Driving The Saudis is an incredible memoir by actress/producer Jayne Amelia Larson.
The book, which was just released on October 16, 2012, first came to my attention via an email from the author herself- she wanted to hire me to belly dance at one of her book signing events in Los Angeles! I couldn’t do the date, so I sent another dancer, but I did request an advanced copy to review, thinking it would be an interesting read. Boy, was I right on the money- this book is a page-turner! I devoured it in one sitting.
Even the information on the book’s cover is intriguing- here’s a sample:
When the Saudi royal family vacationed in Los Angeles, they hired Jayne Amelia Larson, an actress struggling to make ends meet, to be their personal chauffeur. She’d heard stories of the Saudis’ outrageously generous gratuities and figured that several weeks at their beck and call might be worth her time. But when the family arrived via their private jet with an entourage of forty and millions of dollars in cash, Jayne Amelia realized she might be getting into more than she bargained for...
Based on the author’s successful one-woman stage show, the story depicts a vivid portrait of the Saudi royals as few ever get to see them.”
I have danced for various members of the Saudi Royal Family over the years, and I never quite got over the sheer opulence. I fondly (and greedily) remember the days back in the 1990’s when Saudi Royalty was present at shows I was doing at Arabic clubs: it became almost dangerous to perform, because there was so much crisp, fresh-from-the-bank cash on the parquet floor that dancing was literally like ice-skating on the bills! For one private party gig, I was picked up in a white stretch limo and brought to a mansion in Santa Barbara (an hour and a half north of Los Angeles) to perform. At another gig, a Saudi “scout” was sent out to video tape a show I was doing at an Arabic club before I was hired… and this was back when no “normal” person owned a video camera! At that particular event, I remember the moments before my show spent mentally totting up the amount of money that was probably spent on floral arrangements alone (not to mention the priceless antiques!) and realizing that it amounted to probably more than I made in the course of two and a half or three years. There were Arabian antiques everywhere, and the women I danced for were dripping in jewels and Dolce & Gabbana custom-made couture.
So anyway, I figured this book would reflect some of that glamour, and it did, in spades…but it also shows a decadent, darker side that most people don’t have privy to.
Within this realm, the Royal entourages of relatives, staff and hangers-on, all members are more than aware of their position and status- and are constantly scrambling to keep their status intact. The inter-personal relationship dynamics and the insight into human nature, both good and bad, are absolutely fascinating.
There is a hair dresser who is a holy terror, spoiled teenage princesses who are addicted to In-And-Out-Burger and hip-hop hits, and even more spoiled adult princesses who routinely drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on designer duds in a single afternoon shopping spree on Rodeo Drive while their maids and chauffeurs patiently wait on the street, sleep deprived from being on-call for 24 hour shifts, guzzling Red Bull. There are tales of multiple plastic surgeries, forbidden love, rebellion and resignation.
The Royal family’s security is an operation on par with the CIA, and in the sumptuous Beverly Hills hotel where they are ensconced, an up-scale suite is consigned for use only as a tea-room, with furniture, incense, the tea sets and food imported in gigantic crates from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the North African and Philipino female maids and servants also on 24-hour call, are forced to sleep seven to a room!
Larson had the distinction of being the only female chauffer of many drivers hired, and because of this, she formed close, intense bonds with many of the women in the entourage, from Royals and the trusted nannies they’d grown up with to the extremely young maids. She also experienced rivalry and suspicion among the male drivers, because of her unique closeness with the Saudi women.
Jayne Amelia Larson’s one-woman show, Driving The Saudis won Best Solo Show at the 2010 New York Fringe Festival- and this book is so well-written, with so much astute observation, that the reader will feel like they are right there among the entourage.
I highly recommend this book…and also wish it could be made into a feature film!
Purchase Driving The Saudis
Driving The Saudis, by Jayne Amelia Larson,
Published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster