Brunei’s Crown Prince, H.R.H Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Bolkiah has married a seventeen year-old commoner of Swiss-Bruneian origin, Sarah Salleh, in a lavish ceremony in the tiny sultanate. Royalty and political leaders from around the world gathered for Asia’s most spectacular wedding in years. The guest list included Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito (significantly without Crown Princess Masako who is suffering from a stress induced illness); Bahrain’s King Hamad; Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia; and the Duke of Gloucester, representing H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Brunei’s neighbours were also represented with most of Malaysia’s nine royal families attending, as were the political leaders of Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. H.R.H. Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah is the third child of His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha binti Al- Marhum Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Haji Mohamed Alam.
He was born at the Istana Darul Hana, Bandar Seri Begawan, on 17 February, 1974. As heir to the throne his upbringing and education have been geared toward preparing him for his future role. His primary school years were spent at the Royal School attached to the Darul Hana Palace and then at St. Andrew’s School, situated in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. He studied the Koran as well as the Jawi (the Arabic alphabet tailored to express the Malay language) and English. After completing his secondary education in Brunei, Prince Haji took the path of many hereditary future heads of state by completing his higher education overseas. In October 1995 he enrolled at Oxford University as a student of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. During his two years at Oxford the heir’s true identity Royalty was a closely guarded secret and he was known simply as ‘Mr. Omar Hassan’. Anonymity allowed him to live the social life of an ordinary student.
By contrast, his studies were tailored to his unique position. The Prince’s academic efforts concentrated on three principal subjects: Islamic Studies, the history and culture of Brunei and the theory and practice of political science, economics and international relations. At the end of his first year, Prince Haji gained entrance to Oxford University’s Foreign Service Programme. He was one of thirty students, from Europe, Asia and the Americas, all of whom were graduates employed in their country’s diplomatic services. In June 1997 Prince Haji passed each of the compulsory exam papers, and successfully graduated from the Foreign Service Programme. Returning to Brunei, H.R.H was attached to the Ministry of Education and he has since taken on a high profile role in the country’s international affairs. The Prince is also a keen sportsman and has represented his country at the biannual South-East Asian Games in billiards and snooker events. He is also the owner of a football club. His teenage bride, Sarah Salleh, is the youngest of three children and is currently in pre-university education at a local college. She is described by friends as graceful, intelligent and having a positive attitude toward life. Her mother is originally from Switzerland, but gave up her Swiss citizenship in the 1970s and moved to Brunei to work with the Health Ministry. The young couple are said to have met through a mutual acquaintance.
Brunei’s royal family is renowned for its extravagance, but the wedding celebrations were a shade less spectacular than some anticipated. Perhaps excessive ostentation would have been seen as inappropriate as the sultanate is not going through the easiest of times. Brunei is best known to the wider world through its ruler, Sultan Hassanai Boikiah, who was said to be the world’s richest man before he lost billions of dollars. (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 19/05)