In August 2001, when it was first announced that Time Out Dubai was launching, many people did a double-take. Colleagues and friends would say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ And then, a few moments later, they’d add: ‘But Brian, is there enough going on in Dubai to fill Time Out?’
Funny as it sounds now, Dubai then was still a village; pre-property explosion, it was not yet the place you’d hear the checkout girl in a London supermarket talking about.
It was a tough launch. Former deputy editor Michelle Sturman, designer Craig Willers and I had less than two months to design, write and sub-edit a 144-page magazine to the exacting standards of Time Out in London. Which simply meant that we all worked every hour we could.
It was more than worth it. The magazine detonated on an unsuspecting leisure and tourism scene, our anonymous food criticism causing almost every hotel chain in the country to pull their advertising for the rest of the year. This was a bruising mark of success, but we survived, and in so doing became part of a whole new approach to journalism in the UAE.
From the outset, we tackled issues such as the abuse of maids, our appalling environmental record, and consumer rights; material that sharply contrasted the latest promotions at German taverns that sat in the same magazine, but that our readers loved.
The magazine profiled new venues and new talent wherever possible. The team grew to include brilliant writers, such as former deputy editor Antonia Carver (the current director of Art Dubai), former editor Rob Orchard (now owner of the Slow Journalism Company in London) and former editor Marcus Webb (now both the editorial director at the Slow Journalism Company and Time Out’s international content director). At the same time, it uncovered the amazing ideas and personalities growing from the art galleries, open-air cinemas, festivals and sports tournaments popping up across the city each month. Despite protestations from every corner of a stubbornly ‘rock’ office, we supported the home-grown dance music scene too. Subsequent editors helped sustain nascent local indie and jazz movements.
But above all, from day one, editorial was driven by a single idea: that the extraordinary things happening around us could and should be shared by every nationality this city hosts. That Dubai is a collective endeavour, not a succession of cultural ghettos or the preserve of one community over another.
That notion is still very much alive in Time Out Dubai today. It is a privilege to have been a part of it. Happy birthday!