Sunday Times Travel: Dubai supplement

Head here to read my guide to Dubai for Sunday Times Travel. I wrote everything bar the golf and brunch bits (not that I am not an expert in the latter!)


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The Guardian: Shopping fit for a sheikh

My piece in The Guardian today about a Dubai sheikh’s hunt for 60 female personal shoppers from Venice. It was the most-read article on the site for a while, with 10,987 Facebook shares at last count. Fantastico!

It seemed like an April Fools’ joke. On Tuesday 1 April, news circulated in Italy that a Dubai sheikh had a job opening – in fact, he had 60 of them. The candidate requirements? Applicants must be female, attractive, stylish, aged (or at least look) between 18 and 28, from the province of Venice, able to speak English (French and Arabic a bonus) and, most importantly, possess supremely sharp shopping skills.

In return they would be offered €100 (£83) a day and the opportunity to join the sheikh on his European tour next month, where they would attend various high-end dinners and events, stay in luxury accommodation and fly “by private jet only” between Madrid, Paris, London, Stockholm, Ibiza, Milan and Venice. The role itself? To assist his numerous wives and daughters with their shopping.

Mauro Belcaro, owner of Italian fashion company Rosy Garbo and casting agency Padua DOC, is in charge of recruitment. He quickly confirms the ad’s legitimacy. “I got a call from an agency in Dubai because we regularly cast fashion models and other roles in the industry,” he says. They wanted Italian women because of “their strong taste in fashion”.

Now 100 women have thrown their (oh-so-on-trend) hats into the ring. Sixty went under the casting directors’ scrutiny last week: only “one or two” made the grade. The selection process is stringent. The hopefuls must face a panel consisting of an image consultant, a personal shopper and a lawyer (“to keep the process transparent and ensure the contracts they sign with the sheikh are 100% accurate”). “Beauty is the least important criteria here,” says Belcaro. “Image consultancy experience and intelligence are more crucial.”

On Friday, one applicant apparently answered “bread” when asked what the word “baguette” conjured in her mind. The answer should have been the famed Fendi bag of the same name. Other questions the women have so far been faced with include: “What are the big makeup trends of 2014?” and “Which designer labels best suit a woman in her 50s?”

When I ask Belcaro if the women’s marital status is relevant, he laughs. “This is not a harem we are building! It is more like a family vacation; many of the sheikh’s children will be there. The ladies’ responsibility is to ensure they are dressed correctly for the social events they attend.” And what if the Italian employees also lack suitable attire? “They may buy clothes too.”

Like all good things, the role is rather short-lived: the “shopping shifts” last 15 days, after which 10 new women are installed. On the plus side, Belcaro is in desperate need of English speakers, as this is the language the Emirati women use. “If there are any interested English women living in Italy, or who have lived here before for a year or so, please tell them to apply,” he says.

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. Former editor of Time Out Dubai, Time Out Style and recently the launch editor of Time Out Tokyo’s first print magazine, I have written and edited features on all sorts of subjects for all sorts of magazines, newspapers and websites. These span publications* such as The Telegraph, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, Financial Times, BBC Travel, Mail on Sunday, Condé Nast Traveller, Vice, Cosmopolitan and Company. I have worked as assistant editor on Dorling Kindersley’s New York Times bestseller and Design Week editorial award-winning book Pick Me Up, as well as deputy editor on’s first print magazine. In the Middle East, I have contributed a regular column to Esquire, and written for Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia and Men’s Fitness among others. I have also been the main video presenter for and regularly represented the brand on local TV and radio, including on BBC World and bi-weekly on Virgin Radio.

*Pseudonyms include Jenny Childs (my mother’s maiden name), Kate Douglas (my sister’s name) and Lucy Morgan (not sure why with that one – it was just the first name that popped into my head).

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