Dubai: 'World's Most Expensive' designer showcases craft through new TV show

Debbie Wingham has made waves with her lavish cake creations, festive activations, and series of the ‘world’s most expensive' items for high-profile clients


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Mon 5 Dec 2022, 1:16 PM

Last updated: Mon 5 Dec 2022, 5:54 PM

A designer bag made from a real emu egg, an upcycled Hermes scarf, 8,000 glittering diamonds and Cartier earrings as a clasp. A Christmas tree with a Cartier-adorned glass bauble and nutcrackers encrusted with blue sapphires and diamonds. A platinum-plated Hermes Birkin handbag sculpture complete with 8,000 diamonds, a 3ct heart-shaped emerald and an NFT housed in a bejewelled tag. A life-size ‘Kim Kardashian cake’ adorned with £1.2 million worth of diamonds. A cake modeled on a traditional Arab bride dotted with five white diamonds, each worth $200,000, making it - 'The Million Dollar Bride’.

After making waves with her lavish cake creations, festive activations, and series of the ‘world’s most expensive’ items for high-profile clients in UAE and around the world, Debbie Wingham, who is ‘disrupting the art and fashion world’ as per her Instagram handle, is now hosting a reality television show to showcase her ideas to the world.

Aptly titled The Most Expensive, every episode sees the creation of something special that will eventually lead to a ‘most expensive’ reveal in the finale.

Debbie, who earlier worked as a fashion designer for celebrities but never got the attention she deserved, moved on to creating unique objects of desire and extravagant works of art that have made news globally. She is also renowned for using upcycled and reclaimed materials, balancing luxury with sustainability.

We caught up with Debbie to know more about her creative journey from humble origins to global fame, and her new show, a Gossip Stone Production aired on Amazon, Roku and Apple TV with a global household reach of 150 million.

Your story of being a coal miner's daughter from a council estate in North England who is now feted for making the world's 'most expensive' things... is truly remarkable. If you had to name that philosophy or belief that drove you to success, what would it be?

My philosophy was to not fear failure or rejection; I concentrated on implementing daily achievable actions that ultimately become a complex jigsaw built up of small steps. I used to write notes to myself from that day’s lesson, often a hard lesson, but I used to try and find one positive from a sea of negatives and in the end the negatives became smaller and the successes began to materialise.

Mindset is very important, but for sure that needs to be balanced with hard work and that is something I have never been afraid of.

Dubai is truly a city which celebrates all things larger-than-life. As such do you believe the city is the perfect space for an artist like you?

Dubai is my muse. The level of innovation inspires me daily; in the creative realm, I’m world renowned in many mediums and the common denominator for this is I embark on things that most folk would never consider. Some call me bonkers or perhaps one cupcake short of a picnic, but that's what makes me special. I love Dubai, because I'm reminded constantly that anything can be achieved and that gives me an elevated sense of confidence.

How does the city inspire you?

Dubai is like my mentor, it challenges me on every level. Things you can only dream of can be found in Dubai, and it’s not just about the skyscrapers, it’s about the cultural embrace and diversity which are all strong sources of inspiration.

In 2021, you paid homage to Dubai to celebrate the UAE’s 50th anniversary with an oil painted collection ‘Dubai Through the Years’. It had the world’s most expensive picture frame studded with more than 10,000 diamonds. Where is that piece now and how does that art work encapsulate your attachment to the city?

This collection of original oils I created during Covid. At that time the world was closed and I was unable to travel, so I had to travel through my work and my therapy throughout lockdown was creating artworks of my favourite city. I did many paintings at that time, but all of them leaned into Middle Eastern influence.

That was testament to my attachment to Dubai, a subconscious attachment at that time, but once I looked at all the completed masterpieces side by side I knew it was a sign that we should pack up our life in Europe and move to Dubai. The diamond frame actually sold, but some of these works I have in my Dubai home as a frequent reminder of how we made the jump across the pond to the Middle East.

Reality shows based on Dubai are so in now. We've just had Dubai Bling out on Netflix. Tell us how your new reality/docu series will be different from all that has gone before.

I know Dubai has a number of different reality shows that are centric to the luxury sector and mine is called The Most Expensive so it might sound a bit same-y, but that's because each episode has a small snippet of something special I'm creating that on the finale episode will lead to a world’s ‘most expensive’ reveal.

But actually what makes this show so different to the rest is, this is my chance to inspire people. Over the years so many media platforms have masked my humble past and only talked about ‘Millionaire, Billionaire or Diamond Debbie’.

So many glitzy, luxury-based shows leave the viewers feeling a bit bad about themselves and this show doesn't evoke that feeling. It’s more like ‘if she can succeed then so can I’ because against all odds, I became globally recognised in the world of luxury. I'm the girl from a council estate who was told by anyone credible in the fashion world that someone with my broad Northern accent won't make it in the world of luxury.

So this is my voice and I'm the host and a producer. I get to meet fellow innovators, some very well established, others who just have a dream and are working on implementing it. It does feature opulence but it is balanced and it doesn't just show non-stop skyscrapers and hype cars, because Dubai is so much more than that.

The show arcs into me creating bonkers things, so there is a fair amount of jeopardy when delivering my creations, whether they be edible installations (giant cakes), huge sculptures, wearable pieces, or whatever I’m making.

Another aspect that sets this show apart is that my real life is plug and play! I don't need staged clients or fake story lines because my life is already highly entertaining. The show is even filmed and edited differently to most series and that's because it had to sit alongside my real life activations.

Imagine I'm all over the mainstream media when I reveal something for one of my clients, and the TV show reveals it in six months’ time, it’s not exciting because it’s old news then. Therefore, the post production is ongoing to remain timely and the show is aired monthly.  So it's practically aired in real time. It’s a lot of work and that's why most networks won't consider doing this, but it was the only way to guarantee authenticity.

Your world's 'most expensive' Christmas tree that was displayed in Spain in 2019 was truly a remarkable feat. What drives you towards making these spectacular creations?

In the beginning it was about not being someone's understudy, but these days my clients - whether they are private individuals or big cooperations - tend to enlist my services because they want something extraordinary whether I'm working in cake, fabric or oil paint.

I have a knack of creating things that create a global media disruption and this fuels my creativity and pushes me to think about things that have never been done before or if they have been attempted, how my version can be more unique. I'm really into recycled luxury and re-purposing and that often feeds my appetite for my next project. Sustainability and luxury aren't normally considered in the same breath but for me that’s where a lot of my concepts evolve from.

From high-end baking to haute couture to experiential art - how do you define your creative journey so far?

I'm always asked what my profession is and I always tell everyone I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, although of course I'm 40 years old, but it's like an evolution of sorts. It’s extremely hard to put a label on it because it’s so diverse. I feel sometimes a bit like Alice living in my own wonderland, the Wingham-Wonderland.

You seem to have a fondness for diamonds! What is it that appeals to you most about them?

I have a lot to thank diamonds for, because, before the black diamond dress which was launched 10 years ago, I was relatively unknown. I had made gowns for many A-list stars and created finale gowns for some of the world’s biggest brands but all under a non-disclosure, and I always describe that time like sitting in a dark room. But once the world’s most expensive black diamond dress launched, the light had very definitely been turned on. It was a global hit and overnight people knew who I was. It was not easy working in diamonds; there are many things to consider and it wasn't like I owned any of my own at that time but I suppose you could say diamonds really are this girl’s best friend because they changed my life.

You are known for creating the most expensive, the most extravagant and the most spectacular things. But what is it that Debbie holds closest to her heart among her material possessions?

My most priceless and dearest things are my family of course, but material-wise I would say my wedding ring. Not just because the clarity is top notch and it's pretty but because it was handcrafted with a unique inset, there is a gold spoon inside my ring and it’s not a pastry connotation, reminiscent of one of my elaborate cakes, but in fact how I met my husband.

Uri Geller sat with my now husband the day I met him. He's the guy famous for bending spoons with his mind; he gave my hubby a spoon and he told him it would bring him good luck. My husband didn't believe a word of it but that very night we met and we were married within 12 months of meeting. To this day some friends refer to me as the spoon!

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