UAE cultural personalities share their “happy places”

We check in with some of the biggest names on the UAE cultural scene to find out where they find happiness. It should come as no surprise that their answers are as diverse as the country we call home.


Electro-pop duo Hollaphonic

As one half of chart-topping UAE electro-pop duo Hollaphonic, you might expect Olly Wood to be happiest holed up in the studio – or rocking it out onstage. Neither is true.

“I’ve been in the UAE for nearly 10 years now and I’m still discovering new ‘happy places’ as the Emirates change each year with new developments,” says the 33-year-old British resident of Dubai. “Despite preconceptions, my happy place isn’t a crazy club or a concert stage but the running track on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai. There’s nothing I love more than wandering along the decking in the sunshine from Umm Sequim to the fishing harbour, with my better half, picking up a coffee and a few bites to eat along the way. Then finishing up with a lotus sundae, sat chilling in the sand whilst looking out across the Gulf. I know what you’re thinking – and yes we have actually run on the track, but I remember going home far less happy without an ice cream ending.”

* Robert Garratt


Singer Esther Eden

Teenage singing sensation Esther Eden says her happy place can be anywhere – as long as she has a pair of headphones handy.

“Music will always be my happy place and I don’t mean just my own music – I love listening to different genres of music and adore other styles,” says the 18-year-old musician, who is from Goa, India, and has made her home in the UAE. “I am happiest when I have my headphones on listening to my selected playlist.

“Music is the universal language of love and I think it can bring people together regardless of what their race is. Music makes you move, body and soul. It brings a rhythm to your daily humdrum life and a smile to your lips. If you are down music can elevate your mood.

“To me music is a form of expression. It is easier for me to express my feelings in a song than to actually speak those very words. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, music will always have a positive effect on you.”

* Robert Garratt


Artist Hadil Moufti

Hadil Moufti, 46, is an artist. She is from Saudi Arabia, spent many years in London and has been living in Dubai for the past four years. She works from a studio in Al Fahidi.

“My happy place isn’t so much a geographic location as an inner place,” she says. “Of course, there are many places in this world that bring out wonderful feelings. I grew up living in and travelling to different countries. Like most of us here in the UAE, I feel at home almost anywhere I go, and yet, I don’t feel I belong to one place in particular. Unlike the turtle, I carry my home inside me.

“Happiness is family and friends; it is the same things that make a place home. When I lived in London, my happy place was a green place – my garden, the forest, the park. When I moved to Dubai four years ago, I adapted. I am lucky to live a few minutes walk from the sea, I love to walk on the sand with my husband, my children, and very often my beagle, Marmite (she loves watching the sunset!). I value these simple pleasures, the overwhelming beauty of nature, and the time to reflect and connect with nature. I am also very grateful to have my artist studio in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, a pocket of calm and beauty amongst the busy buzz of Bur Dubai. It is the perfect place to retreat and work.”

* Anna Seaman


Artist Marwan Shakarchi

Marwan Shakarchi, 32, is an Iraqi-British artist who came to Dubai three years ago. He specialises in graphic and street art and was most recently commissioned by Maraya Art Centre to paint a large mural on a public wall in Sharjah.

“Being happy for me is made up of two components – the first is being able to spend my time doing something I consider to be valuable to both myself and others, and the second is to be able to share it,” he says. “The importance of this to me lies in the power of being able to affect and be affected by the miraculous nature of others and to share this wonder with those who surround us and those we have just been introduced to. Without a community of us interacting, exchanging and learning from one another, we are less likely to move forward and maintain any level of progress. The essence of my happiness lies in the eyes of others.”

* Anna Seaman


Playwright Saleh Karama Al Ameri

Emirati playwright Saleh Karama Al Ameri can always rely on his stories for solace. The writer, who set up the Abu Dhabi Theatre in 1977 and has written more than 17 plays, says his happy place is anywhere he finds inspiration for writing.

“It wasn’t my choice to be a writer, writing found me,” says Al Ameri, who won the Best Arabic Play award at the Cairo Arab Theatre Festival in 2007.

“And I’m very glad it did. My writing doesn’t occur in any one particular location. In fact, it can happen anywhere. Sometimes the chatting in a coffee shop, or an article in a newspaper, often a randomly discovered page, inspires my writing. My happiness stems from sharing that moment that I’ve created and seeing it come to life on stage.”

* Afshan Ahmed


Philanthropist Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo

Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo has been helping to transform the music and arts landscape since the formation of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (Admaf), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. She is also the creative force behind the annual Abu Dhabi Festival. The philanthropist says her happiest moments are when she sees her vision to make the Emirates a cultural hub in the Middle East come to life. “Admaf has presented remarkable performances and exhibitions as well as hundreds of activities for students and the community,” she says.

“The annual Abu Dhabi Festival is uniting so many people across the Emirate and the nation through arts and culture,” she says about the festival that began this month.

“The 2016 edition is particularly special for me as it marks the 20th anniversary of Admaf. After months of preparation, my happy place is that moment when I see the joy on a person’s face as they experience true creativity.”

* Afshan Ahmed


Alia Khan, founder and chairwoman, Dubai-based Islamic Fashion and Design Council

Alia Khan, founder and chairwoman of the Dubai-based Islamic Fashion and Design Council, pondered the question while on a spiritual visit to Saudi Arabia.

“Recently I’ve reflected a great deal on happiness,” she says. “The challenge I presented to myself was: ‘can I be fully happy independent of anyone or anything tangible in my life?’ I was sitting in Medina when the answer came to me. It presented itself as the following exercise: to live the next 24 hours without allowing one negative opinion or thought or feeling to enter my system. In other words, to be truly present.

“So, ‘reset’ became the word for me; almost like a mantra. I prayed and prayed about it. Until finally, it happened, and I hit gold! I shifted the expectations I had of people to unconditional love for them. I decided it was my duty to fill the momentary space where our paths might cross with kindness and grace. I started feeling a perpetual peace and I felt people were much nicer around me, too. This feeling is one of complete contentment and peace. So grateful. The heart is happy.”

* Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane


Fashion designer Fatma Al Mulla

Emirati fashion designer Fatma Al Mulla says her happy place is all a mental affair.

“My happy place is a mindset where everything is in balance,” she says. “Inner happiness is all about love and understanding your true self. When you’re happy you live a more productive, balanced lifestyle. And when you’ve given each factor of your personal and professional life its equal time and effort, this gives room to take on more and accept more challenges. When you are happy, everything is possible — it reflects on your behaviour, your creativity and your personal appearance – you even look younger.”

* Hafsa Lodi


Executive sous chef Michel Mueller

Michel Mueller, the Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi’s executive sous chef, finds joy in her work.

“My happy place is certainly in the kitchen with the different emotions I experience, the creativity and fusion,” she says. “Although my food methods are simple, I like being adventurous, even when cooking for family and friends. Being in the kitchen makes me feel whole. Food is a personal matter. It’s one of the most original requirements that we all have. A lot of people take what they eat – their cultural and familial food – very seriously. Good food generates good memories, and we all connect with good food in such a nostalgic way. It brings back lovely memories of home, family and loved ones.”

* Stacie Johnson


Entrepreneur Khalid Basaeed

Khalid Basaeed, owner of luxury goods brand Feathers, says his happiness comes from time spent with family. “Being among my family and my children also makes me very happy. Having them near me, playing with them and them being without any sickness is the ultimate dream for me and any parent. My father passed away 10 years ago, so being around my mother and listening to her brings happiness to me. It’s time now in my life for me and my family to give back what she did for us.”

* Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane


Jasper Hope, chief executive, Dubai Opera

Jasper Hope, chief executive of Dubai Opera, which is set to open beside the Burj Khalifa before the end of the year, says he is happy in the shadows. “Professionally my happy place has always been at the back of the auditorium, watching a sold-out house being thrilled by an artist giving an incredible live concert and experiencing the magic alongside them – but away from music I’m happiest surrounded by mountains and lakes and my family, preferably with a Michelin-starred dinner thrown in.”

* Saeed Saeed


Alex Broun, head of Ductac

Alex Broun, the new head of Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (Ductac), is busy running the day-to-day operations of the performance space. It’s no wonder then he finds his happinnes in quieter moments.

“I love to sit in the piazza out the front on a warm night and soak up the wonderful energy coming in and out of the arts centre and theatre as people arrive for a gallery opening or a performance or even a pottery class,” he says. The UAE’s eclecticism keeps the country’s art scene continuously vibrant, he adds, and is another source of joy. “There’s such a wonderful mixture of people from all over the world, which … helps to create the magical atmosphere that so many residents have come to know and love.”

* Afshan Ahmed

Published: April 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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