Being the king of a nation generally brings enough wealth and power to meet most of a person’s wants and needs. Of course, there is the typical curse of affluence, when the possessor of wealth is unsatisfied and still wants more. Even so, it hardly seems likely that even a greedy king would have to resort to petty thievery, does it?
Alas, it is time to meet Egypt’s Farouk bin Ahmed Fuad bin Ismail bin Ibrahim bin Muhammad Ali bin Ibrahim Agha, a man who could be the poster child for all the things that can go wrong in an absolute monarchy.
Farouk was born February 11, 1920, and he ascended to the throne of Egypt on April 28, 1936, at the age of 16.
The personality flaws of his adult years might be blamed, in part, upon a less-than-admirable childhood. The only son of Sultan (later King) Faud I of Egypt and Sudan, Farouk lived a life that went well beyond “sheltered.” His father tightly controlled every aspect of his life. Farouk was permitted to see his mother for no more than one hour each day, and no one not associated with the royal family was allowed to meet him. Consequently, he had no childhood friends, and even the servants who cared for him were required to drop to their knees and kiss the ground and his hand upon entering into the prince’s presence.
Farouk lived the first sixteen years of his life exclusively within the royal palaces, never exposed to the outside world. Despite living just twelve miles from the Great Pyramids of Giza, he did not visit them until after he became king.
Perhaps in an effort to counter the obsessive controls over his son’s life, Faud indulged Farouk in just about anything else that he wanted. He gave Farouk a an Austin 7 automobile when the boy was 11 years old. Farouk may not have had any friends, but he did get to drive luxury automobiles through the palace gardens.
Such an upbringing would spoil any child, and Farouk was no exception. He was able to get away with just about anything. When, for example, Romania’s Queen Marie paid a visit, Farouk asked her if she wanted to see his two horses. He then introduced her to them by bringing the animals into the palace where they defecated all over the floor.
Farouk’s Swedish au pair, Gerda Sjöberg, wrote in her diary, “The truth doesn’t exist in Egypt. Breaking promises is normal. Farouk is already perfect at this. He loves to lie.”
Of course, many a young man strays off of the straight and narrow, only to come to his senses as he matures. Not so with Farouk. Part of the problem may have been that he went straight from being a spoiled, entitled boy to wearing the crown. At the age of 16, he was the absolute monarch of all of Egypt.
With virtually unlimited wealth and power at his disposal, Farouk’s boyish precociousness developed into outright excess. With no one willing or able to say no to him, there was no predicting what he would do. One of his favorite pastimes, for example, was to start food fights during official state banquets. Once, when plagued by a nightmare in which he was attacked by lions, he went to the Cairo Zoo and shot all of its lions. Naturally, no one dared tell him that his behavior was at all irrational.
As king, he continued to build upon his interest in automobiles. In his lifetime, he amassed a collection of over 100 cars, all of which were painted red. His choice of color belied more than a personal preference; it was also a convenience. The king made it illegal for anyone else to have a red car. In this way, he was free to drive wherever he wanted, as fast and as reckless as he wanted, knowing that no police officer would dare attempt to stop a red vehicle. It isn’t that he was afraid of getting a ticket. He was, after all, above the law. He just didn’t want to be slowed down long enough for the police officer to realize he was attempting to stop the king of Egypt.
As if all of this weren’t enough to rank Farouk among the oddest and most insufferable of world leaders, he had one other peculiarity that took him to a whole new level of crazy. He was an unrepentant kleptomaniac.
Farouk was one of the wealthiest men on the planet, but he couldn’t resist nicking things that belonged to others. He swiped things from homes, stores, markets, and museums. As king, he could get away with openly taking things from people, but that wasn’t good enough for him; he hired a professional pickpocket to teach him how to perfect the skill himself.
In 1943, while hosting a dinner for Winston Churchill, Farouk admired Churchill’s pocket watch. The Prime Minister explained that it was a family heirloom, given to his ancestor John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, by Queen Anne. As the dinner neared its end, Churchill abruptly noticed that his treasured watch was missing. The guests abandoned their meals and began searching for the watch. After a fruitless search, Farouk, who had been seated next to Churchill, sheepishly turned it in, claiming to have “found” it.
The year after the attempted theft of Churchill’s watch, Farouk pulled off a theft even more daring. His brother-in-law, the Shah of Iran, died, and Farouk had his body flown to Cairo for a second funeral. Somehow, during the solemn ceremony, under the watchful eyes of the assembled mourners, Farouk swiped the Shah’s ceremonial sword and medals right off of his corpse.
Farouk was deposed in 1952 and forced into a life of exile. Although deprived of the throne, he remained an incredibly-wealthy man and continued to live a life of excess. As a boy, his father kept him on a strict diet, warning him that the men of the family were prone to obesity. This proved to be true. How much of this was due to genetic predisposition as opposed to lifestyle is unknown. His typical day included caviar for breakfast, eating it directly from a can. Large quantities of boiled eggs, toast, lobster, steak, lamb, chicken, and pigeon usually followed. In between meals, he snacked on 600 oysters throughout the day. He washed it all down with 30 bottles of soda.
Ultimately, Farouk’s extravagance and excess caught up with him. The former king’s heart gave out on him on March 18, 1965, at the age of 45. By this point, he weighed 300 pounds. He lost his throne, his youthfulness, and his health. Churchill, in contrast, died two months before him at the age of 90, still loved, respected, and still in possession of his pocket watch.