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Of course, the life of a desert billionaire does have its perks in addition to its quirks. Twice divorced (he has two children, Khalid, 18, and Reem, 14), Alwaleed is not currently linked with any woman. He laughs sheepishly when people tell him, as they frequently do, that he is the world's most eligible bachelor. In contrast to the stereotype of the whoring petro-sheik, he calls himself a "calorie counter" who doesn't drink or smoke and has an American's obsession with fitness (he now weighs in at 136 lbs.). His only vice seems to be, hardly surprisingly, an appetite for luxury. He is very fond of his 282-ft. Kingdom 5-KR, the ostentatious yacht formerly owned by Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and then by Donald Trump, who called it the Trump Princess before the banks took it back. Alwaleed keeps the boat moored in the southern French resort of Cannes. He takes about three long business trips a year and, depending on the distance, can choose from a private jet fleet that includes a Boeing 767, a Boeing 727 and a Challenger 601. He owns some 300 cars, including a blue Rolls-Royce for his daughter.

Then there is the new $100 million palace. Even in Saudi Arabia, they are not building houses like this one any longer. In February, Alwaleed and his children are scheduled to move into a sand-colored palace whose 317 rooms are adorned with 1,500 tons of Italian marble, silk Oriental carpets, gold-plated faucets and 250 TV sets. It will have four kitchens, for Lebanese, Arabic, Continental and Asian cuisines, and a fifth just for dishing up desserts, run by chefs who can feed 2,000 people on an hour's notice. Their royal highnesses will be able to swim in a lagoon-shaped pool, or catch a film in the 45-seat basement cinema.

Perhaps the clearest sign of Alwaleed's growing influence is that he is attracting serious enemies, including some of his powerful al Saud cousins. "There is jealousy, even hatred," says a Saudi source. "It bothers people that he came from almost nowhere and--zoom!--now he's way up here." Rumors have circulated that he is a front man for others, especially in the Citibank deal. Alwaleed and Western diplomats in Riyadh dismiss them as unfounded. He seems determined to let his influence grow, no matter the consequences. "I have nothing to hide," he says. "I've made $12 billion plus through hard work, and I am proud of it."

One important new area to watch, however, will be Alwaleed's political ambitions. Saudi Arabia is not a happy country. It is experiencing increasing economic and political strains--remember the 1996 bombing of the U.S. Air Force barracks near Dhahran--because of stagnation caused in part by an elderly and autocratic leadership. Although Alwaleed swears complete support for King Fahd and his other uncles, his immense wealth is beginning to give him rising influence on developments affecting the kingdom.

His business investments in the Middle East, for example, provide him with direct access to Arab heads of state, on whom he may have a moderating influence, since many of Alwaleed's international partners are Jewish and support Israel. "Religion has never been a barrier between us," says Four Seasons Hotels Inc. CEO Isadore Sharp. "He mentioned once that we have similar value systems and moral principles." on Digg


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