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People Top 5
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- September 05, 1983
- Vol. 20
- No. 10
A Saudi Prince Pleads for U.S. Dollars
Never were those contradictions more apparent than during Talal's coast-to-coast, five-city U.S. fund-raising tour for UNICEF, the United Nation's Children's Fund, which he has served as special envoy since 1980. In speech after speech, Talal told of personally seeing children "die of diarrhea when 10 cents worth of medicine could save them." Between the orations, his American hegira took him from luxury hotel suite to luxury hotel suite via a private 727 and a fleet of stretch limos, with an entourage that included an accountant, one secretary, four press aides, five security guards, a religious adviser and nurses for two of his children. The trip, paid for by the Prince himself, came to $100,000.
As the "Children's Prince" worked the philanthropy circuit, mayors and governors, business executives and movie stars turned out to greet him, drawn in great measure by the Fahd connection. Of his relationship to the Saudi king, Talal says, "It's more than a brotherhood. We talk of everything." In Jiddah, for several hours every day, he receives commoners with problems in the opulent mansion he shares with his fourth wife, Princess Madjah, 22. and his nine children.
When he leaves home it is most often on behalf of UNICEF, for whom he has raised $72 million over the years. That money, he says, "is for anyone who's needy—it doesn't matter if they're Christian, Muslim, Jew or Buddhist." However, he doesn't avoid making political waves; during one of his up-with-kids speeches he urged the U.S. to negotiate with Syria to solve the Middle East crisis.
Talal's every public move on tour was oiled by Bob Gray and Co., the well-connected PR firm whom he reportedly pays $500,000 a year to smooth all things. Still, there were slipups. In San Francisco, visiting the Exploratorium, a science museum, the Prince was photographed holding an electric guitar which was part of an exhibition on acoustics. The shot surfaced in newspapers above such captions as "Prince hits high note." It was deeply upsetting to Talal because it was taken during Ramadan, the Muslim high holy month, and misrepresented what he was doing there.
Still, the Prince mostly made friends in the right places. San Francisco philanthropist Cyril Magnin hosted a party for Talal, even though when the request first came through, Magnin remembers, "I said, 'You must be crazy. I'm a Jew, and Arabs don't like Jews.' But I was wrong." Even more significantly, Talal charmed hundreds of children, including a boy from Chicago who wondered aloud, "How did he get so rich?" Answered a friend, "He owns a giant filling station."
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