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Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur's Tale of the World's Richest Princesses (Plus Their Servants, Nannies, and One Royal Hairdresser)by Jayne Amelia Larson
Synopses & Reviews
After more than a decade of working in Hollywood, actress Jayne Amelia Larson found herself out of luck, out of work, and out of prospects. Without telling her friends or family, she took a job as a limousine driver, thinking that the work might be a good way to dig out of debt while meeting A-list celebrities and important movie moguls.
When she got hired to drive for the Saudi royal family vacationing in Beverly Hills, Larson thought she’d been handed the golden ticket. She’d heard stories of the Saudis giving $20,000 tips and Rolex watches to their drivers. But when the family arrived at LAX with millions of dollars in cash—money that they planned to spend over the next couple of weeks—Larson realized that she might be in for the ride of her life. With awestruck humor and deep compassion, she describes her eye-opening adventures as the only female in a detail of over forty assigned to drive a beautiful Saudi princess, her family, and their extensive entourage.
To be a good chauffeur means to be a “fly on the wall,” to never speak unless spoken to, to never ask questions, to allow people to forget that you are there. The nature of the employment—Larson was on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week—and the fact that she was the only female driver gave her an up close and personal view of one of the most closely guarded monarchies in the world, a culture of great intrigue and contradiction, and of unimaginable wealth.
The Saudis traveled large: they brought furniture, Persian rugs, Limoges china, lustrous silver serving trays, and extraordinary coffees and teas from around the world. The family and their entourage stayed at several luxury hotels, occupying whole floors of each (the women housed separately from the Saudi men, whom Larson barely saw). Each day the royal women spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery and mega-shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive. Even the tea setup had its very own hotel room, while the servants were crammed together on rollaway beds in just a few small rooms down the hall.
Larson witnessed plenty of drama: hundreds of hours of cosmetic surgery recovery, the purchasing of Hermès Birkin bags of every color, roiling battles among the upper-echelon entourage members all jockeying for a better position in the palace hierarchy, and the total disregard that most of the royal entourage had for their exhausted staff. But Driving the Saudis also reveals how Larson grew to understand the complicated nuances of a society whose strict customs remain intact even across continents. She saw the intimate bond that connected the royals with their servants and nannies; she befriended the young North African servant girls, who supported whole families back home by working night and day for the royals but were not permitted to hold their own passports lest they try to flee.
While experiencing a life-changing “behind the veil” glimpse into Saudi culture, Larson ultimately discovers that we’re all very much the same everywhere—the forces that corrupt us, make us desperate, and make us human are surprisingly universal.
"Larson earned her graduate degree at Harvard University's American Repertory Theater Institute. For many years, she earned good reviews for a steady flow of New York City acting jobs. She then tried her luck in Los Angeles, but found herself out of work and money. Actor-friends told her limo-driving wasn't bad, so she told herself, 'after a few months, I would sell a script I'd been developing or land a great part in a film, and it would all be over.' After a couple of months on the job, big news: the imminent arrival of a Saudi royal family, known for glamorous excursions and large tips. In her chronicling of 50 days with Princess Zaahira and her entourage, Larson reveals herself to be an articulate, observant writer. She balances colorful tales of excess with musings on women's roles, and accounts of bad behavior with considerations of the reasons behind it. There are lovely moments, too: she developed a bond with a nanny and a gaggle of servant-girls, and their kindness offers a counterpoint to Larson's often disturbing realizations about money, power, and perspective. There's plenty of fascinating insider info, too, about the job, her charges (Saudi and otherwise), and Los Angeles — altogether, an often thoroughly enjoyable read." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Actress, producer, and occasional chauffeur Jayne Amelia Larson offers a funny and insightful memoir about the time she spent as a driver for members of the Saudi royal family visiting Beverly Hills, detailing her invitation inside one of the world’s most closely guarded monarchies.
When the Saudi royal family vacationed in Los Angeles, they hired Jayne Amelia Larson, an actress struggling to make ends meet, to be their personal chauffeur. She’d heard stories of the Saudis’ outrageously generous gratuities and figured that several weeks at their beck and call might be worth her time. But when the family arrived via their private jet with an entourage of forty and millions of dollars in cash, Jayne Amelia realized she might be getting into more than she bargained for.
For weeks, Larson observed the family’s opulent lifestyle: they occupied four luxury hotels, enjoyed day in and day out shopping binges, and servants catered 24/7 to Princess Zaahira and her entourage. From the thirteen-year-old princess who slapped down $100 dollar bills at a supermarket and didn’t bother to wait for her change to the nanny who ran away in the airport the moment she was handed her passport, the stories Larson shares are bizarre, poignant, and illustrative of the profound contradictions and complications that only such massive wealth can create.
Driving the Saudis, based on the author’s successful one-woman stage show, is a vivid portrait of the Saudi royals as few ever get to see them. As funny as it is insightful, this is a true-to-life fable for our times. But at its heart, it’s a story about the corruption that infinite wealth creates, and about what we all do for money.
About the Author
Jayne Amelia Larson is an actress and film producer. She has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a graduate degree from Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre Institute. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
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