Music promoter, who is bringing Ed Sheeran to Dubai, on how he gets the A-listers for live performances

From fixing high-profile calendars to meeting quirky celebrity requests, there’s a lot that goes into making star-shows happen, as we learn from the event and concert promoter Thomas Ovesen

by

Husain Rizvi

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Singer Ed Sheeran. Photo: Reuters
Singer Ed Sheeran. Photo: Reuters

Published: Sun 17 Dec 2023, 6:29 PM

Last updated: Thu 18 Jan 2024, 2:41 PM

We all know Ed Sheeran is coming to town in January 2024. The award-winning artiste is slated to rock Dubai's Sevens Stadium as a part of his Mathematics Tour in what is touted as the city's largest open-air concert.

As audiences, our main goal is to get our money's worth: vibe at the concert and go back home. Die-hard fans may reminisce about the concert for the next week or so, or dish out extra money for that backstage meet-up and photo opportunity. But do we ever think what goes behind organising a show of this scale and what it takes to bring a global superstar like Ed Sheeran for a performance? How is the deal done? What are the conditions? Are there conflicts and demands that organisers have to meet?

Of course, there are. Here's a famously odd one for instance: Before every show, rock band Van Halen asked for a bowl of M&M candies with all the brown ones removed. So, when we got in touch with Thomas Ovesen, CEO of All Things Live Middle East, he explained in detail what goes behind bringing a high-profile performer to the stage, the challenges and the quirky requests, though not as quirky as Van Halen's. Excerpts from the interview:

Realistically, how much work goes into getting artistes like Ed Sheeran for a performance?

A lot of work! We actually promoted Ed’s show when he last performed in the Middle East in 2017, so when the Mathematics Tour was being planned, his team contacted us and we began our initial work, including assessing the potential of the event regarding ticket sales and the best venues that should be considered to host the shows.

All these began more than a year ago; it’ll give you an idea of just how much work and time it takes to deliver an event of this scale. We will be putting on the largest open-air concert to ever take place in Dubai and the first 360 in-the-round production experience ever held in the region, so there’s a lot of planning and delivery that needs to happen to achieve this.

We have a large workforce here in Dubai liaising closely with Ed’s touring team to make sure everything is ready, including the conversion of the Sevens Stadium from a rugby pitch that recently hosted the annual Dubai 7s to a 30,000-capacity concert venue for two nights only.

What are some of the challenges you face while onboarding an artiste or artistes?

I work with people from across the entertainment business and engage with people on all sides of the table - from fans to commercial partners to government entities and of course the artists themselves. So, in general it’s an unconventional way of selling products or services.

My ultimate aim is to promote and sell entertainment experiences that are delivered by very talented professionals who tour the world with the purpose of entertaining people wherever they perform.

While I have certainly had my share of logistical and weather challenges with events, I rarely face any issues with artistes themselves as in my experience we all have the same goal of putting out the best show possible for the fans. Sometimes an artiste may be ill or unable to perform for reasons outside of their control, but that’s something that comes with the territory, and we manage accordingly.

Is there a chance of a fallout with an artiste? Has it happened previously? How do you fix it?

When we work with an artiste to promote and deliver a show, we are entering a partnership to support them and ensure we put on the best performance for the fans. This partnership can run for months and sometimes for more than a year, and it is very rare that we don’t enjoy a strong and fruitful time together. As is the case with Ed, we normally build strong relationships so that we can work together again when the artiste returns to the country or region.

Tell us about any quirky incidents you’ve had while working with international artistes.

Normally this type of question aims at getting me to lift the lid on artistes and their special kicks, such as any special foods or arrangements they might need. But honestly, the stories of artistes wanting only certain M&M’s, for instance, isn’t something I have had to deal with. Yes, we have built a full scale gym with a jacuzzi for a particular artiste, and yes we have had to black out the windows in the most amazing beach-located villa for an artiste wanting to avoid the sun, and for sure we have had to import some interesting food items and unique vintage beverages, but it is all part of the ‘dealing with people’ business and ensuring the artistes have whatever they need to deliver the best show for their fans.

Thomas Ovesen, left, with Ed Sheeran and team
Thomas Ovesen, left, with Ed Sheeran and team
Rita Ora and Thomas Ovesen
Rita Ora and Thomas Ovesen

Of all the artistes you've worked with, who has been the easiest and the most difficult to deal with?

In my experience, almost all the artistes I’ve worked with have been great and are as nice as you invite them to be. The way I see it is that if an artiste is being a little difficult, it’s probably because they are experiencing something that is affecting them at that time.

In my earlier days of promoting shows I always loved working with Irish artistes like Ronan Keating and Westlife, as they all had amazing personalities and came across as great human beings.

Ultimately, for me it’s about ensuring that any artiste I’m working with is able to perform to the best of their abilities and there certainly isn’t anyone that I wouldn’t want to work with again in the future.

Ed Sheeran's performance is slated to be the largest outdoor concert to take place in Dubai. What can fans expect from the show?

As this is the first time Ed will perform in the region since 2017, we have seen huge interest from fans, with tickets for Saturday night selling out in early December, and only a small number of tickets for Friday night remaining.

With the immersive and intimate shows being the first in-the-round production experience ever held in the region, 60,000 fans across the two nights will be able to witness history and enjoy being serenaded by the global superstar from a 360-degree central stage.

We are expecting Ed to perform all his biggest hits so fans will be able to enjoy a full repertoire of songs, with fellow British musician Calum Scott supporting him on both nights.

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