Please tell us about the Princess Donia and how this became a reality?
“What began as a devastating initial diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening brain tumor, turned out to be an event that made the Princess Donia a reality. At first, it was incredibly difficult to comprehend but after many tests, I had good news that the initial diagnosis was in fact incorrect. So, going from having the worst of news, to getting a second chance at life, I took it upon myself to give something back.”
“Whilst spending time in Spain, a good friend visited me and told me about a fabulous sailing boat called a dahabeeyah (meaning golden boat) that was for sale in Egypt. It was one of only six on the Nile at the time, which in their day were used by royalty to travel up and down the Nile.”
“I went over to Aswan in Egypt, to see the dahabeeyah for sale. We sailed down the Nile and I was introduced to Hassan, a boat captain. During our trip, there was the most incredible storm I have ever seen - it was like an apocalypse. It was because of Hassan’s immediate actions and his experience that everyone was saved which gave me the idea that if I was to have a dahabeeyah then Hassan would be the captain.”
The boat had a good feel, “I loved the calmness and tranquillity of the dahabeeyah but the basic facilities such as the plumbing and electrics didn’t work too well. So I made a decision to build one from the ground up with top quality plumbing and electrics, power showers, air-conditioning, a stainless steel kitchen and of course wi-fi.”
“I found a very talented design engineer, Allah Worrasi for the structural work, the steel hull and superstructure and I produced all the internal design myself. The build was a fantastic process but definitely not easy, especially to find supplies and not speaking any Arabic at the time, which gradually improved as time passed.”
“It took me one year to build Princess Donia with approximately 30 people working on it. We lived at the side of the Nile, in a village which was very basic. Our drinking water came from a standpipe in the main street and our evening meal was often a Kibda sandwich, which is liver from various animals cooked by a street vendor! It was a completely different world to me and a bit of a culture shock but I think everybody should experience something similar, at least once in their life.”
“Princess Donia operates with seven full-time staff including Captain Hassan and Captain Essam who are in charge of every aspect of the business. It is their livelihood and their profit and when I’m not here anymore they will inherit the boat. This was my epiphany and it was my time to give something back.”
What’s the significance of the name Princess Donia?
“I have three daughters and five granddaughters - I couldn’t name it just after one daughter. So, I named it Donia which in Arabic, means ‘world’, and also happened to be the name of captain Hassan’s daughter. When Donia was born she was his world.”
What does a trip on the Princess Donia consist of?
“Princess Donia takes a maximum of ten people, with four double cabins all with en-suite bathroom facilities and one suite which is the complete rear end of the boat with folding french doors onto a private terrace. It is a 36m or 120-foot boat with polished wood decks, white walls, and bedding. There is one stunning piece of colourful geometric Islamic art which lights up each cabin.”
“You will be offered fabulous imported wine, quality spirits and a choice of beers to compliment the most wonderful meals cooked fresh by our chef, Mohamed. The 7-day journey is usually from Luxor to Aswan and back though the trip can be tailored for a bespoke itinerary. We host a number cruises for special occasions, retirement, anniversaries, special holidays, honeymoons, weddings and business trips and we cater for all ages.”
Is there one special memory you have from a voyage on the Princess Donia?
“One of the incredible events that I’ve seen is a sunrise in the early morning on the Nile at Gebel Silsila. It is a very moving experience. The Nile is like a piece of glass, and when there is no wind everything is very silent. There is a tranquil period when the sun is rising up and it is a very special memory that we try to relive again and again.”
What is your involvement with The County Club?
“I have been a member of the County Club for 7 years or more. My partner Elaine is a Guildfordian and I am originally from County Durham which is much further north. We have a home in Guildford and when we are here we often come to the Club for lunch. We attend the evening events whenever possible and have thoroughly enjoyed them. We have also helped in raising money each year for the Club’s chosen charities; Elaine and I (Dream Team Cougar) won the County Club Car Rally last year in an old Chrysler 300.”
What is your favourite thing about The County Club?
“The Club is a haven of tranquillity in a busy town. There is a good mix of very friendly people and a great sense of camaraderie. I have made so many friends here and always feel very welcome.”
Why would you recommend other local professionals to become a member?
“From my experience, many local professional people are not aware that the Club is here, even though it has been here for many, many years. It is the friendliest club I have been a member of and I think it is a fantastic investment to become a member and enjoy all the club has to offer. I would thoroughly recommend membership.”
Picture of Lee Allan in the Carroll Suite meeting room at The County Club.
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