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My Brief Encounter with Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi of Iran (**)

photo's by Masoud Soleyman Zadeh ©Darius Kadivar, 2008 

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom."
-Marcel Proust  

"Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way."
-Marcel Proust

It was a particularly cloudy afternoon in Paris and the weather was hesitating between rain showers and rare moments of sunshine that displayed a beautiful rainbow above the Trocadero Plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Paris being Paris, one could see lovers in the eternal city kissing and holding hands ignoring the regular crowd of tourists taking photos or weekend joggers passing by while tuning their ipods to their favorite song.
Masoud a good friend had been patiently waiting for me under the rain for more than an hour when I finally showed up. "Where have you been Ol' Chap?", he asked impatiently, "We will be late!". "Do you have the Camera?" I asked equally impatiently, while trying to explain that the subway trains were slow due to a strike, but before I finished my sentence he showed it to me with a big smile of satisfaction. The next thing I remember was that we were running towards the Passy Cemetery just across the Plaza hoping we were not late for the annual ceremony held regularly to honor the memory of the late Princess Leila Pahlavi ...

It was the first time that I was assisting this public ceremony and was not quite sure what to expect. The previous day, I had got a personal and unexpected call from Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi's secretariat who had managed to get my phone number through mutual connections, asking me if I could be present Saturday, June 7th, at the Passy Cemetery and that the Empress was eager to meet me in person given that I have been covering Royalty news as well as cultural updates on the Iranian Diaspora for various Iranian medias including payvand for a long time. It's not everyday that one gets such a formal invitation from one of the living icons of the 20th century, but soon my excitement was followed by sheer panic. What should I wear? What should I say to her when I meet her that I have not written to date? Is there a specific protocol of sorts you need to follow even in presence of a former Queen? Not any Queen either but the only one ever Crowned in our long 25 century Old History. One who's Coronation remains a milestone in TV history along with that of British Monarch Queen Elizabeth II.  Amidst the day dreaming I was more practically also thinking of where could I possibly find a photographer on time to record our meeting, given that all my colleagues would all be busy with the D-DAY commemorations of the 6th of June ? I had to think QUICK and if possible professionally when suddenly I remembered a good student friend in Paris who had done an excellent photo essay on Soprano Monica Jalili's concert in Paris a few years ago. I immediately gave him a call and Masoud (Soleyman Zadeh) answered me saying he would do his best but was not sure he could make it given that he was preparing for an urgent paper he had to deliver for his PhD. As the saying goes "When the going gets tough the tough gets going ...". Panic had given way to desperation ...

"Well what do I do if he doesn't make it?" I thought to myself." I am sure photographers would be present to immortalize the moment but will they be available to help me?". A minute later Massoud calls me back: "Don't worry Ol' Chap, I will come for sure! I don't want to miss seeing her either!". "Thank God" I said, and we decided to meet the next day an hour before the ceremony around 3h00 PM. 


© Masoud Soleyman Zadeh & Darius KADIVAR

So here we were, paving our way towards the entrance of the crowded Passy Cemetery, located at 2, rue du Commandant Schlœsing in the 16eme arrondissement. The cemetery opened in 1820 in the expensive residential and commercial districts of the Right Bank near the Champs-Élysées; by 1874 the small Passy Cemetery had become the aristocratic necropolis of Paris. Amongst the celebrities buried there one can find: Tristan Bernard (1866-1947) French playwright and novelist, Princess Brassova (Natalia Sheremetyev-Romanov) (1880-1952) - wife of Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov, Madeleine Renaud (1900-1994) - actress, Georgi, Count Brasov (1910-1931) - son of Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov and Princess Brassova (Natalia Sheremetyev-Romanov), Bảo Đại (1913-1997) - the last Emperor of Vietnam , or Gholam Hossein Jahanshahi (1920-2005)- economist, Iranian statesman.


A Dream Come True: A Private Moment with Her Majesty. (Insert) Author with Late Father Kioumarz and Siblings Cyrus & Sylvie-Roya KADIVAR, Shiraz - Iran, October 1971. © Masoud Soleyman Zadeh & Darius KADIVAR & © Hergé/Moulinsart

Massoud and I were greeted by security services who let us go in without much scrutiny after I presented myself. That surprised me a little given that much fuss (however justified) is often made about security surrounding celebrities in Europe and the US and particularly when it comes to political personalities be them Presidents ( former or present), government ministers or diplomats when they are greeted by a large crowd. We learned however that the Shahbanou had not arrived yet and that allowed me and Massoud to locate the late princess' flowered tombstone and get a feeling for the general atmosphere and for the people from all walks of life who had come from all over the world to commemorate what seems to have become an annual ritual. Interestingly there were also many non Iranians like some Parisians who were also present. Some of whom were married or simply friends with fellow Iranians. Others were present out of curiosity, nostalgia or genuine sympathy for Iran's last royal family. Before becoming Queen of Iran, Farah Diba was an unknown Arts Student in Paris in the 1950's, where she pursued an ambition to become an architect. She however became the focus of an unprecedented media coverage in the French and international press as the new fiancé to the Shah of Iran. The latter had been married twice but both had led to painful divorces. As a result the pressure of the media on this new royal romance was far greater than any to which the former Princess' Fawzia of Egypt or German-Iranian Soraya were ever exposed to. The future of a dynasty was at stake but also that of an entire nation waiting to see their king happy and confident in a brighter future. But what about the young woman who held on her shoulders THAT great responsibility? Arranged marriages rarely succeed for they are rarely built upon genuine love and mutual understanding. In addition being in the public eye hardly helps or encourages the rare moments of intimacy that allow the seeds of love to grow. Yet the man who was to be soon presented to the young and beautiful Farah Diba at the Iranian Embassy in Paris hardly knew that his life would change for ever beyond his expectation on that particular magical evening in the French capital. According to Shahbanou Farah's recalling "Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi was a handsome man surrounded by honors and responsibilities that his royal duties imposed on him but what attracted me was his very sad eyes that seemed to seek understanding." Those "sad eyes" however were to soon succumb to those of the good natured and dynamic young lady who seemed to share so many common interests with the bachelor king who was 20 years older. A passion for sports and for their common understanding of their country's historical and cultural heritage, in one of the most turbulent areas of the world, was to seal their new bond that soon led to a passionate mutual love. The young Farah Diba's enthusiasm and passion was rejuvenating for a King who had refused to crown himself ( or his would be Queen) before seeing his countrymen and women reach a level of social and economic well being that they were entitled too. What words and thoughts were exchanged between the two during that first formal meeting remains a mystery to historians and only confined in the private hearts of the sincere lovers they had become ...



As Massoud was preparing his camera for general shots of the attendees waiting for Her Majesty to appear, I kept thinking of that particular moment that united the King and Queen of my homeland. A homeland I have not seen for 30 years. The story of the Shah and Shahbanou and the fatal fall of the Pahlavi dynasty could find a romantic yet tragic echo in the Celtic legend of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table immortalized by the beautiful Broadway musical in the late 50's with Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in the title roles and later adapted to the Technicolor Cinema screen by Joshua Logan with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave reprising the roles. Interestingly the first was brought to Broadway approximately at the time of Iran's Royal couple's marriage in 1959 while the movie hit the screens precisely at the time of the 1967 coronation of the Shah and Shahbanou at the Golestan Palace.

I recalled the passage of the first meeting between King Arthur and Guenevere and some of the memorable dialogues by Lerner & Loewe:

Guenevere (Julie Andrews): "I'm afraid your Majesty."

King Arthur (Richard Burton): "Afraid?"

Guenevere (Julie Andrews): "Marriage is rather frightening."

King Arthur (Richard Burton): "Well, I must confess your ladyship that it did occur to me BUT now NOT marrying seems infinitively more terrifying to me." 

I wondered if in private the Royal couple may have mused like any ordinary couple on the challenges of living together, wondering if the grass was greener for others, like in the scene where Julie Andrews & Richard Burton sing "What Simple Folks Do".

As I was day dreaming I suddenly heard Massoud whispering me in the ear: "Oh Look, here she comes! ..." pointing to the cemetery's entrance. Part of the Crowd went to greet the Shahbanou as she came out from the backseat of a car surrounded by bodyguards.


A Dream Comes True: Author and Shahbanou © Masoud Soleyman Zadeh, Darius Kadivar, 2008 & ©OCPCMagazine


A horde of cameramen and photographers from various Medias rushed to capture every move of her regal presence so it was difficult to immediately get a good glimpse of her or her entourage. However our curiosity was soon satisfied as the Shahbanou walked towards us and with a graceful nod acknowledged everyone's presence at the cemetery as she moved towards her daughter's resting place.

Like many compatriots of my generation I grew up with the public image and virtual presence of the Iranian Royal Family be it in our school books, on TV or in the press not only in Iran but also in the years of exile that followed the Islamic Revolution of 1979. She belongs to our collective memory for such a long time that seeing her finally at arms length at the Cemetery was not particularly surprising although extremely pleasant. I was even a little disappointed by myself at that stage at the cemetery for not being overwhelmed by emotion as most people present. Having lost my father to pancreatic cancer three years ago, I think to some degree I have subconsciously immunized myself to displaying my emotions at events such as public funerals or mournings ever since. However that changed as I heard the Shahbanou's voice speaking to the crowd after she patiently received the respects from various compatriots of all ages including youngsters who offered her flowers and gifts to greet her.


 © Masoud Soleyman Zadeh, Darius Kadivar, 2008

Obviously as on such symbolic occasions one also finds some die hard monarchists ( whom personally I respect, understand and often share their pain even if I do not agree with those who express and display radical views or methods) and who are often more royalist than King or Queen. As expected one could hear them shouting slogans of "Death to Khomeiny" and "Down with the Islamic Republic". This was when interestingly the Shahbanou asked them politely to slow it down and avoid revengeful comments on such a commemorative day in presence of the late Princess Leila. Instead her first words were for her compatriots back home and to the Iranian youth in general some of whom are of Leila's generation or younger with a message of peace, reconciliation and hopes for a Free and truly Democratic Iran. Amidst the Sun and Lion Flags blowing in the Wind the Shahbanou ended her speech by asking everyone to respect a minute of silence for the late princess as well as all Iranians who have lost their lives for the love of Iran and Iranians. Shortly after we heard the national anthem of "Ey Iran'" and everyone sang the lyrics. That is where I felt my own voice chocking with emotion as I could read the words on Shahbanou Farah's lips. For at that moment, Shahbanou Farah had become a simple Iranian citizen, Farah Pahlavi, amongst her compatriots from all walks of life. Many who hung to her image as their only queen, others who saw in her a reminder of their own past or past lives, or who scrutinized her every move for answers or compassion. I saw a French lady sobbing in silent while some attendees (be them constitutional monarchists or secular republicans in exile) lowering their head and staring to the ground in sorrow trying to hide their tears. The Shahbanou could have easily chosen to hum the Royal Pahlavi Anthem given the circumstances, the people present and sad commemoration of her youngest daughter's death but instead she chose to sing Ey Iran (*):


"Ey Iran, Ey Marzeh Por Gohar ...
Ey Khakat Sarcheshmeyeh Honar ...
Door az To Andeesheyeh Badan ...
Payandeh Many To Javedan ...
Doshman As To Sangeh Kharehi, Man Ahanam
Janeh Man Fedayeh Khakeh Meehanam
Dastehyeh  ".

A patriotic song, which today finds a strong echo, in every Iranian, regardless of their social backgrounds or political and ideological preferences. What seemed to matter at that particular moment was to simply think about the predicament of ALL Iranians beyond prejudice and share their pain and hopes be it for one minute, one second if not for a lifetime. To think back at all those who have suffered or are still suffering due to circumstances beyond our reach, maybe even due to our responsibility but with the sincere hope that human wisdom will finally triumph over the darkness of despair and hatred.

In less than a generation our country went through a Revolution that soon ate its own  children only to be followed by a bloody 8-year war that killed a million of our compatriots while others like my family who were lucky enough to leave for a nevertheless difficult and unending exile to foreign lands. That is where I personally understood beyond the obvious beautiful pageantry the significance and the heavy weight of responsibility that the Crown of Iranzamin imposes upon the person who, as our Shahbanou, has had the honor to have been crowned with.

The former young and shy Art Student of Paris may have never thought of or wished for herself any other role than that of a loving wife and good mother which she was and is. She may not have even imagined to live long enough to one day even become a loveable and caring grandmother to three splendid girls named Noor, Iman and Farah. But on the day she became the First Queen ever crowned in centuries in our country, and known as such, beyond our frontiers, she also knew that she also had to live up to the responsibilities and expectations of millions of her compatriots and often to the sacrifice of her own personal happiness, family priorities and obligations. 

What is certain, is that Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi never failed to be a role model to her compatriots at large and spanning over several generation not only during her reign but also during the more painful years of exile and public humiliation to which her husband and family were subject too after a Revolution that led them desperately to seek refuge and health care for her dying husband the Shah. Her memoires entitled "An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah" have become an international bestseller. A testimony of her love for her late husband, it is also one for her compatriots at large in their struggle for Freedom, Human Rights, and Democracy.

The great French film critic and director François Truffaut once said that: "One can become famous overnight, but it takes a life time to become a Star".


 photocomposition ©DK

What is true for Film Stars and celebrities in the entertainment world is certainly true for anyone in the public eye. Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi however is much more than a famous film star or celebrity, she is an icon of our contemporary history very much like Jackie Kennedy in the US or Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. She has been at the forefront of her female compatriots' century old struggle for emancipation and recognition. She also contributed so largely during her reign to enhancing the Arts and the recognition of Iranian Artists in Iranian society while encouraging cultural exchanges thanks to her humane and cultural incentives that have since paved the road to international success for some of our greatest Artists today. To name a few of her achievements:

  • The Kanun Center for the intellectual emancipation and development of children led to the creation of a cinema department by the now world famous Abbas Kiarostami.

  • The Tehran Museum of Modern Arts has become a much envied embodiment as the largest collection of Pop Art in the World.

  • The Shiraz International Arts Festival however misunderstood at its inception was to plant the seeds of interest in modern Arts expressed through painting, sculpture or photography that have since been spearheaded by Iranian Artists world wide such as the great Shirin Neshat.

As Drum's of War and intolerance seem to echo in the international press from radical and dubious minded politicians from Washington, Tel Aviv to Tehran it is all the more comforting to see that Shahbanou Farah's dignity reminds us of where the true Iranian values of compassion, humility and humanity can be found and that is in our own hearts. It is precisely this dignified behavior that has created a natural bond between her and her people that transcends political, ideological or generational differences. It is one that has only grown over the years with vitality and mutual respect.

© Masoud Soleyman Zadeh, Darius Kadivar, 2008


Shortly after the ceremony Massoud and I headed to a nearby Hotel lounge and drawing room where all who were kind enough to attend Princess Leila's touching memorial could get together in a more relaxed reunion.

I was finally presented by a good friend of mine Mr. Reza Bayegan to Her Majesty who greeted me with a warm smile.  What impressed me most was her simplicity and kindness that so characterizes her personality. She had a thought and kind look for every person who wanted to meet her during and after the ceremony. I can tell you now that being a Queen even a former Queen is a FULL TIME JOB, she hardly took the time to rest or drink a glass of water and it well lasted at least 2 to 3 hours after the ceremony.

Our meeting was brief but warm and I took the opportunity to offer her an old Italian magazine from 1959 with a beautiful lithographic painting of her and her late husband the Shah which was published for her wedding. I also showed her two photos of myself and my siblings Cyrus and Sylvie-Roya with my late Father Dr. Kioumarz-Ruhollah KADIVAR when we lived in Shiraz. The photo was taken in October 1971 which corresponded to my Sister and brother's birthday month and on that particular day (or week) we were dressed as our Persian Ancestors. My Sister looked like she was about to fall asleep while my brother and I were fooling around.  ;0)

The Shahbanou was very pleased and we laughed and exchanged some kind words after which she had to greet some other guests. I sure did feel for a Brief and Shining Moment that I was Sir Lancelot.

I Hope I will have the opportunity to meet her again in less formal circumstances for an interview in the future.

Meeting her Majesty however only confirmed what I have always felt about her personality and that is that it is no different from her public image. As Truffaut quite rightly observed THAT is the gift of truly great people. As the reunion came to an end and that Her Majesty bid everyone goodbye with a gentle wave in our direction, I came to realize that more importantly beyond her natural charisma enforced by her beauty, class, genuine kindness and simplicity that Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi will certainly be remembered, I am sure by not only her fans at large, but also by History as a Woman whose commitment to her country and compatriots has been a life long sincere and continuous Labour of Love.

On a final point I want to also dedicate the following song from the Musical Camelot to that special reunion and to Her Majesty in particular: Julie Andrews Singing Camelot

"Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot."
Lyrics by Lerner & Loewe Musical Camelot

And Should I add with Pride and regardless of what Life and Destiny may hold for this Great Lady:


© Masoud Soleyman Zadeh, Darius Kadivar, 2008


Authors Notes:

Shahbanou Farah's Official Website

(** ) See more Photos of the Ceremony here

Recommended Listening:

(*) Ey Iran : National Anthem sung by Leading Iranian Actors

and the Imperial Iranian National Anthem

Kohandiara By Popular Singer Vocalist Dariush


Recommended Watching:

French TV coverage's of the Coronation Ceremonies of 1967 : Part I, Part II

Shahbanou with Iranian orphans On German TV responds in French

Shahbanou with Shah returning from the US stop at Geneva Airport to speak to Swiss TV


Recommended Readings :

Empress of the Arts By Darius KADIVAR

Enduring Friendship : Alain Delon and Farah Pahlavi by Darius KADIVAR

Alzheimer Research Fundraising Gala 2005 Presided By Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi by Darius KADIVAR 

Musical Ode To Cyrus The Great In Paris by Darius KADIVAR

When Giants Meet: The Queen of Persian Pop greets the Shahbanou of Iran in NY Live Concert by Darius KADIVAR

Sultan of My Heart: Monika Jalili and Noorsaaz's Remembrance of Things Past by Darius KADIVAR

He Is Awake:Close Up on Cyrus KAR (director of Cyrus the Great Bio Epic film Project) By Darius KADIVAR

BREAKING THE WAVES: Iranian Women of the Diaspora Seduce French Media by Darius KADIVAR 


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

© Copyright 2008 (All Rights Reserved)