In December 1943, an Egyptian dragoman named Hadji Ali No. 1 (presumably to distinguish him from numerous other Hadji Alis) had a moment in the international spotlight. Press reports described how the venerable guide refused to be star-stuck when dealing with two famous clients – Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President F. D. Roosevelt. Not only that, but he gave the two famed orators a run for their money, as he lectured them on his specialist topic, the Sphinx, for 15 minutes without stopping.
The press found Hadji Ali unfazed by the experience: ‘I was very glad to see them here’ Perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt were less glamorous than one of his previous clients, the Duke of Windsor, who made the dragoman his caddy as he drove golf balls from the top of the Great Pyramid.
Perhaps the Hadji’s most controversial remark, however, had nothing to do with the two Allied commanders. He claimed to have refused a tip: ‘If this is widely circulated he may be expelled from the Dragoman’s union’.
Chiang Kai-shek was also in Cairo for the conference. A passing reference is made in the press stories to his wife acting as interpreter for him with Churchill and Roosevelt. Soong May-ling (1898-2003) was from a prominent Christian family in Shanghai, had been educated in America, and spoke English with a Georgia accent.
The Ottawa Journal, Thursday 2 December, 1943.