ACTRESS AND HORSE BREEDER SUSAN GEORGE TOURS THE DESERT STABLES AND OCEANFRONT HOME OF THE U.A.E’S SHEIKH AMMAR
They come from two completely different worlds: she’s an internationally renowned actress who has starred in 30 films, most notably opposite Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs; he’s the Crown Prince of Ajman, the smallest of the United Arab Emirates, which sits on the edge of the Persian Gulf and is set to be a hot new holiday destination.
Nevertheless, Susan George and His Highness Sheikh Ammar have been friends for years, brought together by their mutual passion for the purebred Arabian horse. “I remember meeting Susan six years ago, at the All Nations Cup horse show in Aachen,” says Sheikh Ammar. “I had seen a few of Susan’s movies and, of course, meeting her was a pleasure. When we first met, she commented on some of my horses in the show ring.” ‘They were absolutely gorgeous,” adds Susan. “I enjoy being in his company and value him highly as a person and as a friend. When it comes to horse breeding, we’ve much to talk about”
While Susan may be best known for her film career, she has spent the past 15 years breeding Arabian horses at her world-class stud farm, Georgian Arabians, in the West Country, where she lives with her husband of 23 years, actor Simon MacCorkindale.
“I’ve always adored animals, and horses in particular,” she says. ‘The beauty of the Arabian is truly unique. They are loyal, intuitive, athletic horses which, in action, can take your breath away.”
The owner of the famous Ajman Stud, Sheikh Ammar’s love of the Arabian horse also began at an early age. It is a tradition which has drawn his family together. “I am still very close to my father,” he says of the ruler of Ajman, Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi. “He taught me the importance of humility, to always be down to earth and engage with people.
“My father and grandfather had horses all of their lives. The stable was just at the back of our home and behind the stable was the empty desert, so my brothers and I and our friends would take the horses and ride there.
“Today, my four brothers and I still all love horses. At the moment, my boys are more into motorbikes, but my daughter, Amna, has the same love for them as my father and I have. It’s good to know that my daughter will continue the tradition.”
Sheikh Ammar is a very private man, but when he invited Susan to his beach house in Ajman, he also agreed to open the doors of his home to HELLO!, to give an exclusive and rare insight into his lifestyle. Situated on the waterfront and surrounded by sand dunes, the Sheikh’s home is decorated in a grand Arabic style, complete with modern touches, including a lavish collection of yachts and a customised black ‘monster’ truck. He also took us to his Ajman Stud farm, home to his most prized possessions. “I helped design these stables,” he says, leading his champion stallion, Escape, into the courtyard. ‘They are in the traditional Arabic style.”
Here, Susan talks to HELLO! about her time in Ajman and friendship with the Crown Prince. How did you meet Sheikh Ammar? “My husband Simon and I first met him six years ago, when Ajman Stud was in its infancy. We met up at many of the main Arabian horse shows, where he was deciding what type of Arabian he wanted to own. He bought a few really special ones early on: two stallions and seven mares from mutual friends.”
What were your first impressions of the Sheikh?
“Polite, engaging and handsome, with no inordinate airs or graces.”
How would you describe him?
“He’s a stylish man with a good sense of humour… generous, warm and thoughtful. He has excellent classic taste and is as elegant in his traditional Arabic robes as he is in his Western attire. With his piercing brown eyes, when he enters a room he commands attention.”
Tell us about your time in Ajman. What do you think of the country?
“It’s extraordinary that you can drive a few miles out of Dubai, a city of skyscrapers, and suddenly you are in Ajman, surrounded by simplicity, sand and desert. I suppose it’s relative to me, living in the wilds of Exmoor! The country is an acorn that will soon become much more, although I don’t think it will ever be really built-up.”
He also took you to the historic fort where his father once lived.
“It’s a beautiful fort. It took you back hundreds of years and told its own story. Showing us around, he talked about his childhood memories, which were fascinating.”
Aside from his passion for horses, what other interests does he have?
“He enjoys boating with his friends. His yachts are like floating palaces and, on the second day of my visit, he took me for a spin in his high-powered speedboat
“At the end of the visit, I was in the guesthouse changing. Sheikh Ammar was ready to leave, but when he saw me he jumped down and thanked me for a lovely few days and gave me a gift as a memory of our visit, which is so typical of his generosity. And with a huge smile, he drove off in a blazing trail of sand.”