"This week, I landed in the world's largest airport terminal, and made my way to the world's largest shopping mall. From there, I stopped to admire Burj Khalifa, which has a number of Guinness World Records [from having the highest lounge in the world to the largest LED-illuminated facade], before heading to Mall of the Emirates, which has the world's biggest indoor ski resort. It's all very fascinating," says Samantha Fay, senior vice president of global brand strategy at Guinness World Records. It was Fay's first visit to Dubai.
It's well known that the UAE is constantly raising the bar, and breaking world records comes with the territory. Not only does the country possess the largest shopping mall, tallest building et al, it also has several offbeat records, from the greatest number of diamonds on a perfume bottle to the heaviest vehicle pulled by human hair. And it looks like this penchant for superlatives is here to stay.
"If you look at the numbers – and we quite like numbers over here – there has been a 39 per cent increase in commercial applications [for a World Record] in this region in this year alone," Fay says. "Of the 30,817 applications received globally this year, 1,311 came from the Mena region. And the UAE has a large share of that; we've seen the number of requests grow over the last 10 years, and especially so in the last two or three years. The country has 338 records to date, with Dubai accounting for 224. I don't think any other office has those numbers – it says a lot about the energy here. Dubai is putting itself on the map. It's quite the record-breaking city."
Guinness World Records has six offices worldwide with its Dubai branch, which opened in 2013, being one of its busiest. That's no mean feat, considering that the organisation reports roughly 50 to 60 attempted world records per week.
For Fay, the incredible popularity of the Guinness World Records, which started almost 65 years ago as a reference book and developed into a media and entertainment brand, says a lot about the nature of the human spirit. "I think human beings are pioneers. We have this endless fascination with talent – with the smallest, biggest, fastest. I think we, as a race, are constantly reinventing ourselves. If you think about some of the records being broken now, from selfies to fidget spinners to Minecraft, these are things that didn't exist a decade ago. One of the reasons we've remained popular over the years is, whether they're planning to break a record or not, people always want to read this information. Knowing what people are capable of is one of the perennial questions that we answer."
The types of records being attempted and broken can also say a lot about where the human race is heading, Fay believes. For example, environmental records have become increasingly popular in the past 18 months – there has been an 110 per cent increase worldwide. "You have a lot of people asking how they can make the world a better place. They want to know what the record for lifting plastic out of oceans is, or for planting the most number of trees, for example. It's just wonderful."
Other trends in the world of record-breaking are related to mobile phones and technology, with interest in concepts such as smart clothes, 3D printing (from the biggest house to the largest office) and voice technology gaining ground.
Within the region, there is a focus on the environment, building and construction, and gathering people together for a common cause, which is especially popular for records connected to the education sector. Companies are almost as keen to set Guinness World Records as individuals, says Fay, and account for 45 per cent of applications. "A lot of brands approach us when they want to celebrate – whether it's an anniversary or a new product launch or a key message they want to send," she says.
Some of Fay's personal favourite records include the time India International School in Sharjah gathered 5,500 pupils to create a human coffee pot that was "transformed" to show the drink being poured into a cup. The endeavour, for which the children had to change outfits in perfect harmony, broke two records at the same time.
Another example she gives is that of Imad Hardan Al Delaimi, who travelled to Dubai from her home in Iraq to take part in and break a record. His achievement? The longest continuous ride standing on the seat of a motorcycle for 30 minutes.
"It never fails to amaze me what humans are capable of if they put their minds to it," Fay says. "If you can think of something, and we can find a way to measure it, then the only limit is your imagination. What's bizarre to one person is someone else's passion." It's the reason, Fay notes, that in her line of work, there's no such thing as unusual – no matter that records are broken for having the longest fingernails, most piercings, or pushing an orange with one's nose. To illustrate this, she cites the example of Ashrita Furman, from New York, who has set 224 Guinness World Records to date.
“He told me that when he was younger, he was always passed over for the sports teams. So when he breaks Guinness World Records, it makes him grateful. It sounds crazy, but the reason he does this is because, at the end of the day, that’s his passion – to push the boundaries of human endeavour.”
Recent records broken in the UAE
Largest police badge: Ras Al Khaimah police broke this record in October for a badge that is 115cm by 154cm and weighs 104 kilograms. It took 26 days to make.
Largest flower petal carpet: The largest flower petal carpet is 5,426.65 square metres. The record was achieved in Dubai on November 22 by the UAE Ministry of Tolerance and organised by Globerz Entertainments and AKCAF.
Most people in a photo cutout board picture: The record for most people in a photo cutout board picture is 72 and was achieved by Sharjah Child-Friendly Office on November 21. The feat was part of Sharjah Carnival for Children and Youth, which was held in conjunction with World Children's Day. The board measured 1.45 metres by 50.45 metres.
Largest building in the shape of a picture frame: This goes to Dubai Frame, which is 150.23 metres tall and 95.53 metres wide. The record, achieved by Dubai Municipality, was verified on May 9.
Largest hand-woven spiral place mat: Measuring 12.018 metres in diameter, this table setting was made by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi on October 24.