UAE: Legendary historian Peter Hellyer passes away; tributes pour in

Many high-ranking UAE officials recall his valuable contributions over several decades


Nandini Sircar


Meher Dhanjal

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Published: Mon 3 Jul 2023, 9:27 AM

Last updated: Mon 3 Jul 2023, 11:22 PM

Peter Hellyer, a noted historian who chronicled the UAE's history, has passed away at the age of 75.

Tributes have been pouring in on social media, with many high-ranking UAE officials recalling Hellyer's valuable contributions over several decades. Chancellor of UAE University Zaki Nusseibeh confirmed that iconic historian passed away at Cleveland Hospital in Abu Dhabi after struggling with an illness.

Hellyer first came to the UAE as a documentary filmmaker in 1975. He worked in several public communications departments. He was also the managing editor of the daily Emirates News.

He was recognised for his contributions to the nation and was granted citizenship in 2010. Later in 2013 he was presented with the Abu Dhabi Medal, the most esteemed accolade a civilian can receive in the emirate. This prestigious honour was bestowed upon him for his remarkable efforts in identifying significant archaeological sites in the UAE.

In a touching post about him, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said, “The Englishman who loved the UAE until he became one of its sons God bless him.”

Edward Hobart, His Majesty's Ambassador to the UAE, in a statement to KT, said, "Many of us at the British Embassy, past and present, had the honour to work with Peter Hellyer. Over nearly five decades, those who worked with him benefited not only from his wisdom and guidance but also from his great kindness. He was a true friend to the UAE and the UK – and a fantastic bridge deepening our understanding of each other. Peter made a hugely positive impression on all those he met, and I know that many people will be deeply affected by his death. I have passed on my sincere condolences to Peter's family to let them know that our thoughts are with them at this very sad time."

The national news agency Wam too mourned the death of the Emirati historian, author and journalist. “The deceased was known for his great passion for archaeology, as he was the founding partner and director of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, which discovered several important archaeological sites in the UAE. During the past years, he spent a considerable amount of time pursuing and writing about his interests in local bird life, archaeology and the heritage and history of the people of the UAE.

“ … Hellyer's incredible devotion to the nation he loved will be remembered with great affection. The quantity of books and papers he authored over the years serves as evidence of his commitment and devotion to the country he chose to make his home." Wam also expressed its heartfelt condolences to the deceased's family.

Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, expressed his condolences, saying, "Today, we lost Peter Hellyer, a great historian who dedicated 50+ years to UAE's environmental and archaeological heritage, notably Sir Bani Yas. His devotion to this land will inspire us to preserve our environment, monuments, and history. His legacy endures."

Hellyer was especially involved in the excavation of the 1,400-year-old monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, expressed his heartfelt sympathy to the family of Peter Hellyer, for his dedicated effort to portray UAE’s rich historical and cultural narrative with utmost care.

He tweeted, "Sincere condolences to the family of journalist Peter Heller, who loved the Emirates and contributed sincerely, conveying its historical and civilised narrative with all affection and fairness during a journey full of giving and work with his companion, the late Ibrahim Al-Abed. The two departed left an unforgettable mark on the Emirati media scene.”

The UAE's ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul, also spoke of Hellyer's 'immeasurable contribution'. "Deeply saddened by the loss of Peter Hellyer, a true friend of the UAE whose legacy will remain imprinted in our hearts. His immeasurable contribution to our national narrative and pivotal role in our media landscape are a testament to his love for the UAE."

Other prominent UAE figures highlighted that his profound understanding, and unwavering enthusiasm for his field served as a source of inspiration, significantly influencing the comprehension of the world and its past.

Ahlam Bolooki, CEO of Emirates Literature Foundation in a statement to Khaleej Times said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Peter Hellyer, a remarkable historian and captivating storyteller. Through his words, he breathed life into the stories of the past, leaving an indelible impression on all who had the privilege of hearing him speak during the Literary Conversations Across Borders initiative by ELF in 2020. Peter's insights, wisdom, and unwavering passion for his subject were truly inspiring, shaping our understanding of the world and its history. His dedication to reviving forgotten stories and illuminating historical events will continue to be a treasured resource for generations to come”.

In an interview with Khaleej Times last year following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Hellyer spoke highly of relations between the UAE and the UK. He also worked as the former chairman of the Emirates Natural History Group and authored numerous articles on the UAE’s heritage, history and wildlife, as well as several government yearbooks.


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