is not every day I meet Royalty, so it was a great privilege to
be honoured by HSH Prince Bhisadej Rajani, who granted me the
time for this interview. Prince Bhisadej is a member of Thai
royalty who has led a most active life, serving Thailand and
King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, and is still in that service
today. He is a remarkable man, who has not been afraid to get
his hands dirty, or afraid to follow what he believed was
correct, in times of international conflict.
Prince Bhisadej was born in Bangkok, one of
the sons of the famous poet and author, Prince Bidyalongkorn and
his wife Mom Jaow Bornbimol. “Our line comes from the Second
King, the brother of King Mongut,” he explained, when I asked
about his descent.
He went to school in Bangkok and sat
university entrance level examinations when he was only 14 years
old. However, he was not accepted into university. “I failed
Thai,” said the Prince with a smile. He was then sent to the
UK where he was enrolled in Dulwich College, the school where
his elder brother had been 12 years previously. (Former Thai PM,
Anand Panyarachun, also went to the same school, 12 years
Following completion of his secondary
studies, he went to Cambridge University to study Natural
Sciences, but had to drop out. Not that he failed - the Second
World War was declared, Japan invaded Thailand, and this changed
his life in many ways. The first being that it was impossible to
send money out of Thailand to the UK. The young prince had to
suddenly rely on his own resources. He became a farm labourer!
One shilling an hour for back-breaking work, and he had to cycle
for miles to get there. But it kept his head above water (and
bought a couple of beers too!).
The second problem was that owing to the
‘unknown’ political situation in Thailand, Thai nationals
overseas were under suspicion. Prince Bhisadej knew where his
loyalties were and applied to join the British Army, but was not
accepted until Seni Pramoj’s Free Thai movement sent word to
the British authorities and the young prince entered the war
effort. He was drilled and sent on route marches, like all new
recruits. “It did me good, trained by the British Army, as
many years later I was able to carry a backpack and go up into
the mountains when we were starting the Royal Project,” he
The British Army knew what they wanted from
Prince Bhisadej, and he was smuggled back into Thailand to work
in the underground movement, where he sent bulletins to the
Allied Forces twice a day for the duration.
He was brought back to the UK at the end of
the war, ‘de-mobbed’ and returned to civvy street, with a
scholarship to return to Cambridge. However, the university
placement was only a short-term one, as many other de-mobbed
soldiers were also waiting their turn for tertiary education.
It was time to return to his native Thailand,
and he flew back. Five days in a Sunderland Flying Boat, landing
in Bangkok Harbour in Klong Toey! Enough of an adventure by
After the war years, he found Bangkok life
boring, and a friend suggested he join the Shell company which
was looking for Thai nationals for senior staff positions. A
Thai prince fitted the bill, and so he joined the international
group in the sales department, and then the advertising
department, finally becoming the advertising manager for Shell.
This was a mutually successful time for
Prince Bhisadej. “I was the only Thai and I could see things
from the Thai point of view.” Previously the company had just
been rerunning British promotional ideas and translating them
into Thai language. A concept that did not always work in Thai
He spent many years with Shell, but then
retired to promote a trading stamp concept in Thailand gasoline
stations. This went well, until the Middle East oil cartels
pushed up the price of crude and the fallout at the pumps
deflated the trading stamps.
However, Prince Bhisadej had already become
involved with one of his relative’s concepts for the north of
Thailand - the Royal Project of His Majesty the King. This
encompassed stopping the destruction of forests and watersheds
and eradicating the production of opium, in a way that would
benefit both the opium farmers and the country.
“We looked at the so-called ‘Golden’
Triangle and we saw that it was a ‘Poverty’ triangle.” So
Prince Bhisadej would trek through the forests and sleep on
earthen floors to share the King’s vision with the farmers.
“It was difficult to persuade the farmers to try new products.
I told them that the King wanted them to grow strawberries, a
produce they had never seen before, and three tried but after
the first crop they all wanted to grow them!”
His work as the Director of the Royal Project
is still continuing. “We have introduced 100 new vegetables
and flowers,” he said with pride. “This month we are
introducing something very popular with farangs - garden
peas,” he added, saying with even more pride, “The Royal
Project is the only project in the world that has been
successful in replacing opium.”
One hobby that the Prince still enjoys is
sailing, harbouring the desire to sail single-handed around the
world. He built his own boats, and in fact showed the King how
to do this, as well as crew for the King in several regattas.
“The King called me his ‘crew’ and his ‘kru’
(teacher),” said Prince Bhisadej. “One day I’ll build a
bigger boat with a deep keel and I will go around the world!”
I am sure the “will” is there, but I am
equally as sure that the “won’t” will come from his
family! But it’s nice to dream. And some of us dream of
interviewing royalty - I’ve just lived mine!