James Mullan

“When A Man Is Tired of The Palm He Is Tired of, Ah, Luxury Life”

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A retired English cricketer is leaving Dubai and it’s big news apparently.  Check out the ‘most read’ and ‘most commented’ sections of the local English media and the fact that Freddie Flintoff is forsaking the blue skies of a desert winter for the grey mists of Surrey is cause for great debate.  The chunky erstwhile bowler and imbiber-in-chief of the England team which put the Aussies in their place wants his kids ‘not to take the sun for granted’.  They’ll be lucky to remember what it looked like in three months.

Before he leaves maybe he should organize one of those supremely cheesy  Dubai photo sessions on the beach in front of the Burj al Arab with the sun setting behind. You know, the one where the family lies in a line wearing white t-shirts and rolled up jeans, hands on chins grinning inanely.  A good way to preserve his ‘solar memories’, no?

The message coming loud and clear from Mr Flintoff’s widely publicized comments is that he was simply bored of the place.    Fair enough except his only role, as I understand it, was a nicely undefined ‘sort-of-ambassador’ job to promote the city.

The template for this type of celebrity endorsement of the city was set by David Beckham and his wife’s purchase of a villa on the Palm in the heady early days of the Dubai property boom.  Having worked on this announcement myself I can testify what an immense impact this had in putting Dubai and specifically The Palm on the map.

The problem though with these celebrity endorsements is that you’re operating on a law of diminishing returns.  Lionel Richie, Shah Rukh Khan and Boris Becker are among the dozens of ‘slebs’ who’ve read an autocue on a slickly produced DVD extolling the virtues of owning your own little plot of the UAE.  Lionel Richie, allegedly, even appeared in person to a small group of potential investors and rattled out a few bars of ‘Say You, Say Me’ to entice them to part with millions of dollars. How could they resist?

Mr Flintoff’s biggest mistake, as far as I can see, is to have chosen to live on The Palm.  Don’t get me wrong I’m no ‘Palm-ist’, I have a great affection for the place or rather for what it used to be.  For me The Palm was at its best when it was a sand-bar.  These were the days when I used to lead press trips out of Mina Seyahi port on a bizarrely constructed boat made out of a cut-off Toyota people carrier (don’t ask).

We used to hare around the island on quad bikes stopping closer than we should do to marvel at the rainbow dredgers which were firing huge arcs of sand as the world’s largest manmade island was built inch by inch.  I used to love touring the site with the engineers as they told me about the apparently intractable problems they had to solve to continue on schedule.  The helicopter trips over the island with the good-humoured pilots from Dubai Police were sensational.

I was on the island again last week and visits there always fill me with a slight melancholy.  I still envisage the original plans which included elaborate Tuileries-style parks with flowing streams, the plans which disappeared with the inevitable interruption of financial necessity.  I know people who live happily on the island both in the apartments on the Golden Mile and in the grand Signature villas on the island’s fronds.  They wax lyrical about the facilities, the lower temperature in Summer, the feeling of being ‘away from the madding crowd’.  But, that for me, is the problem.

There’s the cachet of the address, and the not unimportant fact that you can own your own home on the island but I would much rather be part of a community (and not a gated one) where you can walk to a shop, exchange ‘good mornings’ with the local characters, watch gardeners pedal past your house with lawn mowers attached to their bikes.  I can have a chicken shwarma from the ubiquitous ‘Eat and Drink’ or cheesy bread from a Lebanese bakery in my hands within five minutes – all features which may have enhanced your stay here, Mr Flintoff.  iPOD docks for the chilled swimming pool and  electronic gates only go so far.

So farewell, then, Freddy and give my regards to ice on the windscreen, horizontal rain and the M25.  If it all gets too much for you and the kids start nagging for the sun again why don’t you give Mirdif a whirl?

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