My father, Colonel Edward ‘Tug’ Wilson, and the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan formed a very close and remarkable friendship. They first met during the Trucial States era, when Sheikh Zayed was Ruler of Al Ain and my father was Commander of the Trucial Oman Scouts at the Buraimi Oasis in Al Ain.
Sheikh Zayed and my father shared a love for horses and falconry, and because my father spoke Arabic, they were able to spend most of their time talking together. In the evenings, they often went horseback riding at the base of Jebel Hafeet.
One of my earliest memories was meeting Sheikh Zayed. I was three or four years old at the time, and these photographs trigger memories of watching my father ride horses in the desert with Sheikh Zayed.
I recall my father saying that “Sheikh Zayed was a natural leader. He had an innate ability to form and run a country--that came from his bedouin background. Sheikh Zayed was guided by a sense of responsibility for the people.” My father kept a photograph showing him wearing the Abu Dhabi Defence Force uniform, walking next to Sheikh Zayed with young Sheikh Mohamed dressed in military attire between them.
As a boy, I occasionally accompanied my father when he met Sheikh Zayed at Al Bahr Palace. I walked into the majlis with my father. My father would sit with Sheikh Zayed while I sat by the door in the back. When the doors closed and you were in the majlis, it was like nothing in the world could touch you. It was very surreal. And how calm Sheikh Zayed was. It is very difficult to explain. At the time, I felt that everyone around him felt the same way.
Eventually, my father had decided to return to the UK and handed in his resignation. He received a letter from the Office of the President of the UAE that delivered Sheikh Zayed’s message, “While he appreciates the reasons which prompted you to resign, your resignation has not been accepted. His Highness says that you are a pillar among the unshakeable pillars of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, a respectable person who has always been so and thus, you shall stay.”
My father was honoured to accept a new role from Sheikh Zayed, to run the Royal Stables and the Asha’ab Stables in the desert near Sweihan. The two friends continued to enjoy riding horses together. My father set up stables, paddocks, the racecourse, the grandstand, the veterinarian clinic, an exercise pool, training track, and breeding facilities.
Sheikh Zayed often came to the stables in the afternoons when my father was there to inspect the horses and get an update on the breeding efforts. My father travelled to Germany and the UK to find suitable horses, took pictures and showed them to Sheikh Zayed.
On one occasion, when Sheikh Zayed and my father were talking, he called me over and asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I work for a company. Then he said, “No, you don’t. From now on, you work for your father. You must help him run the stables.” Then he turned to Sheikh Mansour and said, “Give him a house and a car. This is his salary. He starts tomorrow.” I was 24 years old. I worked at the Royal Stables for most of my career. I had the good fortune of seeing Sheikh Zayed often at the stables with his horses. He had a very commanding presence and a unique way with horses.
Sheikh Zayed’s favourite horse was Vain Hussar. There is a well-known painting of Sheikh Zayed astride Vain Hussar. My father commissioned British artist Janet Bingham to paint the portrait based on a photograph that he sent her of Sheikh Zayed on a horse during a trip to Europe. Vain Hussar was buried in the Asha’ab Stables.
When Sheikh Zayed passed away, a deep sorrow came over my father. My father spent his last days in Abu Dhabi.