Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there
Aariff Nazeem rolls out the red carpet for rock stars and royalty as operations manager at the capital’s landmark hotel, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental.
In his role he takes charge of 20 butlers, who cater to every whim of the hotel's high-profile guests, from Premier League footballers and managers to Hollywood A-listers and heads of state.
During his 15 years at Emirates Palace, Mr Nazeem, who is from Chennai, India, has flown in helicopters, sourced stallions and shopped for swimwear for the stars.
He prides himself on never saying no to a request.
Here, Mr Nazeem, 42, invites The National into one of the hotel’s Palace Suites to see how the rich and famous spend their downtime in Abu Dhabi.
Why did you decide to become a butler?
I started as a receptionist on the front desk in 2008 and eventually worked my way up to operations manager. Today, I am in charge of 20 butlers and their relevant departments, which means looking after royalty, prime ministers, Hollywood stars and other VVIPs.
In my job, I can never say no, whether that’s arranging a last-minute helicopter, building cabanas from scratch or having horses brought to the Emirates Palace beach – nothing is too much.
Some of our most famous guests were Queen Elizabeth II, Beyonce, Shakira, Shah Rukh Khan and Joe Biden, who visited before he became US president.
They are superstars, but most of them are also very down-to-earth people. The former president of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, came down to the pantry to chat with the kitchen staff and Joe Biden shook hands with everyone he met, from porters to butlers.
What does your job involve?
It’s up to me to make sure all our VVIP guests feel at home and comfortable during their stay.
Prince William was here last year and suddenly decided he wanted to swim in the sea, but he didn’t have a swimming costume with him. We had to rush to the mall to bring him some swimming shorts so he could go for a dip.
When Queen Elizabeth II visited, we spent hours in the laundry room with her outfits because they were so delicate. You certainly don’t want to damage the queen’s hat.
We also had filming here for the seventh Fast and Furious movie, Furious 7, and all the stars stayed here in our Palace Suites, which was exciting.
This summer, Tom Cruise was here for the Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One premiere. He didn’t stay with us, but he’s always very humble and gracious to everyone he meets.
What are the perks of the job?
One of my most exciting days at work was meeting Formula One driver Mika Hakkinen in 2008 when I’d just started working here.
I’m a huge motorsports fan and he was my dream driver at the time. These days, I’m a big fan of Sir Lewis Hamilton but I’ve never seen him here yet. Hopefully, this might be the year I get to meet him.
We also have loads of English football players and managers who stay with us, especially the Manchester City players, which is amazing for me as a supporter. After Sir Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United he came to stay with us for a long time, too.
Meeting Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan was also really amazing. They treat us like we’re very close friends and always make time to chat and pose for pictures.
What are the most challenging parts?
Sometimes we get requests with a very tight turnaround time, which can be a challenge.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco visited with his complete entourage for three months and we were given an hour’s notice to completely empty the Ruler Suite of all furniture to replace it with his own.
It was 11pm and we had to wake up everyone in the hotel to come and lift this heavy furniture. In the end, we rounded up more than 100 people, from engineers to housekeeping staff.
Seven lorries with luggage arrived full of gym equipment and furniture and we worked until 5am to make sure everything was perfect. He left having had a very memorable experience with us and it felt like a job well done.
How do you deal with diva behaviour?
Of course we have a few demanding guests, but we always take care of the requests no matter what they are.
We had one king who wanted a private area set up on the beach with his own cabana. The engineering team came to the beach and built it in a secluded area, from scratch.
We make sure all our guests leave happy and with good memories. Nothing is too much for us at Emirates Palace.
What was your most memorable day at work?
Meeting Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was a dream come true. He came with his family and posed for pictures with the staff.
Ever since the team came to Abu Dhabi I’ve been a big fan and he took a lot of time to talk to us all and sought us out when he came back again with the team.
For me, that was the most memorable day of my career so far.