The “Green Prince”

By Irene Hernandez Velasco

The usual thing is that princes are blue. But that doesn't apply to Prince Hussain. The third son of the revered Aga Khan IV - the spiritual leader of the 15 million Ismaili Muslims in the world and owner of a fortune valued by Forbes magazine at 900 million euros - came out green, completely and intensely green. Ecologist from head to toe.

Hussain Aga Khan, born in Geneva 46 years ago, is a committed conservationist who has dedicated himself for years to diving in the depths of the oceans and capturing with his camera the wonders that he sees there, in an attempt so much to show the beauty of the seabed as if to denounce their fragility and the degradation they suffer. “Before, you didn't see plastic in the sea. Now it is everywhere. I see plastic each and every time I go on an expedition. In Egypt, in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in the Bahamas, in Sardinia… Wherever I go I always find plastic ”, he claims.

In addition, within the gigantic conglomerate of foundations that his father leads - the Aga Khan Development Network, a kind of parallel UN that has more than 80,000 employees in 30 countries and that manages universities, hospitals or educational programs regardless of the religion of its recipients - The Green Prince is noted for his work on the Committee for the Environment and Climate and the Agency for Habitat. But, as if that were not enough, in 2014 he created his own foundation, Focused On Nature (FON), whose objective is to contribute to the protection of threatened species and the conservation of endangered environments. And it also makes donations to other organizations that work in the preservation of animals and the environment. However, there is not the only thing. A great admirer of Greta Thunberg ("She is fantastic!", He thinks), in his private life, Hussain Aga Khan is also deeply respectful of the environment, especially after seeing with his own eyes how we are destroying the planet.

“I have started to travel less by plane and my wife and I have completely stopped using plastic in our house. It took us months and a lot of effort to get to it, but we no longer use plastic. In addition, I turn off the lights if they are not necessary, I turn off the water tap when it is not necessary to have it open. I believe that these individual behaviors have their effect ”, he assures in a telephone conversation with Out of Series.

Prince Hussain is unusual, an exotic animal due to his discretion and low profile within a regular family in glossy magazines, who represents like few others the jet set lifestyle and in which there are many playboys. Without going any further, his grandfather, Aly Khan, a great fan of horse racing, was married three times,

Perhaps that is why Prince Hussain's great-grandfather, Aga Khan III, made a drastic decision in 1957: the title of Aga Khan, which has always passed from father to son, would not go to Aly Khan. For the first time in 1,300 years of history, it jumped straight into the next generation. This is how, at the age of 20, Prince Hussain's father became the 49th Imam of the Ismailis, a current within Shiite Islam that venerates the Aga Khan as the legitimate descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. In keeping with the Muslim tradition of giving to the less fortunate, they give a percentage of their profits so that he, in turn, allocates them to his huge network of foundations and charities.

The current 83-year-old Aga Khan has been married twice. First with a former British model and then with a former German pop singer whom he divorced in 2014.

Prince Hussain is the son of the first woman, Sarah Frances Croker-Poole. It was she who, after a year listening to his pleas, ended up buying him his first aquarium of tropical fish. “I was 4 years old when I asked my mother for it, and at 5 I got it. I grew up watching the films of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough, reading all the books about animals that fell into my hands, devouring the books with pictures of animals. And since I was a child I have had animals at home ”, he reveals.

At the age of 14 he began diving, frequently traveling to the tropics or plunging into the emerald waters of Sardinia, or in those surrounding a private island in the Bahamas. And in 1996, during a trip to the Brazilian Amazon, he began taking photos of the flora and fauna he saw. Afterwards, everything was recorded: he joined his love of photography to his passion for diving and began to take images of the aquatic backgrounds and the animals that populate them.

And so it goes, to date.

With all that background, he might have studied biology. But no. “I wasn't really good at biology. Also, more than biology I'm interested in ecology and animal conservation. For example, I am very interested in the work of E.O. Wilson, professor of Entomology at Harvard University and known as the “father of conservation biology”, a brilliant author who has spent years studying the social behavior of animal populations, why they do what they do and if something is threatening them ”, he confesses.

He studied Theatre and French Literature at the prestigious Williams College in Massachusetts, and then majored in Economics and International Relations at Columbia University. It was there that he met his first wife, whom he divorced in 2011. Last year he married in a second marriage, in a private ceremony in Geneva, Elizabeth Hoag, a mental health counselor from Connecticut, specializing in anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder - who after her conversion to Islam adopted the name of Fareen.

Hussain has published several books with his photographs, donating all proceeds to environmental organizations. Some of his images illustrate the National Geographic blogs, and he has had exhibitions of his work in the United States, France, Switzerland, Portugal and Kenya. In Spain, his images can be seen these days in the Church of San Juan de los Caballeros in Segovia, in the exhibition entitled ‘Mar Vivo’ that takes place coinciding with the Hay Festival held in that city. In addition, on the 19th of this month, always at the Hay Festival in Segovia, the “green prince” will be interviewed by another prince: Lorenzo de Medici, writer and last descendant of the famous Renaissance family, who is also working on a documentary about Hussain and his underwater photos

By now, the third child (second son) of the Aga Khan has lost count of how many photos he has taken throughout his life. “In one week I can easily take 16,000 photos. I often spend four or five hours a day in the water, ”he says.

“What I am interested in transmitting with my photographs is the critical state of the marine habitat and the danger of extinction that threatens many species. Coral reefs are threatened, marine forests are threatened, sharks, dolphins, whales and many other animals that I see underwater are in danger. The oceans are dying, much of the life in them is dying. And on earth, the same: elephants, rhinos are in danger, orangutans, even giraffes ... We have lost the 60% of wildlife in the last 40 years. And a UN report warns that, of the 8 million species of animals and plants that exist, one million is at risk of extinction because of man," he says.

“When I dive, I see plastic everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I see hooks in the mouths of sharks and other fish all the time. In the Bahamas a third of the sharks I see have hooks in their mouths even though shark fishing is prohibited there. I've even seen a shark with a bullet hole. It was horrible. And a couple of years ago I saw a shark of a very rare species eating aluminum foil. You can see terrifying things down there, I've been lucky not to see many ”, he admits.

What he has not gotten rid of is the occasional scare. And that he is prudent. “Sometimes you have to take risks to take good photos. But calculated risks, not idiotic risks ”, he points out. “In general, underwater animals are not dangerous, almost none of them attack if you do not provoke them, including sharks. 99.9% of sharks, for example, are not dangerous. I've only gotten into a cage to take pictures of white sharks in Australia and once in the Bahamas with bull sharks, ”he reveals.

The scariest encounter he claims to have had was with a titan triggerfish in Malaysia in 1999. These fish are very fast, very aggressive and prone to attack divers. “A week before I went there, a German diver had to receive nine stitches on the head after one attacked him. A friend of mine named Naomi (not Campbell, he says with humor) and I.. a titan triggerfish chased us like crazy, and it pierced her fins ”.

Another good scare was taken in 2018 with Crazy George, a humpback whale which has been known to lift people out of the water on its head that he encountered on the island of Tonga. “Those whales don't have teeth, and there is also no evidence that they ever attack people. George is just having fun. Even so, when I saw him coming towards me and it stayed no more than a meter away from me, I was scared like a 7-year-old girl. George is at least 12 meters long, ”he explains.

Despite feeling fear, "It was fantastic. One of the most exciting moments of my life ”.