The story comes from Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, a British diplomat who first told the tale in his 2012 memoir. Cowper-Coles did not witness the incident, he said, but he heard about it from two very reliable sources: the two heads of state themselves.
It was a time of change for both royal houses. Princess Diana had died the previous year, and the British royal family’s cold reaction had made it less popular with the public than ever before. In Saudi Arabia, King Fahd had a severe stroke in 1995, leaving Abdullah the de facto ruler. (He wouldn’t officially become king until 2005.)
In September 1998, the queen invited Abdullah to Balmoral for lunch. Afterward, he was invited on a tour of the 50,000-acre estate.
“Prompted by his Foreign Minister, the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah had agreed,” Cowper-Coles wrote. “The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle.”
The prince was instructed to take the passenger’s seat — on the left side in the…