Weekly Local Biography

  His Serene Highness, Prince Bhisadej Rajani

It 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 later.)

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 laughed.

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 itself.

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 society.

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!