Dubai-based broadcaster Tom Urquhart talks about life on air

By Michael Gomes

Published: Sun 9 Oct 2016, 2:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Jan 2017, 10:45 AM

Tom Urquhart is a Dubai-based radio and television presenter. As a young lad, he wanted to be an actor. While he did dabble in acting at school, he did not pursue it. Urquhart has lived and worked in the Emirate for the last 16 years during which time he has fulfilled a variety of roles in publishing, radio and TV. He currently hosts The Agenda on Dubai Eye 103.8 FM, weekday mornings, is a presenter on Dubai TV and hosts events around the emirates. He has hosted Eva Longoria's Global Gift Foundation, Prince Harry's Sentebale Charity and Oxfam Galas at DIFF.
He has also been listed in the top 50 most influential Brits in the UAE. We speak to Urquhart to know more.
Describe how you've seen the progress of Dubai?
When we arrived in 2000, the landscape was different. I think the question I am asked most by those I meet for the first time is, what was the city like when you arrived. That said, I remember meeting people when I first got here that had been here for sometime and they used to reference the rapid change they had seen in the time they had been here. Things change, and they change fast, and I think that will always be the case. The progress here is mind blowing, but if I could make one small change it would be to address some of the stalled, abandoned or distressed projects in certain areas.
What's the best thing you like about this city?
I love the can-do attitude and the optimism that exists here. If you have a good idea, and you can show that you have thought it through, and you are willing to work at it, then you are in the perfect place to see those dreams come to fruition. It beats the negativity, pessimism and slow pace of progress that I have experienced in other parts of the world.
Any dislikes?
I wish people would say 'No' more often! I appreciate that this probably sounds completely contrary to my previous comment but I do tire of people agreeing to do something and then not being able to do it. Or, agreeing to have something done by a certain time and then not having it done by that time. If you can't do it, just say 'no'.rather than string people along.

Anything you would like to change here?
I am growing more worried about the cost of living. I think it's going to have an impact on a majority of us in time. In fact, I think it already is judging by the number of comments I am hearing and seeing on the radio and social media. Having said that, I would like to see more parity between earnings and costs. I hear stories of families being split up as children and one parent have to return home, while the other parent stays back to earn a living. I don't want to see the city that I have called home for the last 16 years lose that family-friendly element, that good place to bring up kids, that has been at its core for so long.
What do you do in your free time?
I don't get much free time, but when I do, I love a sweat (tennis, squash, kick around with my boy and girls etc) and I do like a long lazy lunch. Whether it's me cooking for family and friends or us heading out, I crave the dynamic of taking time to eat and chat around a table. Sounds a bit cliché I know - but then again when do I not?
What's your favourite hangout in town?
Desert Palm for peace of mind, and Dubai Mall for coffee first thing in the morning, before any stores open. I am not a fan of malls at peak times, but that space at that time I find extraordinary, it's like a sleeping dragon, the calm before the storm and I just love that sense of scale, the air of expectation and the sense of what will be a few hours later. In fact it's quite a good microcosm of the city as a whole.
Do you still follow your passion - acting, and how? Part of any group, theatre et
No, have not done any formal acting for over 20 years now but then again I suppose there is an element of acting, probably quite a large one, in my day job. Someone once told me that there is an element of showbiz in all our careers, or certainly for those that try and get ahead or get noticed in their chosen profession and I think there's quite a lot of truth in that, certainly in my game. Those that are willing to stand up in front of others, to put themselves on air, on camera, on a stage - there has to be a bit of the frustrated actor inside them somewhere. Either that or it's unadulterated showmanship and a large ego at play.
What's your favourite go-to place for food in town?
I love all food (here). Eating it, preparing it, talking about it... As for the go-to-place that I would take my guests for a truly unique regional foodie experience... I feel that every trip needs a proper Arabic blowout so usually head to Automatic or Al Hallab for that, can't replicate a Ravi's anywhere else in the world and more recently Bu Qtair. The Ivy at Jumeirah Emirates Towers has long been my go to for special occasions. If the kids are in tow, it's usually Jamie's Italian or Carluccios, but then again I am culinary curious and always want to try new things but with, what is it, four new F&B openings every day here, it's hard to keep up.
Your most challenging time on air
Both radio and TV have all thrown up various challenges given that each has been a first of sorts. When at City 7 we launched the first English language live TV breakfast show. I was part of the crew that launched Dubai Eye 10 years ago and that was the first live talk radio English language station in the region, in fact that's still the case to this day and I am happy to still be on air there! And with Dubai One TV, Studio One, was the first daily live English language chat show to be broadcast here. So each have challenged the norm, have broken the mould in their own rights, and I am proud of that. At the risk of not sounding too self-aggrandising, I like to think we've done our little bit to contribute to the development and progression of the media industry over the years. One thread that combines all of the above is the fact that they were, or are, all broadcast live and that's significant. I thrive off the challenges of thinking on your feet and reacting to the situation when things go wrong. Ironically, to answer your question, it was probably one of the few recorded shows I have done. It was called The Entrepreneur, a TV show on Dubai One. We filmed the whole of the first series over a couple of intense days of shooting. Long, hard and hot days, but a great learning experience nonetheless - no regrets.
How would you Describe Dubai to an outsider?
I don't like using phrases like 'the land of opportunity' but I would certainly describe it as both opportunistic and optimistic. A place where hard work can pay off and you can realise ambitions - but in the same breath I would warn them not to get consumed by the city. I have seen too many people come here and live above and beyond their means, get caught out by the lifestyle addiction that intoxicates so many and then quite literally, pay the price. One phrase I do, however, like is 'only in Dubai' but I think there are two sides to that. The raise your eyebrows and shrug your shoulders incomprehension of daily 'only in Dubai' sights and sounds, but also the once in a lifetime chances and opportunities that this city throws up on a regular basis. Would I have had the opportunity to appear (albeit fleetingly) in a Mission Impossible film and bore every dinner guest senseless since then with the story had I stayed in London and pursued my career there? Probably not!
You've invested in a home in Dubai, are you retiring here?
We have bought property in the Marina that we rent out. I am glad we did it, I love the vibe of Dubai Marina today and given that we saw the whole development go up from the initial construction boards to what it is now it's satisfying to have a financial interest there. Would we retire there? See out there rest of our days there? No.South of France or Italy of the War Office gets her way, Highlands of Scotland if I get mine!
Where do holiday
Holidays usually taken up by time back in the UK during the summer. We try and get some time in South of France or elsewhere in Southern Europe each year. That said we bucked the trend for the first time this year and did an amazing Safari in the Serengeti and then some beach time in Zanzibar, which was wonderful. A proper family holiday getting away from it all!

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