Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, review - a grimly compelling tale of ‘runaway princess’ Sheikha Latifa

Michael Hogan
Whereabouts unknown: Princess Latifa, left, with her friend Tiina Jauhiainen - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

If you’re watching this video, either I’m dead or in a very, very bad situation.” The words of Princess Latifa of Dubai, who tried to break out of her gilded prison in February – but not before filming a video in case she was caught. She was caught, just eight days later. Worryingly, she hasn’t been seen since.

Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess (BBC Two) has made Latifa’s story hit headlines all over again – and by doing so, offers some hope. This hard-hitting documentary pieced together the 33-year-old’s story – which uncannily mirrored her older sister’s disappearance 18 years earlier. 

Latifa made disturbing allegations about her seemingly charmed life of privilege. She claimed that women in Dubai were treated as “disposable” and “sub-human”, and that after a previous attempt to leave, she’d been imprisoned and tortured.

This was a fairytale about an unhappy princess trapped in a blinging castle. With no dashing hero to save her, she had to attempt it herself. We heard how she planned her escape for seven years with the aid of former French spy Hervé Jaubert. On the appointed day, she shook off her security detail, drove to Oman, sailed a dinghy out to international waters and boarded a yacht bound for India. From there, she hoped to make her way to Florida, where she’d claim political asylum and start a new life. Off the coast of Goa, however, the vessel was stormed by commandos. The princess was dragged off screaming. Nobody has heard from her since.

The precedent wasn’t promising. Latifa’s sister Shamsa, it is claimed, was snatched off the streets of Cambridge in 2000 after fleeing from the family’s Surrey mansion. Latifa alleged that Shamsa had been drugged, flown back to Dubai on a private jet and since kept captive in a zombie-like state.

The testimonies were emotional. The thriller-like narrative gripped. The film also asked whether the image of Dubai sold to tourists – winter sun, futuristic skyscrapers, five-star hotels – conceals a brutal dictatorship. 

Despite Dubai’s official line that she’s alive, well and with her family, Latifa might now be detained against her will. Yet as she said: “This video means it won’t be in vain. I hope some positive change comes out of this.” Viewers of this grimly compelling film will hope so, too.