‘Nasty, painful, depressing:’ King Farouk’s tragic royal romance

Paul Crompton

Published: Updated:

The latest in Al Arabiya’s series on the colorful reign of Egypt’s King Farouk looks at his failed marriage with Narriman Sadek, a commoner who became Egypt’s last queen, as revealed through the monarch’s long-forgotten memoirs and interviews.

Tears were streaming down King Farouk’s face. His wife, Queen Narriman, was giving birth to the future sovereign of Egypt, who was one month premature. The current king, who had kept a bedside vigil by Narriman’s bed, held her hand, repeating “Push, Nunny, push!”

The rarely seen memoirs of Egypt’s King Farouk paint a rosy picture of his early married life. But some say the union quickly deteriorated after Farouk’s overthrow in July 1952.

Not happy

“It cannot be considered a happy marriage,” said Akram el-Nakeeb, Narriman’s son from a subsequent marriage.

Narriman’s memories of her exile with Farouk and their divorce in Feb. 1954 - which she initiated - were “nasty, painful and depressing,” Nakeeb told Al Arabiya News.

In the divorce proceedings, Farouk had given her the choice to either stay with him or return to Egypt without their two-year-old child, Ahmed Fuad, who had for less than a year been the de jure king of Egypt before the monarchy was formally abolished.

Narriman chose to leave Farouk.

‘In agony’

The ex-queen – who Nakeeb still refers to as “mummy” – was “in agony” at leaving her son “so that she [was] able to return back to her home land at the time.”

Her marriage to Farouk had lasted less than three years, and began after the dust had settled on Farouk’s failed first marriage with Farida, whom he divorced in Nov. 1948. Queen Farida had been unfaithful, as the ex-king said in his memoirs, and he was also in need of an heir.

“I had for years been a lonely man in my heart, even though I was surrounded by courtiers, aides and social friends,” Farouk wrote in his memoirs.

“Narriman was the first human being since I had achieved full manhood who really began to penetrate through the barrier, and to understand the man behind the panoply of royalty,” he continued.

“People seem to forget that it is always a human being upon whose head a crown rests.”

Instant attraction

Before their first meeting, the king was shown a photograph 16-year-old Narriman Sadek, the daughter of a middle class civil servant.

“I found myself at once attracted to the girl’s face,” Farouk wrote.

Going just by the photo, Narriman appeared to the king to display “a mouth that held a glint of lively humor, and eyes that danced with gentle friendliness.”

Farouk contrived to meet her in the store of his court jeweler, and the two seemed instantly to be attracted to each other.
Narriman then broke off her engagement to a well-known lawyer, Zaki Hashim, and in preparation to be married to the king, she was sent for several months to Rome, living in the Egyptian embassy. She studied history, etiquette, music and four European languages, and returned to Egypt weighing – in accordance to the king’s orders - no more than 110 lbs.

Honeymoon gambling

After their wedding, Farouk, eager to not repeat the failure of his first marriage, took Narriman on an extended honeymoon to the French Riviera.

While on the honeymoon, Farouk also took time to indulge in his gambling habit; victorious bouts at the baccarat table helped him pretend to “earn” the money to buy furs and jewelry for his wife. “Narriman certainly enjoyed it as much as I did,” he wrote.

Just six months later, the revolutionary Free Officers forced Farouk from power, sending him, Narriman, his daughters and the infant Fuad into exile on the royal yacht. They first sailed to Naples, then on to the Italian island of Capri, a place which the ex-king is “perfectly suited to,” a newspaper at the time commented sneeringly.

A short time into their exile in early 1954 – and after the memoirs were published – Narriman, who was still only 20 years old, divorced him.

In the court case, which resulted in Narriman returning to Egypt with almost nothing, she agreed to lose custody to their son, Ahmed Fuad, and dropped her original demands for alimony. The reasons cited for divorce, according to a newspaper report at the time, were “adultery, maltreatment, mental cruelty, and estrangement.”

‘What about Narriman?’

Narriman told reporters about her decision to leave Farouk: “It was the will of Allah, and when Allah wills he places scales on our eyes and seals our ears to wise counsel.”

With the final settlement ruling in favor of the ex-king, Narriman then returned to Egypt.

She would later re-marry twice, and suffered from ill-health in her later years. She died in virtual seclusion in 2005, at the age of 72.

Close to her death, the former queen gave an interview in which - as with the rest of her life - most of the interest concerned her famous husband.

“We have spoken much about King Farouk,” she mumbled. “What about Narriman?”

To read the sixth part of the series, entitled: “King Farouk’s fabulous wealth” click here.

To read the entire seven-part series, visit the King Farouk: The Forgotten Memoirs homepage.