I don’t feel remarkable,” says Queen Noor al-Hussein (“Light of Hussein”), the fourth consort of the king of Jordan. “I find it hard to realize that I am in a position that people feel is remarkable.” Still, as the world’s only American-born queen, the 27-year-old former Lisa Halaby, daughter of the ex-chairman of Pan Am, finds herself in a unique position. So, six months after her wedding, how does the liberated, intellectual Princeton architectural grad (’74) find life in the Jordanian court?
“We are in no way living a Western life-style in an Arabic desert,” she observes. That does not mean Lisa has put all her old, carefree ways behind. Albums of Saturday Night Fever and Frank Sinatra (generally banned in Arab countries as an Israeli sympathizer) are casually propped by the palace pool. She wears the traditional caftan-like madragah while entertaining informally, but by day she dons jeans (“good old American Levi’s”).
It has all been a bit sudden, beginning with Hussein’s secret courtship. Then working for Jordan’s national airline in Amman, she admits, “The idea of marriage came to me only when he asked me.” The king began to pop the question at dinner for two in the palace, and when he hesitated, Lisa encouraged him with a feminine wile as old as Eve. “Have another apple,” she urged. “Have another.”
The fact is, when Noor was wed, she took on the combined roles of queen, bride and stepmother to Hussein’s three children, aged 3, 4 and 6, from his marriage to Queen Alia, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977. “I’m still learning,” Noor admits. This has included instruction in the Muslim religion, to which she now “adheres,” and Arabic (“the most beautiful language in the world”), with Hussein, 43, helping her read the morning papers.
Noor has also involved herself with Jordan’s physical fitness program, urban planning and preservation, and is honorary president of “the Year of the Child.” Inevitably, there are restrictions in a land where women got the right to vote just five years ago. Palace life adds other limitations, and the newlyweds count on seeing each other mainly at breakfast, which tends to go on for hours, interrupted by telephone calls and conversation heavily laced with politics. “Sometimes we don’t dress until noon,” says the queen.
Bodyguards now shadow her life, and even casual shopping is out. “Solitude is something that I miss,” she says wistfully. On the other hand, she believes, “Part of my responsibility is to imagine ways to bring fresh air into our lives.”
At this she has been a resounding success, and Hussein exclaims, “I have found life again.” She is encouraging him to swim, play tennis and sail, and he treats her to demon rides on his motorcycle. Together they had some “wonderful days” skiing in the Alps, and during a recent state visit to Germany sneaked off to window-shop.
Such “lovely moments” may become rarer. When they were first married, Noor teased Hussein that his eight children to date seemed sufficient. Now she says that, while they are not planning another royal birth, “We are not doing anything to hinder it either. I would be delighted to have his child. He is my life, my love, my career.”