As vice president of DUBAI DUTY FREE, SINEAD EL SIBAI travels frequently, but prefers cosy weekends at home …
When I moved to Dubai in 1988, after spending holidays there visiting my sister Siobhán and her husband Donal, my plan was to stay for a year, return to Ireland and marry a nice Irish boy, I even had one in mind! However, once I started working, I really enjoyed the mix of cultures and made friends quickly. I also met my husband, Jihad, who is from Lebanon, and we were married in December 1989; it was all very fast and we have been here ever since.
When I first came to Dubai the working week was six days and we only had Friday off. Now the weekend is Friday and Saturday so Thursday night is usually the start of it, while Friday is more like Sunday in Ireland; Saturday is the day for getting things done. It’s the reverse of an Irish weekend.
Ideally my weekend will start with a 5km run in the Meadows where I live; it’s in the “new Dubai”, which didn’t exist ten years ago and is very tranquil with lots of greenery. I like to breakfast at Baker & Spice in the Old Town, close to Burj Khalifa, overlooking the fountains and waterway. A long lunch is part of my ideal Friday – usually a family day in Dubai. My husband is a great cook and loves nothing more than serving up a mix of Lebanese and European dishes – seafood is his speciality. We usually eat outside and spend it with our boys: Conor, Daire and Liam, if they are in Dubai. However, with one in London, another in Edinburgh and the youngest at school in Clongowes in Kildare it is usually just the two of us, with my sister and her husband.
I travel frequently for work; I joined Dubai Duty Free in 2000, and it has been a pleasure to work with Colm McLoughlin, who started Dubai Duty Free in 1983. I enjoy being part of the bigger picture, promoting our brand and Dubai to a global audience. We are involved with a lot of major sporting events, both in Dubai and overseas, including the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which we own and organise. We meet all the top players and Roger Federer has to be one of my favourites; he is smart, sophisticated and very much a gentleman and family man. The Jumeirah Creekside Hotel and The Irish Village are our “homes” for the fortnight of the tournament. The Irish Village has such a relaxed vibe and I love to see it packed with families enjoying the outdoor lifestyle in Dubai. It is dog-friendly and between the dogs and the resident ducks and the swans that live on the lake, it is a unique venue. In the neighbouring Century Village there are another ten al fresco outlets. My favourite is a Greek restaurant, Joey’s, which serves delicious Mediterranean salads, fresh yoghurt and grilled fish; my idea of a perfect meal.
Dubai does high-octane events very well and the style is pretty fierce. For day and eveningwear, one of my favourite labels is Carolina Herrera and I’m a frequent visitor to their boutique in Mall of the Emirates. The cut and tailoring is excellent while the styles are very feminine and timeless. I am a big fan of Ferragamo and love their shoes – both fashionable and comfortable.
As we sponsor the Dubai International Film Festival, we have been invited to Cannes and I have been very lucky to be delegated by my boss to attend on several occasions. As an avid film-goer it is absolutely one of the highlights of my year; walking the red carpet is a surreal experience. We usually stay in the Majestic hotel, where Harvey Weinstein holds his meetings; you are likely to bump in to everyone. I’ve also attended the AMFAR fundraising gala at the Hotel du cap Eden Roc in Cap Ferrat. Literally every star who attends Cannes goes to the gala, a fundraiser for AIDS, hosted by Sharon Stone. I remember a man bidding €350,000 for his wife to kiss George Clooney – all in good fun!
I love being in Dublin on a Sunday and I have managed a few of them in recent months as I was in Ireland for planning meetings. (Colm and his wife Breeda are great hosts and they look after 350 guests on the DDF Irish Derby Day at The Curragh).
Our house in Howth is great for gatherings and we enjoy having friends over for lunch. My nephew Shane and his wife Nicola usually arrive with their two daughters, Julie and Ava, who are gorgeous, although it does remind you of how much hard work little ones can be. In the afternoons I usually gather up some volunteers for walking the hills around Howth. An ideal end to the day is seeing my friends, Bernadette and Audrey, in Deep restaurant on the West Pier.
I have also been travelling to Los Angeles over the past few years for an industry awards event and always try to have lunch at Shutters on Santa Monica beach, it is very Californian and the seafood is excellent. In London, I enjoy sitting outside (weather permitting) at the Fifth Floor restaurant at Harvey Nicks. Whenever I am in Dublin, I make a beeline for the Shelbourne Bar for lunch.
Back in Dubai mode, Saturday night is the last night of the weekend, and I have a cosy night in. I admit to being a home bird on my time off. After 28 years living in the Emirates it still feels strange driving to work on a Sunday morning, though no day is ever the same, which is what I love most about my job.
Dubai Duty Free sponsors the Irish Derby Festival (June 30 – July 2) and the Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club (July 4 – July 9).
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