Obituary: Honouring Peter Hellyer, author and filmmaker
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Obituary: Honouring Peter Hellyer, acclaimed author, historian and filmmaker

Obituary: Honouring Peter Hellyer, acclaimed author, historian and filmmaker

Considered a close friend of the UAE, Hellyer leaves behind a legacy that will forever be etched in the country’s history

Gulf Business
Peter Hellyer image courtesy The National

Originally from the UK, Peter Hellyer first came to the UAE in 1975 to make documentary films on the overseas state visits of the late Sheikh Zayed. He stayed on to fill a number of posts in the government communications departments, and called Abu Dhabi home for almost five decades.

Hellyer had a career that was both distinguished and diverse. Starting as a broadcaster, he was instrumental in establishing the English-language service of the Emirates News Agency, WAM, in 1978.

He was also the managing editor of Abu Dhabi’s official daily paper Emirates News from 1985 to 1999, following which he became adviser and head of External Relations at the Ministry of Information and its successor, the National Media Council.

A man of many interests

During the past years, Hellyer 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 was an active member of the Emirates Natural History Group since 1985 and had edited its journal, Tribulus, for 30 years. He also co-founded the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeology Survey, which is responsible for the identification and excavation of archaeological sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi. Most notably, he managed the team which made key discoveries such as the 1,400-year-old monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island.

A pillar of the expat community in the country, Peter was also a founder-member of Abu Dhabi’s British Business Group – now the British Chamber of Commerce, Abu Dhabi.

Moreover, he was an adviser to the Government of Jersey for over 20 years on the development of its relations with the UAE. He was awarded the island’s top honour, the Silver Seal of the Bailiwick of Jersey, for his efforts.

Hellyer was an accomplished writer and had authored numerous articles and books on the country’s politics, history, natural history and archaeology, as well as several government yearbooks.

Motivate Media Group has had the privilege to work with him over the years and publish many of the books he has co-authored, including Fujairah: An Arabian Jewel, Al Ain: Oasis City and Fifty Years of Emirates Archaeology, to name a few.

Honouring his contributions

Ian Fairservice, Managing Partner of Motivate Media Group, commented: “It is unbelievably sad news that we have lost such a friend and wonderful colleague in Peter Hellyer. We worked together for many years, on so many projects and his contribution in terms of researching and recording our region’s heritage and culture is incalculable. Certainly, Motivate and our archives and library owe Peter a huge debt of gratitude – as do I for his personal support and encouragement.

“I was privileged to count him as one of my closest friends for over 30 years and I’m deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to have a long and meaningful conversation with him, albeit on the phone, just a week ago. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. It’s surely a comfort that generations to come will continue to learn from the knowledge and understanding of the Arab world that Peter shared through his insightful work as a writer, editor and documentary maker.”

Hellyer’s contributions to the UAE were recognised at the highest level. In 2004, he was awarded the annual Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Award for Natural History, and in 2010, he was granted UAE citizenship by the then President, the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. In 2013, he was also presented with the Abu Dhabi Medal – the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a civilian in the emirate – for his work in identifying key archaeological sites in the UAE.

As news of Hellyer’s passing spread, high-ranking officials, touched by his contributions spanning several decades, expressed their gratitude and admiration on social media.

Mansoor Abulhoul, the UAE Ambassador to the UK, tweeted: “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 & pivotal role in our media landscape are a testament to his love for the UAE.”

Salem Khalid Al Qassimi, UAE Minister of Culture & Youth, shared a tweet honouring Hellyer’s work.

Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of State, also paid homage to Hellyer in a tweet: “Peter’s dedication has left an indelible mark on our history. It was great honor to have shared in both work & friendship with him.”

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