What happened when Grazia sat down with the Fresh Prince of Saudi?

We met with plant-based Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia to discuss women’s progression in KSA and his plans for using veganism and fitness to improve health across the Middle East
What happened when Grazia sat down with the Fresh Prince of Saudi?

It’s not every day we’re invited to sit down with a prince of Saudi Arabia to discuss gender and environmental issues. HRH Prince Khaled is determined to leave a cleaner, greener mark on the planet by promoting veganism as a way of life – and Grazia is keen to learn more.

Raised in a palace in Riyadh, the prince’s concerns about his health and the environment later led him to embrace a vegan lifestyle. “It was the best thing I ever did,” he assures us. Today, Prince Khaled, 38, has invested in the first vegan restaurant in Bahrain and plans to open at least eight more in the region. Also on his agenda is opening an interactive wildlife centre for people to learn about the importance of preserving natural habitats. Impressive.

Here, Grazia chats to the self-proclaimed geek and animal lover – who oozes positivity, hope and passion when he speaks – about his love of CrossFit, his daughters and his hopes for the women of Saudi Arabia. Pretty aspirational stuff from the Fresh Prince of Saudi, right?

What was the reaction to you becoming a practising vegan back in 2009?
I basically encountered shock across the board. The natural reaction of anyone when you take on a plant-based diet is surprise, as the traditional route of getting ‘healthy’ is to jump on the latest silly, fad diet. 

What did your family think of your lifestyle change?
My daughters were curious as to why daddy didn’t eat meat anymore. I explained, “We don’t eat our friends”. When I gave them options like Tofurky they understood they could still enjoy flavours without cruelty. This summer, I plan on taking them to an animal sanctuary so I can increase their feelings of empathy and compassion.

How has being vegan changed your life?
Aside from getting down to a healthy weight, which was a combination of clean eating and working out, being vegan has increased my mental clarity, sleep quality and stamina.

Grazia is coming over for dinner. What are you cooking? 
I cook a lot, but if I was having you guys over for dinner we’d be at Plant Café, my vegan restaurant in Bahrain. We’d start with pearl barley soup and sharing portions of baba ganoush, vegan caesar salad and vegan sushi. For mains, we would share our signature lasagna and Indian potato and cauliflower curry. For dessert, I’d send you all home with our vegan carrot cake – it’s fantastic.

You’re President of the Saudi Fitness & Wellness Federation (SFWF), how does that tie into your life? 
SFWF is tackling the unacceptable obesity statistics in the Middle East head-on. The Saudi sports population has increased by 23 per cent and our goal is to try and hit 70 per cent by 2030. 

You’ve spoken openly about your desire to combat obesity in Saudi. Why is this so important to you? 
I see a lot of my brothers and sisters, Saudi citizens, sick from chronic diseases that can be prevented by health and fitness. Saudis spend a whopping amount of money treating disease that doesn’t need to exist.

Tell us more about your interest in CrossFit… 
I started CrossFit two years ago. I work out five times a week for an hour, and this time to me is sacred. I always ensure that no matter what, my workouts get done. 
Saudi women are now able to drive. How does this make you feel? 
HRH Prince Mohammad bin Salman publicly said this has been a dark spot of our history, and I’m extremely proud that we’ve moved past this. It was just a matter of time, but activating driving now has made all the difference.

What are your future hopes for Saudi women? 
Hopes are being achieved right now – it’s a beautiful scene to see our women leading in today’s Saudi Arabia. I go to meetings and see many Saudi women hungry for success and dedicated to achievement. 

Tell us a fond memory you have from growing up in KSA…
Every Ramadan we would have a neighbourhood soccer league. It started out as my friends and me, and slowly grew into a bigger league with other neighbourhood kids coming from across KSA to participate. I’ve met some of my closest friends that way. 

Finally, what’s the biggest misconception about the people of Saudi Arabia?  
That we’re not peaceful and loving. We’re the most peaceful and loving culture in the world and practise compassion and forgiveness. The minority of irrational individuals unfortunately often have the loudest bark, but those people don’t speak for Saudi. 

Photos: Supplied, iStock, Instagram @plant_cafe