What exactly happens at this men-only society in Dubai?
Mark Griffiths meets the chairman of Dubai’s gentlemen-only society club, to find out what they get up to.
Let’s start by clearing up a few misconceptions. There are no funny handshakes, you don’t have to be secretly invited and it’s nothing to do with King Arthur and his round table of knights.
The Dubai Round Table (DRT) is an organisation shrouded in mystery through no fault of its own, but even chairman Jonathan Warmington admits the hype around a hush-hush community group has its benefits.
‘I feel a bit like Clark Kent,’ says the 35-year-old Brit. ‘It always makes me laugh when I hear others talk about the group. It’s as if we’re up to no good. Or embarking on secret missions for the greater good.’
The latter isn’t far from the truth. DRT – a global arm of Round Table International, which began in the UK in 1927 – is often behind the scenes at Dubai charity events, helping plan, organise and execute in a bid to raise funds for those less fortunate than them.
‘One of my best Dubai Round Table moments was when one of our members organised a desert ball and raised a significant sum for Al Noor and Dubai Centre For Special Needs,’ says Warmington.
A Dubai resident of five years, he describes the event as ‘surreal’ recalling more than 300 people in Black Tie in the middle of the desert.
Originally started in Norwich, UK, in 1927, Round Table founder, Louis Marchesi, was the youngest member of Norwich Rotary Club and felt there was a need for a club for the younger men of the town. His vision was for them to exchange ideas, learn from the experiences of their colleagues and contribute to community life.
‘We’ve helped buy boats for Sri Lankan fisherman after the tsunami and we also helped build a school and three health clinics,’ explains Warmington. ‘We helped Children of the Mountain with golf days at Jumeirah Golf Estates and have helped run car boot sales at Repton School and Dubai College, proudly donning RT polo shirts.’
The organisation has branches around the world with thousands of members who meet on a regular basis to do something more than just have a drink and get involved in their local communities.
‘We’re the same,’ Warmington says. ‘We’re people who fancy doing a bit more than brunch every Friday. We get involved in our local community and try and give back to make a real difference.’
The organisation is run by, and for members, as a hobby. After attending as a guest for a time, you are invited to join. ‘There are no barriers regarding political, religious, occupational or marital status, the only qualification is to be male, over 18 and under 45,’ he notes.
However, as sensible as all that sounds, you’ll be pleased to know it has a touch of the ‘boys bizarre’.
‘We recite the Round Table values with an old Dubai College toilet seat on our head,’ he says, to be met with a stunned silence. ‘I know,’ he quickly adds. ‘That can do it. Maybe that’s where the “weird-ritual secret society” reputation comes from?’ he says, both asking and answering his own question.
There’s that ‘secret’ word again. ‘No. Non. Nien. Nope,’ Warmington insisted. ‘Round Table is totally open. We don’t have any special handshakes and you don’t need to come from a certain background. To be honest DRT itself is our biggest secret and this needs to change.’
Sense of humour is on the list of member attributes, as Warmington, while keeping a straight face, suggests Round Table members may have influenced government at the highest levels during World War Two.
That may have been a joke, but one thing which isn’t is the age old saying that behind every good man is a better woman.
‘It’s actually our wives and partners who keep DRT together,’ admits Warmington. Good to know plans are in the pipeline for a Dubai Ladies Circle, the female equivalent of DRT, in the very near future.
Secretive they may seem. Chauvinistic they certainly are not. For more information or to join the Dubai Round Table email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three more exclusive groups around town
Ladies’ Night Out Dubai A secret for the girls. This group is geared towards expat women who wish to find new friends, socialise, have a break from their daily routine and dress up a little to enjoy a drink or two. Visit the page and ask to become a member of the group to be kept in the loop. www.meetup.com/Ladiesnightoutdubai
The Law of Attraction group The consensus in this group is that whatever you put your energy or focus into you will get more of in your life, whether negative or positive. LOA describes itself as the largest self-development community in the UAE, hosting monthly inspirational events for more than 100 people. www.lawofattractiondubai.com
Secret Gourmet Supper Club Chef Tomas Reger, in collaboration with Lime&Tonic, hosts secret dinner parties in undisclosed locations. Venues change every time and diners are only emailed a meeting point prior to the event. www.limeandtonic.com.