I’ve been to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates at least 6 times now… but never left the airport, as on every occasion I was on a connecting flight. So to actually be here “for real” feels quite satisfying, despite the fact that every time I looked out of the plane window on my previous visits I thought to myself “Wow, that’s a lot of sand and some very big roads.” After arriving last night in Dubai with Iain Stirling and the rest of the crew and then travelling by bus to Abu Dhabi, by the time I rolled into bed at 3am my opinion of the place was pretty much the same.
On our day off it was so roasting outside, and the light so blinding, I didn’t even leave our hotel tower block. Actually having to go out and film in what is, let’s face it, a desert, filled me with a sense of foreboding.
Luckily we were eased into things nice and gently today with our visit to ‘Ferrari World’ to ride THE WORLD’S FASTEST ROLLER COASTER! Built on a huge manmade island, the corrugated steel dome was one of the largest structures I’ve ever been inside. It’s filled with all manner of attractions, like a Las Vegas style little Italy, abseiling towers and, of course, a great deal of Ferraris. We’d got there pretty early and had the coaster all to ourselves before it opened. Iain and I were strapped in at the front (wearing racing car overalls), our hearts racing, as we’d already done pieces to camera about the 5Gs of G force that hit you as you shoot off at a speed that reaches 240kph in just under 5 seconds.
The first trip round went by in a bit of a blur and a lot of screaming. Once we came to a halt back inside our hair was stuck up straight like 80s pop stars and I had dribble across the side of my face. In traditional TV fashion we had to film it all over again – twice – so by the end of our 3rd trip round I was feeling a bit travel sick (and for some reason both of us found our legs had turned to jelly). I asked the guy operating it how many people had been round 3 times in a row and he said “Not many”. Having experienced it, that’s quite understandable.
In the afternoon we were supposed to be visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, built in 2007 and one of the biggest in the world. But like everything here in the UAE, you’re always at the mercy of ruling Sheikhs, and during the morning he’d decided to pay the place a visit, so the whole mosque was in lock down and our location was out of the window. After our director and researcher made a few phone calls to get our filming permits changed Iain and I found ourselves by the motorway in front of the Capital Gate tower, one of the many examples of ostentatious architecture out here, dressed as the pop star Drake for a song about all the crazy buildings they have in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This one leans (deliberately) more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, with some hotels to one side and military bases and dirt to the other. As the sun set, cars hummed along the busy road next to us and Arab blokes on jet skis ragged around in the shipping channel flanking our lay-by. I thought to myself about how, of all the places we’ve visited making this series, this is one of the weirdest. Which suits us down to the ground.