In conversation with H.H. Princess Nourah bint Mohammed Al Faisal

A jewellery designer, businesswoman and consultant for The Jockey Club, Princess Nourah shares what to expect from the third edition of The Saudi Cup, growth in the kingdom, and how the city’s emerging design scene is more important than ever…

H.H. Princess Nourah bint Mohammed Al Faisal’s incredible work ethic is genetic: she comes from a line of hard working women. A jewellery designer by trade, she works closely with the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Fashion Commission, and in 2020 was also appointed as a consultant by the Chairman of The Jockey Club Saudi Arabia,  His Royal Highness Prince Bandar Al-Faisal.

Among her impressive array of roles, she’s contributed to the conceptualization of The Saudi Cup, which returns for its third edition next week. Ahead of its hotly anticipated return, Princess Nourah chats to What’s On Saudi Arabia about the return of one of the most exciting sporting events in the Kingdom, plus how it’s contributing to the region’s culture and fashion scene.

Now in its third year, what can we expect from the 2022 edition of The Saudi Cup?

Part of what I love is seeing the growth each year. Firstly in terms of the equine side, and all of the amazing achievements in terms of the race and its growth, it’s something we’re incredibly proud of and it’s a showcase of what we can achieve with the sport in Saudi Arabia. Then looking at it as a cultural event, we achieved so much last year even despite Covid, so this year we’re taking the learnings from last year and making it different. It’s bigger – I won’t say better but it’s different. It’s really different. I’m really excited for The Jockey Club, The Saudi Cup and us as a team to see the continued evolution of this event both as a cultural event and a sport.

Does the event contribute to putting Saudi on the international map for sport and culture?

The short answer is yes. But to get into a bit of detail, there’s a really great opportunity here to showcase our culture and heritage, something that maybe isn’t always very well known. While we inside Saudi and those that know the region are very clear on what Saudi culture is, for the outside world looking in, people aren’t that familiar. So it’s a wonderful window into a world that maybe was not as obvious or clear before. Then on the sports side, it’s very important to understand that specifically The Jockey Club’s role is continuing something that is already part of our heritage and part of our identity. HRH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal (the chairman of The Jockey Club) always says that unlike Formula E and a lot of the new sporting events we’re bringing into the kingdom, this is something that is born inside Saudi, and that really gives it a special positioning.

What are people most surprised by when you talk about Saudi and the developing events scene here?

Happily they’re less and less surprised! But I think I think people are still surprised by two things to my mind. One is the speed at which things are happening in Saudi: whether it’s entertainment, culture, business, evolution, tourism – all of these different things are moving at such a fast pace. The second thing that surprises people is how involved women are in everything. In roles in business, in government, in so many things – Saudi women are stepping into positions and really empowering themselves. I come from a family of very strong, active women: my mother, my aunts on both sides of my family all worked very hard, and so this is not something that’s just happening now – I feel like I need to say that this isn’t a new opportunity – it’s just that now we are really celebrating women being a part of these exciting developments.

The Saudi Cup is of course about the sport, but there are many elements that combine fashion and culture too. Do you see this as an opportunity to champion local designers?

So I am by trade a jewellery designer and my other job is a company that focuses an initiative that focuses on supporting design in the region and I’m very, very much a believer in the possibility of projects like this really being the opportunity to support, accelerate and enable the local design community.We work very much in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and their initiative this year with the Saudi 100 Brands is really something quite extraordinary. Part of the curriculum is the 100 brands is that they design outfits for the Saudi Cup, so we are looking forward to having not only an exhibition of the 100 Brands on site during the two days of the races but we will also have the designers dressing personalities, friends, family – actively there represented within the crowds. I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with.

It feels like this year is a continuation – but also an elevation – of last year

You can’t sit back on your laurels – whatever they are. I think it’s very clear in Saudi Arabia that we as people are very aspirational. We greatly want to continue to grow for things to be bigger and better and we are high, high achievers – I think you can see that in everything that The Jockey Club has achieved in the last 3 years. A quote I live by is, “Evolve or die.”

For this event, of course we’re striving to establish the identity of it in line with all these big races around the world, and the goal is to become one of the premier races in the world – maybe the premier one one day. But also all of these cultural things we want to put in and around it. Going back to a subject that is really important to me – women’s empowerment – the amount of opportunity that is in and around the equine industry for women in terms of careers is amazing, and you can actually see it on the ground from one year to the next, you can see it changing. It was only in 2020 that female jockeys were participating in Saudi for the first time ever and now we have Saudi women who are becoming jockeys, we have Saudi women trainers and I know around me there are many, many more women working within The Jockey Club than there were before. It’s very exciting.

King Abdulaziz Racetrack, Riyadh, February 25 and 26, from SAR86.25, tickets.thesaudicup.com.sa