Peter Hellyer

Birth:November 5, 1947
Death:June 30, 2023

Peter Clark in his Emirate Diaries (Medina Publishing, 2017) has an entry for 16 January 1990 when he was the British Council's director in the Emirates and visiting Abu Dhabi, “I have dinner with Peter Hellyer and his Egyptian wife, Laila, who is a descendent of Zubair Pasha, the slave-trading rival of General Gordon in the Sudan in the 1870s. They have ashtrays made of coins that were minted in Omdurman during the Mahdiya, the period between the fall of Gordon’s Khartoum and the Battle of Omdurman.” It is account that links Peter Hellyer with lands he knew well - the Sudan and the Gulf, and his association with history and archeology.

Peter Hellyer, who passed away on 20th June 2023 was a journalist, historian and author and resident in Abu Dhabi from the 1970s. He was also  conferred UAE citizenship.  He was well-acquainted with the ruling family, the Nayhans. He was a confidante and regular attendee of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s majalis. His circle of friends was extensive, including prominent figures in various other clans such as  the Qubaisi, Dhahri and Bhuti.

Among his books was Early Days in Abu Dhabi, The Origins of ADCO, 1936-1971 about the Abu Dhabi Company on Offshore Oil Operations.

His career as a journalist and TV producer included interviewing the legendary traveller Wilfred Thesiger. Peter Hellyer helped establish Abu Dhabi’s  English-language state news service and served as managing editor of Emirates News. He was an advisor in the Ministry of Information and Culture and Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey.

In a moving obituary on his father, the social historian and political analyst Professor Dr. Hisham Hellyer notes, "The 1967 Arab-Israeli war took place when my father was 19, leading my father to become active in Palestinian solidarity efforts. A few months ago, he sent me a link to a book that he wrote called 'Israel and South Africa: Development of Relations 1967-1974', submitted in October 1974 to the UN Special Committee on Apartheid, and inscribed as an official document of the 1974 UN General Assembly. He was proud of that contribution, and agreed I should share it, which I did.[. . .] In 1978, my father moved to Abu Dhabi, at a time when a nation was still being born, only a few years after independence. Nevertheless, he maintained strong ties to the UK. He continued to be involved in the Liberal Party, and I remember taking a few weeks or so off school to join him on a campaign in the Scottish Borders in 1987, where his long-time friend David Steel was running for election [. . . ]  He’d already lived an incredibly fascinating life, and, without turning his back on his native UK, opted to invest a new set of energies into another part of the world [. . .] Visitors fondly remember the piles of newspapers stacked around its perimeter and the assorted papers that cluttered his desk. Hellyer was always generous with story ideas and contacts for journalists and foreign correspondents [ . . . ] My father wrote multitudes of volumes and books, nearly all dedicated to archaeology, natural history and cultural heritage, particularly on Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Fujairah. He also had a keen interest in birdwatching – something I never quite understood, but evidently other people did. My father took the then Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, birdwatching on one of the latter’s trips to the UAE. It was for this work in cultural history and archaeology that my father was granted Emirati citizenship in 2010; and a few years later, was bestowed an Abu Dhabi Award, the highest civilian honour in the Emirate" [Source: The Nation, 5 July 2023]

Compiler: Jamil

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