Thursday, 31 March 2011

I hate Dubai - and I've never even been there!

Now and then there’s an incestuous TV documentary featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyle of a rich British businessman who regularly appears on TV programmes (Dragon’s Den, The Apprentice – that sort of thing). I’m addicted to these programmes, because they make me feel better about not been rich.

I sort of get the impression we’re meant to admire the businessmen’s salt-of-the-earth blokeishness, their refusal to put on airs and graces, their determination not to better themselves culturally or intellectually. They’re just like you and me, the director seems to be saying – only with fast cars and private jets and newly-built single story houses sprawling across an acre or two of uninteresting countryside. There are the obligatory shots of them doing vaguely sporty things with their families on their enormous, neatly-trimmed, snooker-table-flat soulless lawns, as they tell us how much they love doing stuff with their families (ah! sweet!) and how they love to work hard and play hard and how much they’re determined to enjoy everything success has brought them. There are sequences of them in helicopters and limousines. There’s stuff about “putting something back” because they’ve been so lucky - bit of charidy work, but they don’t like to talk about it. And then we see them trying to look relaxed on their yachts or on the balcony of their Monte Carlo apartments, sipping champagne and trying to sound convincing when they say, “This is the life!”

Occasionally we’re afforded a glimpse of our hero “enjoying” Dubai. I’ve usually been okay up this point – their lives (and their houses) look pretty horrible to me, but chacun à son goût and all that. But as soon as we reach Dubai, I lose the plot.

I hate the bloody place! Everything about it strikes me as infintely soulless, tawdry and depressing.

Jim Davidson lived there for five years. Freddie Flintoff lives there (though he moans about not being able to get Coronation Street). The Beckhams, Ivana Trump, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Giorgio Armani, Boris Becker, Hillary Swank and Gordon Ramsay all have places there. Half of Hollywood seems to hang out in this particular circle of hell. There’s even a rumour that the Krankies are residents! Relatively cheap property, tax breaks, constant sunshine, personal safety, golf courses, swanky restaurants, swimming pools – the Costa del Sol, only hotter.

I’d rather spend time in an Hieronymous Bosch painting!

I’ve never been to Dubai, and I’m never going to visit the place: everything I’ve heard about it suggests it’s full of the sort of cultureless, cash-bloated white folk anyone with an ounce of sensitivity would cross a continent to avoid.

The temperature is often 120˚F, with 100% humidity. The taxis are cheap, but the drivers tend to smell bad (because they work constantly and don’t have time to bathe). The public toilets are holes in the ground surrounded by water from the dripping hose you’re supposed to clean your bum with. Immigrant workers often throw themselves in front of cars because the government pays blood money to their relatives back home. There are no street numbers, so if you want something delivered, there’s a little box where you have to draw a map. Numerous websites deemed unsuitable are blocked – but it’s crawling with prostitutes. Driving standards are appalling and you never see a policeman. The expat population changes constantly, depending on the state of the world economy (and their careers).

You have so much money, you can live wherever you want – and you choose this?

Okay – if you’re a businessman and Dubai is where you can earn a pile before returning to somewhere civilised, fine. But to go there of your own free will? I really don’t get it.

I’ve never had money to burn and while I’m not exactly anhedonic, I’m no sybarite. But if I were loaded I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend time in a vast building site as hot as the centre of the Sun. As for staying in ridiculously opulent hotels – look, if you need a seven star hotel to feel good about yourself, you’re life is meaningless.

Many of these people could afford a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal –and they opt for Dubai?

Don’t get me wrong – if I had to choose an Arab city to live in, it would probably be Dubai, if only because, as in Las Vegas, you’re probably never more than ten feet away from some serious air-conditioning. And the religious nutters are kept ruthlessly in check.

To me, it sums up the problem of losing touch with your roots - but not finding new ones. When you became rich in the old days, and you weren’t aesthetically or intellectually inclined, there were a number of traditional upper class activities designed to soak up your cash and your free time – huntin’, shootin’, fishin’, carriage ridin’ (sorry - riding), polo playing, horse racing, gambling etc. You bought a pile in the country (usually Cheshire or Surrey) a town house in London and a villa on the Riviera. You set about adopting the lifestyle of your (former) social superiors. You became a member of the upper (or upper middle) classes. Now, apparently, you eschew all that and just look for a meaningless, shiny, tasteless New Town somewhere broiling hot with lots of sports facilities, and hang out with people just like you, consuming expensive food and drink in international restaurants catering for people who appreciate high prices – and rush home to watch the telly or get stuck into Playstation.

I visited Monte Carlo once – God it was awful! Full of rich Americans pretending they weren’t 73 year olds with prostate problems. But I’d take it over Dubai any day – at least the tawdriness has a vintage.

Mind you – it’s their money, so they can do what they like with it. I just wish they were a bit more ambitious.

If this is what being filthy rich brings you - you can keep it!


  1. Dubai was the destination where Wayne Rooney [he of the aquiline features and muscular, non-goal scoring legs] whisked Coleen in order to patch up his latest shenanigans. Dale Winton and his great chum Barbra Windsor also own property there. They are representative, together with the colony of Russian oligarchs residing in Switzerland, of the new in-crowd wether you like it or not. Whenever I hear the word "Dubai" I always equate it with "gimcrack", "Marbella" and "Palm Beach". Why anybody would want to live or vacation in a place like the Gulf which is easily within rocket and invasion range of Iran is beyond me.

    I have not been to Dubai, but I have been to Sharjah which is a few miles down the road. It was 1976 and it was like a giant building site in the desert although a clutch of luxury hotels had been completed. It was a hell-hole and an inferno. I have three memories. My taxi-driver from the airport [in full dishdash] importuned me several times by suggesting that we go off "and drink Pepsi Cola together". "No, I'd really rather not, if you don't mind," I boomed at him in a manly voice. The hotel dining room was magnificently opulent. The only other diner was a surly American working his way through a bottle of vodka. "What do you recommend?" he shouted at me across the room. "Er..caviar." When his black delicacy appeared he took one mouthful, spat it out and shouted at me again "Tastes like shit" and stormed off with his bottle. And then I visited the souk - "the biggest covered souk in the Gulf" [the most tawdry collection of rubbish I have seen outside of various emporia along the Edware Road] I felt unwell in the extreme heat and returned to the hotel where a doctor told me I was suffering from "extreme saline deficiency". I suffered badly through the night with the shivers and nightmares about homosexual cabbies lurking outside my door.

    My next port of call was Kuwait which made me almost think fondly of Sharjah. Like you, it is a great mystery to me why anybody of European [especially Northern European] origin would voluntarily go to the Gulf - let alone live in the bloody place.
    Friday, April 1, 2011 - 08:06 AM

  2. You mention Venice. Sad to think that no matter what their origins the rich once spent their money building homes of astonishing architectural beauty thereby creating a city of unparalleled loveliness and now use it to buy prefab apartments in a monument to hubris and bad taste. I’ve been to Dubai on business and it’s just awful especially the Brits. Thesiger, I’ve spent some time in the region and have never been propositioned by a male. What have you go that I don’t?
    Friday, April 1, 2011 - 03:02 PM

  3. Thesiger is spot on about Kuwait. Good on you, Wilf. I was out there just before Saddam's invasion. As I gazed at the bleak and soulless landscape from the balcony of the apartment where we were dining, I felt physically that drop in spirits that you get when looking at something which is the exact opposite of the things in life that you value. I knew that all the money on earth would not be enough to make me live there. This was only slightly influenced by the lecture a Kuwaiti prince was giving me at the same time about Western decadence as he pointed to the petrol stations he owned.

    Three weeks later, I surprised myself by cheering as the BBC News showed them all in flames.
    Saturday, April 2, 2011 - 08:53 AM

  4. Cavandpag. On reflection, I think my mistake was the wearing of my "Village People" T-shirt and my close resemblance in the '70s to a famous Greek pop singer [in Cairo I was once followed down an alley by a small group of boys chanting "Demis Roussos"]. I also used to play a lot of "showtunes" on my leaky Sony Walkman. Anyway, good luck next time you visit the Emirates.
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 11:09 AM