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