In her first ever magazine cover, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan shares her love for her grandparents and the UAE, and celebrates the victories of Emirati women.
Picture this: the sun is almost touching the dune, ready to hide behind the mountains of sand. For photography specialists, these golden minutes of light are the perfect time to capture a flawless image, when the brightness is as soft as melting butter. Naturally aware of this, the Vogue Arabia team runs towards a caravan of jeeps, to drive to the top of a neighboring dune. At the same time, HH Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan mounts her white horse and gallops confidently up the peak of sand, her emerald green thobe floating in the wind, paired with riding boots. Can you guess who reached the top first?
This small tableau tells so much more about this month’s cover star than any wordy description could. The granddaughter of the founders of the UAE – HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak – the princess has fierceness and leadership in her DNA. She is someone who makes things happen, even if it requires literally taking the reins. “My father and grandfather were both riders and horse breeders, and they taught me at a young age to sit and ride, even when I was too small to reach the horse,” she laughs, when we chat after the photoshoot. “I immediately fell in love with this majestic animal and developed a deep connection,” she shares. “This is not a car or a machine, it’s a body and soul that feels emotions.” The sheikha knows what she is talking about based on her daily experience. We are sitting in a private majilis, part of the Al Shira’aa Stables, an institution she founded almost a decade ago, when she decided to take her passion for horses and breeding to a more professional level.
At the stables, Her Highness coaches the next generation of equestrian champions, starting from tender ages, and offers the best trainers in the region and the most accomplished horses. Al Shira’aa sponsors and manages the entire UAE Grand Prix, elevating the team from struggling to qualify in national competitions to winning the 2017 Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. Under her supervision, the UAE also won its first ever medal at the junior Olympics – silver, won by rider Omar Al Marzooqi at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. “Team building is very important, and I think that after setting a system where you’re not in the squad because of your name or who you know – but due to your scores and results – the entire sport changed for the better.”
When Her Highness is not on her horse, she can still be seen around the arena with her judging hat firmly in place. A pioneer in this field, the royal is the first female judge in the UAE for Arabian Beauty Horse shows. “I worked hard to attain this achievement of being the first female judge in the country,” she declares proudly. “My father was always against me getting special treatment, so I took infinite hours of preparation, and my exam was in Spain. I developed my skills through practice and the experience of working alongside renowned judges all over the world. My achievement is dedicated to my grandmother first and foremost, and my father who encouraged me the entire way. I also dedicate it to the UAE and the women of the UAE in particular, who are not afraid to push new boundaries and make the whole nation proud with their victories.”
For Sheika Fatima, being “the first” and thriving in an activity that is traditionally more male-driven, doesn’t mean that femininity should be overlooked. On the contrary, she takes me on a tour of her equestrian closet, to check her custom-made competition gear, with riding jackets designed by the sheikha with “Al Shira’aa” written with small crystals, and pink helmets with glitter on it. And what about her one-of-a-kind Christian Louboutin riding boots, red soles included? They were not on set this time, but they are one of the sheikha’s favorites.
As the UAE commemorates half a century this December, the conversation naturally flows towards the importance of family, as the nation and her genealogy are intimately related. She comments on the ever-changing atmosphere of the country, which she believes to have “kept its national identity while flourishing and becoming recognized globally in less than 50 years.” The role of women – strong women – in this dynamic society is once again highlighted. “My late Baba Zayed said that the real wealth is people, not oil or any other economic resource, and the country’s direction is to develop and foster its talents, men and women alike,” she assures. “Actions speak louder than words. In the UAE we have massive female representation everywhere. In government and ministries, technology, science, arts, culture… Women in the UAE are reaching world records and revealing the true forte of our nation.” When the topic is female empowerment – an expression the sheikha doesn’t particularly like to overuse when talking about her country – one woman stands above all. “My grandmother HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak is my mother, my role model, and my idol in this whole world,” she confides. “Every day I am amazed by her vision and inspired by her wisdom. She is also an infinite source of love and compassion, which is felt by everyone in this nation. She is truly the Mother of the Nation and my own mentor.”
Following in the footsteps of her relative, a key figure in the development of Emirati women, the princess is now leading a vast list of organizations that support the arts, education, and access for women to sport. As chairperson of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, established in October 2010, she “integrates and empowers Emirati women, all ages, in sports, creating a safe environment for them to engage in an active lifestyle.” The organization curates events such as cycling and running competitions, and sponsors the women’s national ice hockey team, who won silver in Division 1 at the 2019 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, as well as the champion figure skater Zahra Lari. As chairperson of the Ladies Club of Al-Ain and Abu Dhabi, Her Highness offers a space for women to meet and socialize, while engaging in various activities and classes for adults and children, from martial arts to photography. As the founder of the Fatima bint Hazza Cultural Foundation, the sheikha supervises regular activities in art, literature, and community engagement. The organization also partners with different NGOs, supporting communities in Bangladesh who don’t have access to education. This cultural organization published more than 100 award-winning short stories for youth, now part of UAE’s school curriculum.
With a bachelor’s degree in visual communication and a minor in interior design from the American University of Dubai, Her Highness is an extremely visual person, who loves and collects art, values craftsmanship, and personally decorated all her homes. This appetite for pursuing beauty led her to accept Bulgari’s invitation to develop the high jewelry collection called Jannah (“paradise”), paying homage to her family and the DNA of the UAE. The 35 spectacular pieces – one of which the princess wears on this issue’s cover – were produced over the course of two years, in an unprecedented collaboration between a leading UAE royal and the Italian brand. “I accepted to participate on this project as it represents a dialogue between cultures and a conversation between civilizations through the art of jewelry. The collection manifests the beauty of tradition and cultures blended together from different sides of the world,” shares Sheika Fatima. “‘Jannah celebrates the five-petal flower from Sheikh Zayed Mosque that you find in every piece of the jewelry of this collection. I wanted, through this flower, to express my love for my grandfather, who instilled in me love, tolerance, and openness to the world. This collaboration was the first of its kind, and I am very happy to debut it and dedicate it to the UAE and to be part of this global success.” Bulgari has now announced the second chapter of this project, to be unveiled in the last quarter 2021.
The sheikha erupts with pride and nostalgia when describing her relationship with her grandfather, the man who founded the UAE. “Growing up, my most cherished times were when I sat on his lap and listened to his stories, his stories of the struggle, his stories of belief, stories of daring to dream, daring to change reality…” she shares. “I grew up with a love for the UAE and the determination that I need to give back, just like my grandfather taught me.”
When I ask if this is not a big task for such a young person in her thirties, who seems to put everyone else first, Sheika Fatima agrees that she is in a position that is not easy at times, but she responds as a true leader. “I definitely feel the massive weight of responsibility on my shoulders, being the granddaughter of the late Baba Zayed and Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, and the daughter of this nation,” she concludes. “I look at it, though, with positivity because I feel entrusted with this role, equipped with my family’s support and wisdom, and connected to the wonderful people I work with in my various roles.”
Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Fashion director: Katie Trotter
Style: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Producer: Laura Prior
1st photography assistant: Mark Lincoln
Digi tech: Bror Iivefeldt
2nd photography assistant: Thenns c/o hotcold
Makeup: Helena Narra
Hair: Deena Alawaid
Videographer: Kais Dahoul
Assistant: Aida Kuchkacheva
Production runner: AJ c/o hotcold
Thanks to Alsafinat Stables