Another People's Princess?

Before she married into Jordan’s ruling family, Ghida Talal studied in America and worked as a journalist in Argentina. The result: She’s deeply committed to modern causes—and to a new idea of what it means to be royal.

by Janice Kaplan
Photograph: Illustrated by Joe McKendry

A Yes. My husband and I had been married only six months when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. We had the privilege of traveling to the U.S. for his care, and I wanted so much that other wives would have the same opportunity forhope that I had. When I began as chairperson of the center, we had a couple of full-time doctors and very inadequate treatment. I wanted to make sure that cancer was no longer a death sentence in the Middle East. I met with the National Cancer Institute in the U.S., which agreed to send doctors to us if we met certain criteria. Now we have about 170 oncologists, and we’re the only center in the developing world to have accreditation. People from Arab countries get treatment in line with international standards, and there’s a goodwill fund for the underprivileged. 


Q Is there still a stigma to cancer among Arab women?

A Yes. In our part of the world, 70 percent of women with breast cancer used to be diagnosed at stages 3 and 4, when it’s less curable. We started an aggressive campaign for early detection. In three years we’ve been able to cut that statistic in half. 


Q Many organizations in Jordan have a “royal patron” who lends his title to the cause. But you’ve gone far beyond that. Why? 

A The global culture has flattened, and a title means less and less. You have to be engaged in society. I suppose if I were aloof, I could hear a lot of “Yes, Your Royal Highness.” But what would that mean? I wouldn’t have the respect of people—and that is what I care about. The world has changed, and nobody speaks of royals in hushed tones anymore.

First Published October 11, 2011

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