London, Asharq Al-Awsat Riz Kahn veteran journalist takes a leap across the media spectrum to write his first book, the aptly titled ALWALEED: Billionaire, Businessman, Prince, an “authorized” biography of his Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
During a visit to the Asharq Al-Awsat office in London, the former CNN anchor, Riz Khan, discussed the genesis of the project. “I met Prince Alwaleed in Dubai in 2003, I found him very unique and although I knew of him, I did not know much about him. As a journalist working in television broadcasting in the west with the BBC and then CNN, I would always look for people from the Middle East that represented something other than the conflict. Therefore, I said to Alwaleed that at some point I would like to conduct an interview with him, to which he replied “maybe, we’ll see”. An hour later one of his people told me the prince wanted to speak to me, and he asked me about my interest in him. I told him that I considered him someone who represents something a little different in the Middle East, and someone whom the west has an interest in because of the September 11 attacks, Citibank, and so forth.
The prince explained that he is very multifaceted, and questioned how I would fit all the relevant information in one interview. He later told me “to understand me fully, you would have to live with me for a year”
The 432-page biography, according to its author was written with a global audience in mind, which he attributes to his television news experience. “I think global because I come from a global news background. What I learnt from television journalism is that the content has to be accessible. I decided I would like the west to read it, because I wanted to touch on aspects like Islam, and the negative attitude the west has towards the Arab and Muslim culture, as well as to show that there are people who have visited the west and have an international perspective. I knew naturally that the Arab world would have an interest because of the prince’s high profile in the Middle East.”
The book has not escaped criticism of the literary world, one aspect of which is the stigma that comes with the “authorized” label, something the author was expecting. “I’m not the kind to write a dig-dirt unauthorized biography. I do not see the value of that because much of it is based on speculation. I wanted the content from his eyes. I also had to be sensitive to Arab sensibilities, for example, I couldn’t get an interview with his wife however, I interviewed his mother but only off-camera.”
I would tell people that, “I’m not here to do an advert, I’m here to see things behind the scenes”. Then people would ask me if I really saw everything and I did, from the minute he came down the stairs of the George V hotel at twelve, until six thirty in the morning when he would go back up. Alwaleed is not the type of person to say, “I should behave over the next three weeks because Riz is here,” but rather he would do as he pleased. I can say with a clear conscience, I got everything I saw and I was able to put everything down”.
Others have criticized the book saying that it only scratches the surface on some key issues that involve Prince Alwaleed, most notably his political aspirations. “When I first told people I wanted to write a book on Prince Alwaleed everyone told me to
ask about his political ambitions, not long after he made his comments in Lebanon which were very anti-Hariri. I was good friends with Rafik Hariri, and I did think about Hariri thoughts on me writing this book. Funnily enough, my contact told me that Hariri’s people had said that Hariri knew that I was writing this book and that it was okay. Sadly, he died and I had to change that chapter. Even the prince went to Lebanon and spoke to Hariri’s family, but I think he enjoyed the rivalry. He didn’t hate the man, he just loved the rivalry.”
“When I first asked Alwaleed if he wanted to be Prime Minister of Lebanon, he asked why would I get involved in politics as I’m a business man and that would limit me.
Does he have political ambitions? I am sure he does. How much he is willing to compromise his business freedoms for it? That I do not know.”
Kahn opens the book by addressing the Giuliani controversy, when the New York Mayor rejected a $10 million donation for the families of the September 11 victims. “I met Giuliani at a conference, and I mentioned it to him but he would not touch on the subject. I wanted to include the other side of the story, so I had to resort to quotes from the media. The media in the US just went to town on the whole thing and never asked the prince for his perspective, which I thought, was unfair.”
Regarding the book’s huge advance of $7 million by publishing house HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, of which Prince Alwaleed owns 5.46%, the first-time author told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was unaware of the advance. “I can’t talk about any financial aspects. This is the first time I’ve heard that, and if there’s something waiting for me then I’m very excited.”
On what Prince Alwaleed hopes to achieve from this book, Khan believes that it is respect for his accomplishments, “because if you read a lot of the speculation, you will see that people have an idea of what he is about and that a lot of it is inaccurate.”