at us, smiling. The Londoners in us were initially cold and unfriendly but we remembered just in time that we’re Scottish so we started chatting to her and it was lovely.

Isha is in her sixties and from Saudi Arabia. She asked us if we were married and when we shook our heads, she looked shocked and enquired why, since we were pretty, were we single? I laughed and turned my thumbs down and she exclaimed in agreement. Passionate with her response, she explained how she married when she was 17 but it only lasted 9 months. She hated her husband and married life and one day she told her husband that she was leaving to go back to her father’s home and would not return. Isha’s father didn’t question her return and never pressured her to get married again, which she never did.

Now, Isha lives between her houses in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and London meeting friends and family and enjoying life. That afternoon after hugging us goodbye she was off to the gym before having dinner with her niece.

Isha really challenged our idea of Saudi women and made us consider that it was possible to have a fulfilled life outside the norm. But we know this is not the happy ending that some women have. Was she forced to get married as a teenager? What trauma did she go through that meant she couldn’t face ever getting married again? We know that Isha was very lucky that her father and brothers supported her decision – how many women would have been forced to go back to their husbands? The thought made us shudder but we feel very privileged to have met her.


P.S. Not all men get the thumbs down!

Hi Bunty

I went to the same event last night and left feeling a little uninspired.

All of the women came from privileged backgrounds and although I do not seek to play down their achievements, I cannot help but think that at least two of them were from a different world… I say this even though I have a middle class background, am a post-grad that has had the benefit of private education.

Lady Nina Bracewell Smith is the daughter of a diplomat and married to Sir Charles. She talked of being a director of Park Lane Hotel (yet failed to mention that her husband owned the hotel) and then of being a director of Arsenal football club (and failed to mention that she owns the majority of shares in Arsenal that ..yes, you guessed it…her husband gave to her). So far, I can only see that she is the Daughter of Someone and the Wife of Someone Else. I completely take on board that she could just sit around going to charitable events but why should I be impressed by someone born into such privileges and has only achieved things by virtue of being married to some rich old guy? (Another achievement was being in the Sunday Times Rich List).

Baroness Flather was a formidable charismatic speaker and has a great personality – she had many inspiring things to say – but as she is the daughter of Sir Ganga Ram, I also wonder whether she would have achieved all the things that she did without her contacts. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to hear her speak, but it just puts some of her achievements into a different context.

My mother recently said to me that she is so proud that both my sister and I have our own identity. I didn’t know what she meant and she explained that women in her circles are always known as the daughter, wife or mother of some man and that she loved that my sister and I are known simply by our names and what we do.

I have to admit I did not fully appreciate what she meant until hearing Lady Bracewell Smith list her “achievements”.

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