The £8bn sheikh who married a £10-a-week waitress

She was a 19-year-old trainee waitress earning just over £10 a week at a hotel in remote Belarus.


And when Natasha Aliyeva was told to take an orange juice to Sheik Saeed bin Maktoum al Maktoum in the £450-a-night presidential suite of the Hotel Minsk, just over a month ago, she could never have imagined how her life was about to change for ever.
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The 30-year-old prince is the son of a former ruler of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and has an estimated £8 billion fortune.
His family largely created, and still rules, the state of Dubai and is renowned in the world of horse racing, owning the Dalham Hall Stud near Newmarket and the international Godolphin Stable of thoroughbreds.
The Maktoums are also key players in motor racing, creating the A1 Grand Prix, billed as the world cup of motor sport.
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As a teenager the prince met the Queen when she presented him with a trophy after his horse Lammtarra won at Ascot in 1995.
But he is also a devout Muslim and a happily married father of four sons and a daughter. He was in Minsk, Natasha was to learn, to take part in a clay-pigeon shooting competition.
Within hours of meeting the young waitress, however, the bearded prince was besotted - and surprised to find Natasha's father was also a Muslim.
He twice postponed his onward trip to Cyprus because of his infatuation with the teenager, and, after asking permission from her parents, married her in a simple ceremony on August 27, less than a month after they had met.
Now Natasha and her 25-year-old sister Galina have left Minsk, the city of their childhood, and have travelled with the prince, who hates flying, by luxury motorcade and private yacht to Cyprus for the next stage of the shooting competition.
The couple communicate in English, but Natasha's command of the language is weak so Galina, who is more fluent, has gone with her as an interpreter.
In Cyprus, it is believed, Natasha will meet the prince's first wife, with whom she has reportedly spoken on the phone.
For Natasha, it is a new life where she will want for nothing. Last week she was reluctant to speak, saying only: "I can't tell anything behind my husband's back. Saeed doesn't want any publicity.
"My life has turned into a fairy tale."
But she has told friends: "I really love him and there's nothing more I can think of right now."
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Her 52-year-old mother Lilia is less ecstatic. She lives in a small flat in a dilapidated block in Smolevichi, a drab town of 14,000 inhabitants some 25 miles east of Minsk, where she cares for her 88-yearold housebound mother and where she brought up Natasha.
She has reportedly told friends she is distraught that her daughter has gone so far from home.
One neighbour said: "Weddings should be happy but there have been tears.
"Lilia knows she will go next month to visit Natasha at her palace in Dubai, but she worries that a great wedge has been driven between herself and her daughter."
She is also, however, reported as saying: "I see that my girl is happy. So is my new son-in-law. And that's the really important thing for me.
"I see he's an honest, intelligent and tactful man with an excellent education. His fortune doesn't interest me. I'm not a woman to exchange my daughter for money.


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"I don't believe Natasha cares about his fortune either. She fell in love with him for his soul. I'm sure of it."
The prince arrived in Cyprus on Thursday last week for the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) world shotgun championships and was out practising on Friday ahead of today's competition. But there has been no sign of his new bride or her sister.
How Natasha will adjust to her new life causes concern to her family and friends. Certainly it seems the prince had been shocked that she appeared to know so little about Islam when her father - estranged from her mother - shares his religion.
And after he gained permission to marry her he insisted she convert from Orthodox Christianity to Islam.
When Natasha and Galina were growing up, the family was so poor that their mother used to travel 400 miles to a market in Moscow to buy cheap Chinese clothes, bringing back extra to sell on the black market.
At Natasha's graduation, a former teacher recalled, the family struggled to buy her a coat and pay for her graduation party.
Nina Shakhnut, 59, said her former student was not only beautiful but had "a very special character".
She said: "She was always a leader and I made her head girl in the class for two years running. Her mother took great care of her, though she was not at all well-off. Natasha has really aristocratic looks and such charm. I can see what the prince sees in her."
Mrs Shakhnut said Natasha had been popular with the boys at school. "She had a boyfriend, Alexander," she said.
"In one school picture a smiling Natasha can be seen with the lad's arm around her. But I think they finished when he chose not to study history at university. Natasha had dreams and she felt he'd sold out on his dreams."
A video of the town's beauty pageant, which Natasha entered two years ago, shows her as a funloving girl, posing happily in a black swimsuit and enthusiastically performing a belly- dance wearing a black costume adorned with spangly silver sequins.


Asked about her interests as part of the competition - which she didn't win - Natasha said: "My favourite pastimes are walking around the streets of my home town and also meditation.
"I am really interested in ancient China, its culture, religion and cuisine. My dream in the future is to open my own Chinese restaurant."
Quite what Natasha and the prince had in common is unknown. Her fellow waitresses at Hotel Minsk said they had apparently shared an interest in volleyball.
But he invited her to watch him shoot in the clay-pigeon competition and the pair then appeared to become inseparable.
Galina, however, told friends she was anxious about the speed of the marriage. "The prince asked my sister whether she was ready to adopt Islam and, of course, she refused at first. But later he managed to persuade her," she said.
Galina revealed that the prince and some of the 20-strong entourage he had brought to Minsk, including bodyguards and a cook, had gone to meet his future mother-in-law at her home in Communist Street.
The prince's Mercedes sped past a brooding statue of Lenin, a relic of the region's Soviet past.
Galina said: "He asked our mother about marrying Natasha and it took her some time to say yes. She was very upset. She sobbed and said, 'A faraway country, strange people, polygamy."
Indeed it was Galina and her friends who talked her round. Galina said: "We managed to persuade my mother that this was best for Natasha. And then Saeed visited again."
Natasha's 51-year-old father, called Muslim Aliyev, is a joiner who lives in a nearby tenement with his new family and had no such qualms.
"Look at my name," he said. "I understand Muslim ways. I was one of the first Natasha told and I was happy for her. It's not every young woman who has the chance to marry such a man. I didn't mind that he is polygamous.
"It's not like the old days. He made it clear that she won't be locked up when he's with his other wife. She will continue her education and I am sure she will visit us often in Belarus."
Galina is certain that Natasha is deeply in love with the prince and that he is very much in love with her.
She said: "His first wife says she is happy. She calls Natasha her sister and is looking forward to seeing her. And Natasha feels the same.
"The prince said he never expected to have two wives. Natasha was shocked at the marriage offer. But after a week she said, 'I realise I am in love with the prince.'"
Ironically, on his arrival in Minsk and before he had met Natasha, the prince had been asked by local journalists whether he liked Belarussian girls.
"Beauty is not important for me," he said. "I care more about what a girl has inside."
He also acknowledged that he may one day lead his country, as his father used to. If so, Natasha would be one of his first ladies.
"I don't know whether I'll ever become ruler," he said. "Is it important? Money and power come and go. Belief is the only thing that remains for ever."

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