I achieved a first at the weekend: I sailed through the Suez Canal. I went through in a convoy of 20 ships and it was fantastic, not at all how I imagined it.The best bit was, it cost me nothing and I did it all from my study at home in Dubai. You may remember that my mum left Dubai on a cruise? Well, I found out that there’s a webcam on her ship – my initial plan was to get her to wave to me from the deck each day, but then I realised that I could get great views from the ship as the webcam is high up and facing forward.
So I started to log on each day – I saw sunrises and sunsets, ports and miles of open ocean. I sailed through pirate-infested waters with all the lights on the ship off after dark – and then we got to the Suez Canal and it struck me that I could almost literally sail through it with mum. So I did.
It’s been a great way to see what’s she’s been doing on her three-week voyage. But there is one problem: She’s still not given me a wave!
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, and I go back a long way. My first memory is driving past it when it was still being built, 15 and a half years ago – it was literally in the middle of nowhere and the hoardings around it named it the Royal Abjar.
But it opened, soon after, as The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, and has since played a big part in my memories of Dubai, from media dinners and parties to press conferences and weekend stays. DH and I were even members of the beach club for many years, back in the pre-parenting era when we could laze in the pool all day, drink beers at lunch and sleep in the sun all afternoon.
So I was overjoyed to be invited to an event last night to launch the opening of the hotel’s elegant new wing. Obviously, I love the R-C but, if you pinned me down and played non-stop Celine Dion to me, I would admit that what it lacked was a nice chill-out bar. Perhaps, in those days, it wasn’t part of the spec for a luxury hotel – not the clientele it wanted to attract, even – but Dubai’s moved on a long way in the last 15 years.
And so has the Ritz-Carlton. My favourite part of the new “Shorooq” wing, which includes 148 new rooms, new gardens, new pools, a new spa concept and new restaurants, was absolutely without doubt, the La Baie Lounge, a gorgeous outdoor lounge bar and restaurant that blurs the boundaries of wood and water.
Dotted with double day beds and decorated in a palette of sand, cream and accents of the turquoise of the Arabian Gulf (I made that up – it’s not in the press kit), it’s a welcome departure from the Ritz-Carlton’s slightly stuffy traditional style – and a welcome one at that.
But, even more welcome was the chance, for once, to put on one of my gorgeous frocks, dust off a pair of trophy shoes and schmooze with those left of my old media workmates. Drinking wine in the R-C gardens last night was like 2002 all over again…. only this time, instead of staggering out inebriated at 2am, my ex-colleagues and I were showing each other snaps of our kids and competing for taxis by 11. Middle age, eh? It gets us all.
I met Mrs Thatcher once. And when I say “met”, I mean in the loosest way. Sort of met. Well, didn’t meet at all, really.
What happened was, on a slightly foggy autumnal day in 1990, her helicopter landed in my garden.
And, as I watched (it’s hard not to notice a helicopter land in your garden), out hopped the Prime Minister, who then trolled her way across the muddy grass in her ladylike shoes with, no doubt, a spiffing handbag (it pains me that I don’t remember the handbag).
“She doesn’t look like a lady about to lose power as Prime Minister!” I trilled to my university friends – for the garden was in fact the lawn outside my student residences, where Mrs T had come to perform some official function or give a speech (Hoorah! Hoorah! I didn’t go).
And, when she did lose power just two weeks later, my friends bowed at my feet.
“How did you know?” they asked, reverentially, for I was not a student of PPE or P or even E – just a humble psychology student.
Well, I didn’t know, of course. I just watched the news instead of “This Morning” with Richard & Judy, and, god knows, they predicted it for long enough.
Anyway, say what you like about Baroness Thatcher. I appreciate that she wasn’t everybody’s friend. But what she was to me was a woman who held a country in the palm of her hand. She came to power as I was just becoming aware of the world. I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal – absolutely usual – to have a woman in control of the country (could a man do the same thing? I doubted it. I still do).
Whatever you think of her politics, it was thanks to her that I – a child of the ‘80s – grew up thinking anything was possible. Rest in peace, Mrs T.