AN­NIVER­SARY SPE­CIAL

As Fri­day cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary, Mri­nal Shekar hits the rewind but­ton, in­ter­view­ing per­son­al­i­ties who’ve been fea­tured in the mag­a­zine

Friday - - Contents - PHOTOS BY AIZA CASTILLO-DOMINGO/STE­FAN LINDEQUE/ANAS THACHARAPADIKKAL

We touch base with a few of the per­son­al­i­ties we’ve fea­tured in the mag­a­zine over the past two decades.

‘Why don’t we get in touch with some of the UAE’s achiev­ers we’ve fea­tured in the mag­a­zine over the years and find out how life has treated them since?’ I sug­gested dur­ing a brain­storm­ing meet­ing for the 20th an­niver­sary is­sue of Fri­day.

De­spite hav­ing spent 15 years, 9 months and 21 days with the mag­a­zine, I did not know what I was get­ting into. Ei­ther that or blame it on the fact that I’m math­e­mat­i­cally chal­lenged. I did not re­alise that I was star­ing at the prospect of flip­ping through 1,044 is­sues of the mag­a­zine, cre­at­ing a long list, then track­ing them down (trust me – there are scores of peo­ple who are not vis­i­ble on so­cial media) and then get­ting them to agree to an in­ter­view and photo shoot.

But amid all the anx­ious moments, there were OMG moments too. Mem­o­ries from the time – the ses­sions we had as a team putting the mag­a­zine to­gether, the fan-girl moments when we in­ter­viewed peo­ple who have been game-chang­ers in their field or bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries of col­leagues who are no longer a part of this jour­ney – hit me like a tsunami.

Twenty years might not be very long in a pub­li­ca­tion’s life but work­ing on this project, I felt these years and the peo­ple fea­tured have been mon­u­men­tal in my education.

SUHAIL MO­HAM­MAD AL ZAROONI Col­lec­tor and Guin­ness World Record holder

In 1999, when Fri­day first fea­tured Suhail Mo­ham­mad Al Zarooni he had 1,000 cars. Yes 1,000. Not real ones, but those of the dinky va­ri­ety. From Fer­raris and Bu­gat­tis to Roll­sRoyces and Mercedes, they were all neatly lined up in his cabi­net, glit­ter­ing away un­der a spot­light. When we went back to check if the col­lec­tion had grown at all we were told he now has more than 10,000 – and two Guin­ness records for his grow­ing col­lec­tion.

‘I re­mem­ber send­ing the ar­ti­cle on me that ap­peared in Fri­day to the ad­ju­di­ca­tors of Guin­ness World Records as proof of what I had achieved, and I firmly be­lieve it was the ar­ti­cle that got me the award the first time in 2002,’ says Suhail.

He re­peated the feat in 2003 – im­pe­tus enough for him to add to his col­lec­tion.

‘The col­lec­tion now in­cludes al­most all types of cars ever made; such as minia­ture ver­sions of JFK’s car, James Bond’s cars and Hitler’s Mercedes-Benz. ‘If that’s not enough I’ve cus­tomised cars into po­lice cars and taxis,’ he says.

What makes the col­lec­tion even more jaw-drop­ping is the at­ten­tion to de­tail. Doors and fuel caps that open, ash­trays that slide out and glove com­part­ments that work.

It’s not just minia­ture cars that fas­ci­nate Suhail. His col­lec­tion in­cludes Cartier pens, 24K gold-plated bank notes, coins, an­tiques and news­pa­pers an­nounc­ing sig­nif­i­cant events such as Queen Elizabeth II’s wed­ding in 1947 and the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy. He also has first is­sues of fa­mous mag­a­zines, match­boxes from across the world, M&M can­is­ters, Star­bucks mugs, an­tique crock­ery and rare Wedg­wood items.

Suhail says he just en­joys col­lect­ing. ‘Hoard­ing has be­come in­stinc­tual, un­con­trol­lable and a pri­mal urge,’ he ad­mits. And it’s not just Suhail who has been bit­ten by the bug. His wife is known to have the largest col­lec­tion of Princess Diana dolls, while his sons, Mubarak and Saif, have a huge col­lec­tion of Harry Pot­ter mem­o­ra­bilia.

But Suhail is more than just a hoarder of cu­rios. Phi­lan­thropy is also im­por­tant to him and he has set up the Al Zarooni Foun­da­tion, an ini­tia­tive that is fo­cused on im­prov­ing the standard of chil­dren’s education across the de­vel­op­ing world.

‘I am a proud Emi­rati and all that I do is fo­cused on putting my coun­try and its peo­ple on the world map,’ he says.

When Shamira Mitha ac­com­pa­nied her hus­band to the UAE in 1989 she was ex­pect­ing their son, Shahzain. Moth­er­hood meant a ca­reer – or dreams of pur­su­ing one – had to take a back seat.

Keen to stay busy, Shamira took up a freelance job in public re­la­tions with Le Méri­dien Dubai. Be­fore she knew it she was of­fered a job co­or­di­nat­ing their events and ac­tiv­i­ties. ‘This was a turn­ing point for me, as I had never con­sid­ered this as a ca­reer op­tion. This ex­pe­ri­ence was in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing my fu­ture,’ she says.

So much so that she de­cided to open her own com­pany Verve in 2009, spe­cial­is­ing in hos­pi­tal­ity PR. But that’s not the high­light of her pro­fes­sional life, she says. That hon­our is re­served for be­ing on the cover of the De­cem­ber 29, 2000 is­sue of Fri­day.

‘It started off as a short in­ter­view for an ar­ti­cle on how to look af­ter your skin us­ing in­gre­di­ents from your kitchen,’ she re­mem­bers.

‘Then the mag­a­zine did a photo shoot that I thor­oughly en­joyed and the next thing I know I’m on the cover of the mag­a­zine. It was such a pleas­ant sur­prise when I saw it. There weren’t too many mag­a­zines 17 years ago, so my phone didn’t stop ring­ing. For weeks af­ter­wards, wher­ever I went, I was recog­nised as Fri­day’s cover girl,’ she adds. It was this brush with fame that Shamira be­lieves cat­a­pulted her to the fore­front of the UAE’s PR in­dus­try.

That said, the jour­ney, she ad­mits, has not been an easy one. ‘Ini­tially I was not taken se­ri­ously and of­ten made to feel like a wallflower who dressed pret­tily and en­ter­tained the media,’ she says. The per­cep­tion took a while to change and now, in spite of the com­pe­ti­tion she faces from the nu­mer­ous PR com­pa­nies that have opened in the UAE, Shamira is con­sid­ered to be that go-to per­son known for her abil­ity to iden­tify gaps in hos­pi­tal­ity PR.

As for the chal­lenges she faces, the 52 year old says they are not from the com­pe­ti­tion but from the mul­ti­tude of plat­forms. Ear­lier, com­pa­nies only fo­cused on print media; Shamira be­lieves dig­i­tal media has now taken over. So what does her fu­ture look like?

‘I can look back and say my life has been ex­cit­ing, fun and I have done a lot, but still have a lot more to do and achieve and want to keep mov­ing,’ she says.

‘The JOUR­NEY has not been an easy one. Ini­tially I was not taken se­ri­ously and made to feel like a WALLFLOWER who dressed pret­tily and en­ter­tained the media. The PER­CEP­TION took a while to change’

Be­ing on the cover of the mag­a­zine was a pleas­ant sur­prise, says Shamira

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