Here's why Dubai is playground for stars like Lily Allen and Emily Blunt
Bright lights, big city, that's Dubai! (Image: www.apexluxurycarhire.com)
Dubai is renowned as the playground of the rich and famous. It is a melting pot of decadence in the Middle East with year-round sunshine, some of the best hotels on the planet, and shopping opportunities to seriously damage the credit card.
Despite the restrictions of local religious laws, the champagne-fuelled party life has come to somewhat define Dubai as a holiday destination.
Because of this, I have always regarded this UAE state as the natural habitat for the types of mega-wealthy who like to splash their cash; Premier League footballers, nightclub owners, rappers and reality TV stars – the Rooneys and the cast of The Only Way Is Essex will continue to flock to Dubai.
So I was surprised to discover that Dubai has a rapidly developing cultural underside. In recent times, the place has attracted more unlikely visitors – A-listers including Emily Blunt, Cate Blanchett, Lily Allen, Karl Lagerfeld and Sarah Jessica Parker. Blunt was guest of honour at the recent Dubai International Film Festival, following in the footsteps of the Oscar-winning Ms Blanchett, who attended in 2013.
Lily Allen was in town in November with The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft to perform at Dubai’s first-ever Party In The Park at the Media City Amphitheatre. And although Lily was ordered to censor her lyrics – ‘They told me to cover up and not swear!’ she announced on stage – punters said the relaxed atmosphere, cool crowd and outdoor, grassy setting made the festival feel like Dubai’s answer to Glastonbury.
There is now the annual Dubai International Jazz Festival. This year, Sting and James Blunt perform in February. And work is also under way to build Dubai’s first opera house in The Lagoons area. The 2,500-seat venue is anticipated to be complete in 2017.
In May, Karl Lagerfeld showed his Chanel Cruise collection in Dubai, while Sarah Jessica Parker decamped from Manhattan to launch her shoe collection in The Mall of the Emirates in December.
And with Western shopping meccas Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols now established, and US emporium Macy’s on the cards to open in the next few years, the retail scene also caters for more sophisticated customers.
According to Cressida Meale, deputy editor of fashion magazine Grazia Middle East, there is even an underground fashion scene emerging in the city’s industrial area, Al Quoz. ‘It has pop-up fashion shops and cool Dubai designers,’ says Meale. ‘There really is another shopping side to Dubai, away from the malls.’
There are also several trendy art galleries in this area.
So why the sudden cultural shift? Two things seem to have happened in recent times. Firstly the party scene has relocated an hour down the road to Abu Dhabi, thanks in part to the launch of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Ferrari World (the world’s first theme park devoted to the Italian motors).
Second, Dubai was also recently made host to the global Expo 2020, an honour of which it is very proud. The Government is pumping millions into creating the infrastructure for the global mega-event. So Dubai has upped its game, and with great results. Now art, music and fashion events are near-weekly fixtures on the calendar.
Of course, all this has not stopped the partying – there’s just a more sophisticated crowd of revellers. Branches of Western nightclubs lead the way, starting with Mayfair’s most famous one, Mahiki. Since the club opened its doors in Jumeirah Beach Hotel three years ago, Movida and Pacha have arrived too.
Do the clubs worry about Abu Dhabi stealing their party crown and cliental? Apparently not. The general consensus is that Abu Dhabi has a lot to learn from Dubai. Indeed, Mahiki recently took the party to Abu Dhabi – and arguably the greatest VIP guest of all, Prince Harry. In November the nightclub hosted a pop-up venue on a yacht for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and, of course, the party-loving Prince couldn’t resist sinking a few rum cocktails on board.
But when it comes to hotels, Dubai has always been ahead. I was lucky enough to stay at the world-famous Jumeirah Burj Al Arab. Not only did my visit coincide with the UAE’s National Day, it was also the architecturally unique hotel’s 15th birthday. I have never seen a fireworks display and laser show like it.
I was completely bowled over by the world-class level of service at the suite-only hotel, and even had my own butler on hand for the duration of the stay. The Al Muntaha restaurant, in the perpendicular pod that juts from the side of the building on the 27th floor, not only served the most exquisite fish, but the bartender made a mean martini too.
It’s little wonder the hotel that prides itself as ‘the world’s most luxurious’ has a regular roll-call of royalty and A-listers staying. Many arrive by helicopter, landing on the helipad perched on top of the sail. Apparently it is used nearly every day.
I had to slum it with a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Phantom picking me up at the airport. I’ll be sure to book the chopper next time!
The Best of Burj package costs from £2,850 per couple and includes two nights’ B&B in a two-floor suite (minimum stay two nights), with private butler, dinner both evenings at Burj Al Arab’s signature restaurant, massages and set of Hermes amenities. Visit jumeirah.com or email BAAreservations@jumeirah.com. British Airways (ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Dubai from £537.
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