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ROBERT HARDMAN writes about the billionaire crown prince of parties

The crowd lining up in front of the panto at the Churchill Theater, Bromley, had never seen anything like it.

Into the parking lot one hefty, darkened limousine after another growled at what would turn out to be nothing less than a royal order.

It was a few days before Christmas in 2008. Prince Azim of Brunei, then 26, was in London and wanted to take some of his younger siblings to a production of his favorite pantomime, Cinderella.

Prince Azim with model Naomi Campbell at London Fashion Week in 2007

Prince Azim with model Naomi Campbell at London Fashion Week in 2007

And if the only show available was in the Kentish suburbs of the capital, the entire entourage would bypass the West End and head towards Bromley.

It was a typically impulsive but good-natured gesture from the kind, party-loving second son of the fabulously wealthy sultan of Brunei.

But while Azim would often try to be the jolly Prince Charming figure on the London and Hollywood celebrity circuits, this particular fairytale was not destined for a happy ending.

It was revealed this week that the prince had died unmarried at the age of 38 after what was reported as a long-term illness.

He died in his homeland, mourning the sprawling fountain-filled royal complex outside the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, and was traditionally buried on the same day.

His funeral was attended by his close family, but not by the bewildering constellation of associates whom he had come to regard as friends.

These ranged from actress Raquel Welch and supermodel Naomi Campbell to singer Mariah Carey and ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson (who sang at his 30th birthday party).

He was also a great friend of the late Jade Goody for a while, the fun one-time Big Brother contestant.

That was the environment in which he seemed happiest, although it was not a world that received the approval of his family in the increasingly conservative Islamic sultanate.

Last year, the small oil-rich kingdom – located on the north coast of Borneo and protected with the help of the British military – proposed introducing laws against homosexuality with the death penalty, by stoning, for repeat offenders.

The proposal was withdrawn by the sultan after worldwide calls for a boycott of the country’s business interests, including the Dorchester Hotel in London.

Prince Azim with Joan Collins in 2005

Prince Azim with Joan Collins in 2005

Prince Azim with Joan Collins in 2005

It was especially uncomfortable for Prince Azim, who had many gay friends.

He was a contemporary reminder of the contradictory lifestyles of other members of wealthy Muslim royal families.

His uncle, the Sultan’s younger brother, Prince Jefri, had been the family’s playboy for many years, famous for his love of fast cars and for parties aboard the motor yacht he liked to call ‘T * ts’.

By the time Jefri was restrained and commissioned to live a quieter life, the next generation was beginning to learn the ways of the world. In Prince Azim’s case, this consisted of a spell at Berkshire Public School, Leighton Park.

Former Labor leader Michael Foot’s alma mater, performed on Quaker lines, was certainly an interesting choice for a Muslim prince destined for Sandhurst, such as his father and older brother.

Perhaps the sultan was keen that his second son avoid the same temptations as his own younger brother.

In that case, Prince Azim spent just a week in Sandhurst before retiring. There was hope that he would follow his older brother, Crown Prince Billah, who had taken a course in Islamic studies at Magdalen College, Oxford.

He died in his home country and was traditionally buried on the same day. His funeral was attended by his immediate family

He died in his home country and was traditionally buried on the same day. His funeral was attended by his immediate family

He died in his home country and was traditionally buried on the same day. His funeral was attended by his immediate family

However, Azim’s application – disastrously approved by the State Department – coincided with the furor surrounding the university’s refusal to give a place to Laura Spence, a state-trained applicant with poor A grades.

Both Labor Chancellor Gordon Brown and Shadow Education Secretary Theresa May weighed in on an increasingly toxic debate.

In that case, Prince Azim enrolled at Oxford Brookes University to study politics and international relations.

When fortune always seemed to shine on Billah – who even won £ 2,000 on the National Lottery (although some wondered why on earth he played it) – Azim always kept looking for something else.

His great ambition was to make it as a film producer, in which respect he enjoyed some success under his industry name, Azim Bolkiah.

He produced, among other things, You’re Not You, with Hilary Swank in the lead role as a classical pianist with a debilitating illness.

Lately, he was executive producer of The Happy Prince, Rupert Everett’s bittersweet gay love story about Oscar Wilde’s twilight years, starring Emily Watson and Colin Firth.

Outside of the studio, Prince Azim was keen to use his wealth and position to promote numerous charities in the UK and elsewhere, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Fashion For Relief.

While some celebrities, including Mariah Carey, would become regular friends, others were more interested in the bank balance, title, and toys than their little owner. He was smart enough to know and admitted, “It’s part of the territory.”

Azim sometimes joked about his quest to be photographed with the likes of Kate Moss or Claudia Schiffer.

“I mean, I’ve met a few before,” he once said. “But I don’t really hang out with them.” Not so much a happy prince as a lost one.

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