Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea!
#ThrowBackThursday to an epic 13-page feature I conceived and executed for Car Middle East magazine in 2006, to mark the 100th birthday of the father of the Mini – Sir Alec Issigonis. Yup – we pulled off The Emirati Job!
I do love the Mini, in pretty much all its guises and iterations, and The Italian Job (the original, not the awkward 2003 reboot) is one of my favourite movies. So I put on my Karakul thinking hat and jumped into the Pakistan Ambassador’s car to come up with the ultimate plan and the ultimate magazine feature.
Car Middle East had just launched at the beginning of the year, and as its editor I was determined to set new standards for automotive publishing in the region with stories hitherto not even dreamt up, never mind actually executed in the existing copy-and-paste status quo of mundane motoring media. I only wanted to blow its bloody doors off!
I was reminded of this feature because 2019 marks 60 years of the Mini and 50 years since The Italian Job movie came out.
Anyway, so there I sat across the table from the smiling PR ladies at BMW ME HQ who were feigning some comprehension of my gesticulatory expounding of a bold attempt at doing something extraordinary with Minis – my first problem was though, I needed three of them.
In a region were press fleets are a rare delight to drink up at the first hint of deployment, to ask for one press car was chancing it, but to demand a trio? Still, dazzled as they were into a kind of hypnotic trance by my fearsome enthusiasm, they found themselves involuntarily making some calls, firing off some emails and confirmed that they would be able to pinch some demos from the Dubai and Abu Dhabi dealers.
Funnily enough we ended up with four in the end because we also roped in friend with a modified Mini, just cause it looked cool and because we could.
But what exactly was I planning to do? The ladies pulled me back from my reverie and I found myself sitting back down at the table, not aware that I’d actually stood up whilst I had been talking. ‘I mean, it’s not like you’re actually going to steal gold is it? This is the UAE, after all. That wouldn’t be wise’. I laughed over-exuberantly back at them in a mock dismissive manner.
No it wouldn’t indeed, people have been known to lose their hands over that sort of thing! I just grinned back – ‘Don’t worry lads… er… ladies. I’ve got a great idea!’ And they trusted me at that. Perhaps a little foolhardily, since I didn’t really, because I wasn’t even sure I’d managed to sort out the cars. Other editors had told me it was impossible to do multi-car features and shoots here without a ton of time and a wad of wasta (Middle East colloquialism for er… ‘goodwill’) – and I was a freshman on the scene.
Back at my desk I pulled out a map of the UAE – oh yeah, Google Maps wasn’t a thing then. Now the United Arab Emirates is actually a federation of seven Emirates combined: Abu Dhabi (the capital), Dubai (the famous OTT one), Sharjah (where they play cricket a lot), Ajman (which is easy to miss), Umm Al Quwain (where you’ll find an ancient haunted ghost town), Ras Al Khaimah (location of the legendary Jebel Jais road) and Fujairah (home to the Jurassic-age rust-holed near-dead Toyota Land Cruiser pick-ups still pulling in fishing nets from the Gulf of Oman).
Phew – now that’s a whirlwind tour – and that’s what I had planned. Internet searches and phone calls revealed that while there had been an event called Lap of the Emirates taking in all seven by road, it was done over a few leisurely days. And yet whilst the UAE is not a very big place, no one had done it in a day – at least not as a magazine feature.
I did some calculations and set us a target – The Emirati Job would be us trying to drive all Seven Emirates in Seven Hours!
Pulling in extra hands to navigate and drive the route, flying a photographer over from the UK, and unsuccessfully fending off the attention of the Abu Dhabi police (well there had to be some coppers involved right?), over two days we got the epochal shoot in the bag. All I had to do now, was write it!
Coming out in the November issue, it really set the standard for the magazine, got the industry abuzz and had people talking for a good few years. I shot a lot of tigers with this feature and I didn’t even use a machine guy (if you haven’t you’ve got to watch the movie!).
And it remains one of the features I’m most proud of in the magazine, but followed closely by many more we did over the five years of its existence. Keep following and maybe I’ll revisit the others too in due course!
So did we actually achieve ‘The Emirati Job’? Well, in fact we did it in… you’ll just have to go read the feature. How? It’s in the portfolio section of this website!
By the way 2019 would be a great year to do another similar follow-up feature. To all commissioning editors out there – I am available. Message me!