Just after 9/11, I was in Doha lecturing Qatar Airways cabin crew on the wines they served on board their aircraft. As most of them, for cultural or religious reasons, did not drink alcohol, conducting a wine tasting session was uniquely challenging. Rather like discussing The Joy of Sex in a nunnery. I had flown out there to talk about my passion for wine as a first step in my quest to become an international wine consultant. I had been invited to Qatar by an old friend who was a business consultant to the airline. Whilst there, he recommended me for the post of Head of the Amiri Royal Flight and I was interviewed by The Chief in the airport transit lounge before boarding my flight back to London. I answered a couple of questions and the meeting was over in 5 minutes. I never did find out what I was supposed to be doing.
So, on 31 October 2001, after 28 years in the airline business, I resigned from British Airways and two weeks later I found myself in Doha, newly appointed Head of The Emir of Qatar’s Royal Flight.
The Chief was a diminutive little man with sharp pointed features and a balding head which he covered with a Hejazi turban held in place by a goat hair agal. I never saw him in a suit, always in an immaculately-ironed thawb with gold cufflinks. It was rumoured he wasn’t an Arab but an Iranian who had adopted Arabic ways to ingratiate himself with the Royal Family.
I should have realised the job was not all it was cracked up to be when, on arrival at Doha Airport, I was told to hide in the Holiday Inn for a couple of weeks. The Emir had extended his overseas trip and the current Head of the Royal Flight was with him. The Chief couldn’t sack him until his return hence the need for my temporary vanishing act.
I should have realised the job was not all it was cracked up to be when the Head of Human Resources tossed my contract onto my desk and said, “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
I should have realised the job was not all it was cracked up to be when ‘Daisy’ Root, the ex Met plod who was now Head of Security, told me not to buy green bananas. “Why not?” I asked naively. “Because you won’t be here long enough to see them ripen!” was his reply.
I should have realised the job was not all it was cracked up to be when I was summoned to the ninth floor and, after waiting for half an hour in the outer chamber, ushered into the Chief’s private office. There sat a terrified Thai stewardess in full uniform and from behind his desk the Chief said, “Have you been fucking this girl?” My response that I had never laid eyes on her before today was not considered satisfactory and three weeks later I returned to the ninth floor to be handed a letter telling me my services were no longer required. I had seven days to pack up my things and leave the country.
My accommodation was one of 6 villas – all occupied by airline managers – constructed around a refrigerated swimming pool in a gated compound out near the football stadium. It was vast with four bedrooms and a mezzanine balcony leading down a sweeping marble staircase to a huge living room. It was also unfurnished.
My first month’s salary went on furniture. My second month’s salary went on a used blue Cadillac, nick-named The Blue Beast. My third month’s salary went on shipping everything back to England.
The Blue Beast was a 1994 Cadillac De Ville Concours 4.6 Litre V8, 32 valve, 300 bhp with just 38,000 miles on the clock.
Six weeks after buying the Blue Beast, I was sacked. Given just seven days to leave Qatar before my resident’s visa expired, I decided to ship everything back to England.
A couple of weeks earlier, Ted, my next door neighbour in the compound, had foreseen his own imminent demise and taken a short holiday. He phoned from London to ask if I could move all his stuff out of his villa and store it in my place as he wasn’t coming back. So I now had my stuff, Ted’s stuff and the Beast to ship out within the next seven days. I hired a 4o foot container and the services of a Lebanese Palestinian who wrapped everything in plastic and packed it expertly into the shipping container.
To get the Beast in we drove to an abandoned warehouse, up a ramp onto the loading bay then reversed the car into the container.
I flew to London to await the arrival of the container at Thamesport dockyard in Sheerness. There, a helpful Customs Officer offered to expedite clearance for a fee of £200 in cash or I would have to wait until the contents had been checked for drugs and contraband. I decided to wait another 3 weeks during which time I met Ted’s sister, DouDou.
Best two hundred quid I never spent.