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Desert Governess: An Inside View on the Saudi Arabian Royal Family [Paperback]

Phyllis Ellis
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

1 Jun 2000
Badly in need of a new start in life, Phyllis answered an advertisement: English Governess wanted for Prince and Princesses of Saudi Arabian Royal Family. She soon found herself whisked off to the desert to look after – in The King and I tradition – the children of HRH Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, the King’s brother.

In this frank personal memoir, Phyllis describes her sometimes risky reactions to her secluded, alien lifestyle in a heavily guarded marble palace, allowed out only when chaperoned, veiled and clad from head to foot in black. Both as a Governess and as a modern western woman she constantly ran up against frustrating prohibitions and unexpected moral codes, only a few of which she could work her way around – usually in the interests of her young royal charges.

Phyllis explores sympathetically and from the inside her impressions of the country, of Islam, of Muslim beliefs and customs, and of Saudi dress, cuisine, and attitudes to the family, women, marriage and divorce. Above all she gives a fascinating account of the secret life of what is effectively an all-female world, and if you think women only make themselves look glamorous and sexy – and dance without inhibition – for men, then think again.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Eye Books Direct; 1st ed edition (1 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903070015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903070017
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 13.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 96,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Fascinating...Desert Governess throws light on a way of life that has hitherto remained almost literally under a veil." - The Sunday Express
"Desert Stormer" - The Evening Standard
"A King and I tale" - The Daily Mail
"Not just a natural adventuress Phyllis is an astute observer of human life andnotices details of human actions that give her a great insight and appreciation of other people's lives." - The Women's Writers Network -- Media Reviews

‘A fascinating account of her time.’ -- Sunday Express

‘A king and I tale.’ -- The Daily Mail

About the Author

Phyllis Ellis had a varied and colourful career. She was an actress, comedienne, singer and dancer who appeared with many famous stars of stage and television, in shows which ranged from Oh, Calcutta! to The Benny Hill Show!

Her face was also familiar to millions as a Mum in TV commercials for Fairy Liquid, Persil and Rowntrees ('Don’t forget the fruit gums, Mum!') More recently she became a teacher, both of English as a Foreign Language (in Italy), and of Yoga.

She is a widow with two grown up sons. Desert Governess is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
2.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Prim, unimaginative, and factually flawed 20 July 2004
It becomes clear from the first page of Ellis's book that it is only her exotic subject matter, and not her writing style, that won her a contract with a publisher. The majority of her descriptions are insipidly dotted with weak-legged adjectives such as 'nice' and 'pretty'. Erratically, she chooses to describe the palace's unremarkable kitchen table but does not once attempt to paint portraits of those she lived with. Yes, we know you are not allowed to photograph Princess Abtah, but how does she look? What is her face like?
I have lived in Saudi Arabia for the past seventeen years, and each factual flaw that I stumbled across made me wince. The author incorrectly claims that 'Islamic law forbids women to show their faces in public' and that 'women can't travel in taxis'. When in public, a Muslim woman is permitted to show her face and her hands. I cannot believe that Ellis did not know this fact, as a.) she claims to have read Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood's book 'Islam' (Maqsood devotes a whole chapter to the subject of female dress) and b.) one of the photos that illustrate the book shows her camel-riding unveiled on the Jeddah Cornice. I suspect that she deliberately slipped in these little errors to 'spice up' her book - this is nothing more than a sordid effort to squeeze money out of the unusual position in which she found herself.
Ellis also handles her material with staggering arrogance. Whilst declaring that 'Arabic is far too difficult for me to learn', she still tries to convince the reader that she has touched Saudi women's lives. How can she have done so, when she herself admits that she could not understand their conversations and could only sometimes find a translator?
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible!!!! 12 July 2004
By Ele
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I have always been fascinated with the Middle East, and in view of the privileged vantage point of the author - who spent about a year working as governess for the young Saudi Prince and Princess - I really thought this could well be a great read. But I was wrong. Promising as the premises are, the writer is simply not up to the job. The superficiality of many commets made me cringe, and some of her remarks so arrogant! I ended up really disliking the author by the end of the book. I kept going, hoping the book would get better, but - unbelievably! - it actually does get worse, and it touches rock-bottom when the author decides to plunge into poetry... Terrible, believe me, this bookis just terrible!!!!!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible! 16 Feb 2008
What a pity! I was really looking forward to receiving this book and can't describe how disappointed I was when I started reading. Could this be one of the most boring books I have ever read? Great subject matter but poorly written. Don't waste your money!
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