Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur's Tale of the World's Richest Princesses (plus their servants, nannies, and one royal hairdresser) [NOOK Book]

Overview

The true-to-life account of a female chauffeur hired to drive the Saudi royal family in Los Angeles.

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.

When she got hired to drive for the Saudi royal family vaca­tioning in Beverly Hills, Larson thought she’d been handed the golden ...
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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)

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Overview

The true-to-life account of a female chauffeur hired to drive the Saudi royal family in Los Angeles.

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.

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 bestowing $20,000 tips and Rolex watches on their drivers, but when the family arrived at LAX with twenty million dollars in cash, Larson realized that she might be in for the ride of her life.

With awestruck humor and deep compassion, Larson shares the incredible insights she gained as the lone female in a detail of more than forty chauffeurs assigned to drive a beautiful Saudi princess, her family, and their extensive entourage.

At its heart, this is an upstairs-downstairs, true-to-life fable for our global times; a story about the corruption that nearly infinite wealth causes, and about what we all do for money. Equal parts funny, surprising, and insightful, Driving the Saudis provides both entertainment and sharp social commentary on one of the world’s most secretive families.
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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
"[This] book has a Lives of the Rich and Famous feel about it, but it’s not all about the money and the people who spent it (sometimes in utterly staggering quantities). In addition to the money, there’s some sentiment here, too, as the author comes to know these people, who seem to come from another world, and learns they aren’t so different, after all."
New York Times bestselling author Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia - Jean Sasson
“Driving the Saudis is an entertaining, fast-paced read. As someone who has traveled with the Saudi royal family, I can confirm that Jayne Larson provides an amazingly accurate account. So if you want to take a ride with royalty without leaving the comfort of home, read this book.”
From the Publisher
"Unlike most snappy memoirs about working as a temporary chauffeur for some of the richest people in the world, Driving the Saudis not only contains hilarious detail and horrifying excesses, but also serious social insight and moments of pure heartbreak. In her compulsively readable story, Larson has created memorable portraits of two cultures: theirs and ours." —Jim Krusoe, Parsifal
author of Yoga Bitch - Suzanne Morrison
"Jayne Amelia Larson spent seven weeks with the .001% and returned with an astonishingly rich story to tell. Honest, compassionate, and deeply entertaining, Driving the Saudis is the story of a woman trying to support her dreams, make a few bucks, and keep a gaggle of pampered princesses happy without losing her mind (or her perspective) in the process."
author of New York Times bestselling Sleeping with the Devil and The Company We Keep - Robert Baer
"A stolen glimpse into the world's most important and intriguing family. A wonderful book, wonderfully written."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451640045
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 100,455
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jayne Amelia Larson is an actress and independent film producer based in Los Angeles. She’s also been an occasional chauffeur between gigs. Her award-winning one-woman show, Driving the Saudis, has shown across the country.
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Read an Excerpt

Driving the Saudis


  • The drivers were sent to pick up the family and the entourage in the middle of the night. No one was there. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was hushed, practically shut down. I’d been there dozens of times before, but I’d never seen it like that; it was spooky. Even the light seemed different, as if all the exterior fixtures had been gelled and dimmed to create an ominous orange haze.

Everything was quiet but I was not. I was way revved up, like a Ferrari at a race start. I felt as if I was in the middle of a $100 million movie set filming an international thriller. Just as on a movie set, our instructions had been minimal and information was scarce, as well as constantly changing. Everybody was silent as if cameras were rolling, but this wasn’t a film shoot. This was real.

The head security officer said the Saudi royal family wanted their arrival at the airport to be low key, but we had pulled into the airport with at least forty vehicles—Lincoln Navigators, Cadillac Escalades, Porsche Cayennes, bulletproof armored Mercedes-Benz S600s (the big boys), and even a couple of $300,000 Bentleys—all black, with full-on black tinted windows, and we snaked through the horseshoe-shaped airport in a tight convoy as if we owned the place. I’d never driven before in a caravan of so many cars and it was forceful. We had several LAX police escorts, but they didn’t have their bubbles flashing. Even so, we were not low key. We were impressive.

Fausto, the lead driver, waved at us to park along the curb, put our flashers on, and wait. Our windows were open and I could see that many of the other drivers looked as nervous as I felt, their foreheads glistening with beads of perspiration. Our eyes darted about maniacally, trying to follow the torrent of commotion around us; every now and then a driver would wipe sweat off his brow or pull at his collar.

We drivers were told that the Saudi consul and his staff were in attendance to usher the passengers through customs. Since no one spoke to us, we had no idea who was who, but I presumed that the group of men in sharp suits, talking in low tones among themselves just ahead of the convoy at the entrance to the Bradley International Terminal, were from the consul’s office. A cadre of serious-looking Saudi Army officers in khakis came out first and conferred with the consulate staff assigned to greet the family. Several linebacker-sized men in civvies strutted about, stepping away from the gathered men to bark instructions on Nextel radios.

As I looked down our line of sedans, SUVs, and luxury vehicles, my eyes tracked the large assembly of black-suited drivers and armed security personnel attending the family. I was the only woman.

We had started work at noon and then waited around for several hours for the cars to be made available from various Beverly Hills rental agencies. We then made sure they were carefully detailed, inside and out, and provisioned with water—Fiji water only—and assorted snacks and goodies that the Saudis might request. Some of us had a prior list of what we should be buying for the family member we’d be driving, such as Mentos or Ritz crackers, but we had all stocked up on breath mints and tissues.

Most of us had been working nonstop all day prepping the cars and running errands for the family’s security; it didn’t look as if we’d be getting a meal break anytime soon, and it was now late evening. I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, and hopped-up nerves had made my throat sandy from thirst. I had stocked my car with the required designer water, placing the pint-sized bottles in each of the cup holders and several more in the pockets behind the front seats along with crisp current copies of LA Confidential, 90210, and Angeleno magazines. When I saw that most of the other drivers had gotten out of their cars and were making cell phone calls, tugging at their pants, and lighting cigarettes, I retrieved one of the extra bottles from the trunk of my car and choked down a few sips of the fancy water. It was hot, car hot. It tasted like it could be LA River water. I made a mental note to start carrying an iced cooler in the trunk as I’d seen other drivers do.

My stomach churned from hunger. I took another sip of the car-hot water and popped a few Altoids.

I’d never met any members of a royal family before, so I was keen to know what they might be like and to see if they were really all that different from me. Were they smarter? Were they prettier? Were they happier? Would they like me?

It was an unusually warm July evening, and by this time we had been waiting several hours for the family to arrive. I felt as if I was burning up and clammy at the same time. I had so wanted to make a good impression on the royals, and now that seemed lost for good. As I picked up the acrid scent of wet wool wafting up from the inside of my jacket, it was apparent that the eau de toilette I had spritzed on in the morning was now gone, long gone. I had chewed all my lipstick off hours ago, my feet were pink and screaming in the stiff new stacked heels I had just bought for the job, and the silk lining of my black suit was sticking to me like a wet bathing suit. I wriggled around and shook out my legs. I felt like a snake trying to shed its old skin. Every now and then I’d surreptitiously pluck at my suit to put some air between my skin and the lining. I hoped no one noticed.

The drivers had been told to wear black suits to the airport but thereafter could dress in more casual clothes. I was instructed to make sure that my arms and legs were completely covered at all times and that my neckline was never low cut or revealing, but the male drivers could dress more freely and were permitted to wear polo shirts and shorts. I did not have to cover my hair. I was relieved when I was told that; I have copious amounts of curly dark-blond hair, and wrestling it into some kind of contained state can be something akin to an extreme sport, especially in the blazing California summer weather, when it’s particularly unruly. Fingers, toes, even a champagne cork or two have been known to get stuck in it. Tearing a rotator cuff trying to get it under control after a wild night is not out of the question.

The family had actually arrived a short while before at a fixed base operation (FBO), a half-mile south of LAX, in their private plane. FBO is aviation parlance for a private airport. If you’re Oprah in her Gulf-stream G500 that seats eight, then you land at one of the FBOs operating out of the cozy Santa Monica private airport 10 miles north up the road. If you’re John Travolta in his Boeing 707, or a head of state, or members of the Saudi royal family, then you must land at FBOs such as the ones near LAX, where the big jet planes come in on the 2- and 3-mile-long runways that can accommodate them. Jets cover a lot of distance taking off and even more on landing.

I’d been inside this FBO’s plush reception area before on several past jobs when waiting for clients. It was a first-class lounge, and I knew it offered warm saucer-sized chocolate chip cookies, cool drinks, and refreshing ionized conditioned air, but it was off-limits on this pickup. Clearly no one wanted us to be comfortable.

All the drivers had waited in the heavily secured FBO parking lot lined up at attention and watched through a 16-foot-high chain-link and barbed-wired fence as the Saudi royal family’s plane descended. The jet’s tail had the distinctive gold and blue logo—crossed scimitars above a date palm tree—that I knew to belong to Saudi Arabian Airlines, owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Just as the jet’s engines shut down, several luxury coach buses pulled up and parked at the base of the air stairs truck on the tarmac. The passengers exiting the plane piled in them and then drove off across the airport tarmac in the direction of the Bradley International Terminal at LAX within view of us one-half mile northwest of the FBO.

We drivers looked at each other in confusion, then we looked around for Fausto to tell us what to do but he had disappeared with the family in the first coach. We didn’t know whether we should wait or follow him and the passengers to the Bradley Terminal via surface streets. We thought that we’d be picking up the Saudis at the FBO and driving them back to the hotel, but they had taken off in the buses instead of in our cars. No one had said that this might be a possibility. We had no idea what to do.

After a few tense moments, one of the royal family’s security personnel shouted at us to get moving. We jumped in our cars and took off, jockeying to get in position to exit as quickly as we could, but we didn’t know where we were supposed to go. Just as we were leaving the gated parking lot, another security guy pulled us back. “No! Wait here! Stay in your cars! Just be ready!” he said. So we waited, engines running. Several of the first cars out had to be tracked down and brought back in line. Everyone was rattled.

Ten minutes later we were told to get on the move again and then abruptly stopped a second time. Now we were totally confused. We were supposed to be a smooth, efficient, and highly professional group, but this pickup was completely disorganized and chaotic; it was a mess. I chewed at a hangnail on my thumb until it bled and then sat on my hands to stop the carnage. I haven’t chewed on my nails since I was nine, and I didn’t want to start again.

I come from a big family—my immediate circle includes ten children, fifteen grandchildren, with perhaps more on the way, and two great-grandchildren with the statistical probability of at least ten more—and I am accustomed to chaos. Thanksgiving is bedlam, Christmas is pandemonium, weddings are free-for-alls and funerals are a bust, especially if there’s a dispute about how or where cremated ashes are to be scattered. I grew up in a cacophony of passionate voices demanding this, commandeering that, negotiating whatever and everything—all at top volume and top speed, often in the middle of the night and through the night. One of my brothers built a 16-foot canoe by hand in his bedroom when he was sixteen, realized it wouldn’t fit through the door, hauled it out the window after removing the window frame, and then had the balls to take it down the Raritan River in New Jersey—so I’ve had a deep and lasting relationship with chaos. Even so, this was unsettling.

Finally, I released my hands and called my chauffeur friend Sami on my cell phone. He was driving one of the Lincoln Navigators in the line ahead of me. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“They’re going through customs at Bradley,” he said. “It never takes long.”

“Are you kidding? That could take hours,” I said.

“Not for them, chica,” he said.

Just then, another security guy came tearing out of the FBO waving his arms frantically like a semaphore signalman on an acid trip. “Go! Go! Go to Bradley!” he yelled. After a few unsure moments, we gunned our cars and raced to LAX up the road.

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Table of Contents

1 The $100 Million Pickup 1

2 How Did I Get Here? 7

3 I'm Part of a Special Op! 24

4 Where Are the Veils? 33

5 Palace Intrigue 39

6 The Spirit of Partnership 45

7 How Many Hermès Are Too Many? 57

8 I Will Survive! 63

9 Who Are These People? 70

10 Shoot the Go-To Girl 77

11 Like a Hijab in the Wind 83

12 The Real Housewives of Riyadh 100

13 Un-Avoidable 107

14 Kill Me but Make Me Beautiful! 112

15 Alhamdulillah 118

16 Beach Prayer 130

17 Shame Is a Very Personal Thing 137

18 "Yes, Janni. We Know This, Janni." 145

19 The Cool Driver Doesn't Lose Her Nose 149

20 The Lockbox 159

21 You Can Never Really Know a Person 165

22 Go, Nanny, Go! Run for Your Life! 171

23 How Many Bras Are Too Many? 176

24 My Big Fat Envelope 184

25 The $300 Million Getaway 187

Epilogue 204

Acknowledgments 207

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    I expected to read much more about the Saudi family and much les

    I expected to read much more about the Saudi family and much less about how the author was "almost famous".  Most of the story is about how she was so talented and ended up as a chauffeur. Ug

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2012

    A long way from Miss Daisy.

    A sensitive and beautifully written account of an experience unknown to many that bridges a vast cultural gap in a most unexpected way.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Don't waste your money!

    The book title, which includes "Tale", suggests some gossipy information, in my humble opinion. This was a story that chased it's tail. I found it a difficult read as the story was very unorganized. The author wrote quite a bit about Saudi history. I don't know what else to say, I felt defrauded upon trying to read this book. I have never, ever felt so strongly the need to pre-warn readers my opinion about a book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2012

    Ms. Larsen intertwines the tale of her experience as chauffeur t

    Ms. Larsen intertwines the tale of her experience as chauffeur to the Saudi Royal family with snippets from her own life and throws in some Middle Eastern history for good measure. This is done in a delightful, easy to read format that is both funny and poignant. There are lessons to be learned and the irony of women who spend a virtual fortune on couture and surgical enhancements yet must be covered in their homeland. This book is a splendid gift idea.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2012

    Elegantly written and an easy read about a difficult subject.

    Elegantly written and an easy read about a difficult subject. Offers an unusual blend of humor, social commentary, wit and compassion.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    GOOD BOOK

    A very thoughtful and interesting read!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    I thought this book was both entertaining and thought-provoking

    I thought this book was both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Getting a glimpse into the lives of the very rich Saudi royals is intriguing. But I also found myself asking "what would I do," if I were in the author's shoes. What would I say? And that's really the value of the book—to ride along with Larson and have to reflect on our own culpabilities and compromises.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    Fun read.

    Driving the Saudis is not great literature and none of the characters are well developed with the possible exception of the narrator who is the main character. It is fun to read and it is fairly short. It touches lightly on some big ideas related to gender inequality and thus provides some food for thought.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    Entertaining and informative read

    I laughed out loud many times and really enjoyed this book. It is well written, engaging, moving and thought provoking. Driving the Saudis invites you into a world rarely seen by outsiders. I highly recommend this delightful book.

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    Posted December 30, 2012

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    Posted April 6, 2013

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    Posted November 26, 2012

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    Posted October 22, 2012

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    Posted November 5, 2012

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    Posted January 5, 2013

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    Posted January 8, 2013

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    Posted November 19, 2012

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