Farah [Diba] Pahlavi – WOMAN of ACTION™



A Celebration of Women™

Celebrates the Life of this woman of strength through this tribute; admiring her courage, dedication and vision.

She stated in the film ‘The Queen and I’ that things in Iran could have been different if their had only been ‘dialogue‘.


These are the words of a true visionary!




farah profile


Farah Pahlavi, Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of Iran

Farah Pahlavi, Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of Iran (Persian: فرح پهلوی‎, Azerbaijani: Fərəh Pəhləvi; born Farah Diba; 14 October 1938) is the former Queen and Empress of Iran. She is the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and the only person to hold the title of Empress (Shahbanou) since pre-Islamic Iran. She was Queen consort of Iran from 1959 until 1967 and Empress consort from 1967 until exile in 1979.

Though the titles and distinctions of the Iranian imperial family were abolished within Iran by the Islamic government, as a former monarch she is still styled as Her Imperial Majesty The Shahbanou (Empress) of Iran, in accordance with International protocol. For example, the United States of America, Denmark, Spain and Germany, still address the former Empress as Her Imperial Majesty The Shahbanou of Iran in official documents, such as royal wedding guest lists. The Empress has been bestowed with many State Decorations from other Imperial and Royal houses and accordingly enjoys some form of precedence in these Royal and Imperial Courts.

Farah Diba was born on 14 October 1938 in the Iranian capital Tehran, to an upper-class family. Born as Farah Diba, she was the only child of Captain Sohrab Diba and his wife, Farideh Ghotbi.

Farah Pahlavi’s father’s family is of Azerbaijani origin.

In her memoir, the former Empress writes that her father’s family were natives of Iranian Azarbaijan while her mother’s family were from Lahijan on the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea.

moscowThrough her father, Farah came from a relatively affluent background. In the late 19th century her grandfather had been an accomplished diplomat, serving as the Iranian Ambassador to the Romanov Court in Moscow, Russia. Her own father was an officer in the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces and a graduate of the prestigious French Military Academy at St. Cyr.

Farah enjoyed an extremely close bond with her father and his unexpected death in 1948 deeply affected her. This situation furthermore left the young family in a difficult financial state. In these reduced circumstances, they were forced to move from their large family villa in northern Tehran into a shared apartment with one of Farideh Ghotbi’s brothers.

The young Farah Diba began her education at Tehran’s Italian School, then moved to the French Jeanne d’Arc School and later to the Lycee Razi. She was an accomplished athlete in her youth and became captain of her school’s basketball team. Upon finishing her studies at the Lycee Razi, she pursued an interest in architecture at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, where she was a student of Albert Besson.

farah-pahlavi-gallery_162305557051Many Iranian students who were studying abroad at this time were dependent on State sponsorship in order to do so.

Therefore when the Shah, as head of state, made official visits to foreign countries, he would frequently meet with a selection of local Iranian students.

It was during such a meeting in 1959 at the Iranian Embassy in Paris that Farah Diba was first presented to Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

After returning to Tehran in the summer of 1959, the Shah and Farah Diba began a carefully choreographed courtship, orchestrated in part by the Shah’s daughter Princess Shahnaz.

The couple announced their engagement on 23 November 1959.
farah wedding1
Farah Diba married Shah Mohammed Reza on 21 December 1959, aged 21.

The young Queen of Iran (as she was styled at the time) was the object of much curiosity and her wedding garnered worldwide press attention.

Her gown was by Yves St Laurent, then a designer at the house of Dior, and she wore the newly-commissioned Noor-ol-Ain Diamond tiara.

After the pomp and celebrations associated with the Royal wedding were completed, the success of this union became contingent upon the Queen’s ability to produce a male heir.

Farah Mohammad_Pahlavi_CoronationAlthough he had been married twice before, the Shah’s previous marriages had given him only a daughter, who under agnatic primogeniture could not inherit the throne. The pressure for the young Queen was acute.

The Shah himself was deeply anxious to have a male heir as were the members of his government.

It was, furthermore, no secret that the dissolution of the Shah’s previous marriage to Queen Soraya had been due to her infertility.

The exact role the new Queen would play if any, in public or government affairs, was uncertain.

Within the Imperial Household, her public function was secondary to the far more pressing matter of assuring the succession. However, after the birth of the Crown Prince, the new Queen was free to devote more of her time to other activities and official pursuits.

Together the couple would go on to have four children:

  • H.I.H. Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi (born 31 October 1960)
  • H.I.H. Princess Farahnaz Pahlavi (born 12 March 1963)
  • H.I.H. Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi (28 April 1966 – 4 January 2011)
  • H.I.H. Princess Leila Pahlavi (27 March 1970 – 10 June 2001)

Farah_OfficeFarah Pahlavi at work in her office in Tehran, 1970s.

Not unlike many other Royal consorts, the young Queen initially limited herself to a ceremonial role. She spent much of her time attending the openings of various education and health-care institutions, without venturing too deeply into issues of controversy.

However, as time progressed, this position changed.

The Queen became much more actively involved in government affairs where it concerned issues and causes that interested her.

She used her proximity and influence with her husband, the Shah, to secure funding and focus attention on causes, particularly in the areas of ‘women’s rights’ and cultural development.

farah 654px-FpGiroftEventually, the Queen came to preside over a staff of 40 workers who handled various requests for assistance on a range of issues. She became one of the most highly visible figures in the Imperial Government and the patron of 24 educational, health and cultural organizations.

Her humanitarian role earned her immense popularity for a time, in the early 1970s.

During this period, she travelled a great deal within Iran, visiting some of the remotest parts of the country and meeting with the local citizens.

The Imperial Government in Tehran was not unaware of her popularity.

Her significance was exemplified by her part in the 1967 Coronation Ceremonies, where she was crowned as the first Shahbanou, or Empress, of modern Iran. It was again confirmed when the Shah named her as the official Empress Regent should he die or be incapacitated before the Crown Prince’s 21st birthday.

The naming of a woman as Regent was highly unusual for a Middle-Eastern Monarchy.

Farah’s tenure as Empress was not without controversy. The causes she championed and her role in government sometimes came into conflict with certain groups, particularly religious conservatives. This group’s dissatisfaction was aimed at the entire Pahlavi government and not solely at the Empress. Although not the source of the animosity, the Empress became its target.

farah 200px-Emblem2500PersepolisShe, along with the entire Pahlavi government, was criticized for what were perceived as excesses.

Two State occasions garnered particular ire, the elaborate Coronation ceremonies in 1967, but predominantly the 2,500 year celebration of Iran’s monarchy held in 1971 in the ancient city of Persepolis.

While the Empress herself defended this event as a magnificent showcase of Iran’s history and its contemporary advancements, critics claimed the cost (which although disputed was certainly in the tens of millions of dollars was far too high, given the other more pressing financial needs of the country).

In Iran by early 1978, a number of factors contributed to the internal dissatisfaction with the Imperial Government becoming more pronounced.

Discontent within the country continued to escalate and later in the year led to demonstrations against the monarchy. The Empress could not help but be aware of the disturbances and records in her memoirs that during this time “there was an increasingly palpable sense of unease”.

Under these circumstances most of the Empress’s official activities were cancelled due to concerns for her safety.

As the year came to a close, the political situation deteriorated further. Riots and unrest grew more frequent, culminating in January 1979. The government enacted martial law in most major Iranian cities and the country was on the verge of an open revolution.

It was at this time, in response to the violent protests, that the Shah and Empress Farah determined to leave the country.

Both the Shah and Shahbanu departed Iran via aircraft on 16 January 1979.

gigi1The question of where the Shah and Empress would go upon leaving Iran was the subject of some debate, even among the monarch and his advisers. During his reign, the Shah had maintained close relations with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and the Empress had developed a close friendship with the President’s wife, Jehan Al Sadat.

The Egyptian President extended an invitation to the Imperial Couple for asylum in Egypt and they accepted.

Due to the political situation unfolding in Iran, many governments, including those which had been on friendly terms with the Iranian Monarchy prior to the revolution, saw the Shah’s presence within their borders as a liability. Although a callous reversal, this was not entirely unfounded as the Revolutionary Government in Iran had ordered the arrest (and later death) of both the Shah and Empress Farah. The new Iranian Government would go on to vehemently demand their extradition a number of times but the extent to which it would act in pressuring foreign powers for the deposed monarch’s return (and presumably that of the Empress) was at that time unknown. Regardless, the predicament was complex.

The Shah and Empress were far from unaware of this complexity and cognizant of the potential danger which their presence carried to their host. In response, the Imperial Couple left Egypt, beginning a fourteen-month long search for permanent asylum and a journey which took them through many different countries.

After Egypt, they first traveled to Morocco, where they were briefly the guests of King Hassan II.

After leaving Morocco, the Shah and Empress were granted temporary refuge in the Bahamas and given use of a small beach property located on Paradise Island. Ironically, Empress Farah recalls the time spent at this pleasantly named location as some of the “darkest days in her life”.

After their Bahaman visas expired and were not renewed, they made an appeal to Mexico, which was granted, and rented a villa in Cuernavaca near Mexico City.

After leaving Egypt the Shah’s health began a rapid decline due to a long-term battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The seriousness of that illness brought the now exiled Imperial couple briefly to the United States in search of medical treatment. The couple’s presence in the United States further inflamed the already tense relations between Washington and the revolutionaries in Tehran. The Shah’s stay in the US, although for genuine medical purposes, became the tipping point for renewed hostilities between the two nations.

These events ultimately led to the attack and takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in what became known as the Iran hostage crisis.

In these difficult circumstances, the Shah and Empress were not given permission to remain in the United States. A short time after receiving basic medical attention, the couple again departed to Latin America, although this time destined for Contadora Island in Panama.

By now, both the Shah and Empress viewed the Carter Administration with some antipathy in response to a lack of support and were initially pleased to leave. That attitude, however soured as speculation arose that the Panamanian Government was seeking to arrest the Shah in preparation for extradition to Iran. Under these conditions the Shah and Empress again made an appeal to President Anwar El Sadat to return to Egypt (for her part Empress Farah writes that this plea was made through a conversation between herself and Jehan Al Sadat). Their request was granted and they returned to Egypt in March 1980, where they remained until the Shah’s death four months later on 27 July 1980.

farah-dibaAfter the Shah’s death, the exiled Empress remained in Egypt for nearly two years. President Sadat gave her and her family use of Koubbeh Palace in Cairo. A few months after President Sadat’s assassination in October 1981, the Empress and her family left Egypt.

President Ronald Reagan informed the Empress that she was welcome in the United States.

She first settled in Williamstown, Massachusetts but later bought a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. After the death of her daughter Princess Leila in 2001, she purchased a smaller home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., to be closer to her son and grandchildren.

Empress Farah now divides her time between Washington D.C and Paris.

She also makes an annual July pilgrimage to the late Shah’s mausoleum at Cairo’s al-Rifa’i Mosque.

The Empress supports charities, including the Annual Alzheimer Gala IFRAD (International Fund Raising for Alzheimer Disease) held in Paris.

In 2008, the Persian-Swedish, Nahid Persson Sarvestani produced a film documentary titled ‘The Queen and I’, featuring the life of Farah Pahlavi in exile. *The film was screened in various International film festivals such as IDFA and Sundance.

farah FN_HENDI

This film is a wonderful exposition of two Iranian women, from opposite backgrounds, finding common ground. Both women simply wanting to go home to a peace filled IRAN.

The Empress continues to appear at certain international royal events, such as the 2011 wedding of Albert II, Prince of Monaco, 2004 wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, and the 2010 wedding of Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark.

In 2003, Farah Pahlavi wrote a book about her marriage to the Shah entitled An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah. The publication of the former Empress’s memoirs attracted international interest. It was a best-seller in Europe, with excerpts appearing in news magazines and the author appearing on talk shows and in other media outlets. However, opinion about the book, which Publishers Weekly called “a candid, straightforward account” and the Washington Post called “engrossing”, was mixed.

Mrs. Pahlavi talked with Ms. Bitterman about her book, An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah, published by Miramax Books. Among the events included in the memoir are the exile of the author’s family from Iran in 1979, the death of her husband, and the death of her youngest daughter. Mrs. Pahlavi responded to questions from the audience throughout the discussion. She also talked about her reasons for writing the book. VIDEO HERE

HBO interviews:

National Review’s, Reza Bayegan, an Iranian writer, however praised the memoir as “abound[ing] with affection and sympathy for her countrymen.”

In 2008 as well, Farah Pahlavi was interviewed by Pejman Akbarzadeh about her memories with Persian legendary diva Hayedeh which was used in the documentary about the singer.

In 2012, the Dutch director Kees Roorda made a theater play inspired by the life of Farah Pahlavi in exile. In the play Liz Snoijink acted as Farah Diba.




A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this woman of strength into our Alumni through this tribute, admiring her courage, dedication and vision, when she stated in the film ‘The Queen and I” that things in Iran could have been different if their had been ‘dialogue’.  


These are the words of a true visionary!




Brava Farah!


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