Dubai connection to London’s red phone booth


How Dubai took a call on the British retro pop icon

By KT Report

Published: Thu 15 Apr 2021, 11:34 PM

In Dubai, you couldn’t have missed the red phone booth, or at least “replicas” of it, in many parts of town, especially if you have frequented ‘typical British’ eateries and watering holes. Here, we get Leanne Hamilton, director - marketing, Merex Investments — that manages popular Dubai hangouts such as City Walk, The Beach and La Mer — to talk about the installation of the red booths in their properties. “The London phone booth has evolved into a British retro pop icon over the years. This well-loved symbol of all things British is celebrated across the world. So, we have made a conscious effort to weave it into our destinations where it is relevant and can be enjoyed by visitors.”

Getting the connection right

“City Walk, since its early inception phase was created with a deliberate design in mind. As a destination, it is designed to lead people into central piazzas through wide street-like facades. A key walkway on the destination draws inspiration from London’s Bond Street. Several of our visitors — from the Emiratis who love to visit London in the summer, to the strong British expat community that has made Dubai their home — associate the phone booth with a sense of nostalgia. As an icon from British history, the London phone booth also enjoys a more universal appeal. When it was being designed, we wanted to offer our audience an ‘aha’ moment when they came across it.”

The booth at The Beach

“There is also a London phone booth installed at The Beach, opposite JBR. Here, it is placed outside Retro Feasts, a British food and drinks concept inspired by the founders’ (Chef Luke Thomas and Mark Fuller’s) favourite childhood food and memories.”

Being a showpiece

“This has been a hugely successful art installation. Like all public art that is created to surprise people and make them smile, the London phone booth immediately inspires interaction. We’ve found that people naturally gravitate towards it, click selfies and post on social media. This definitely brings about a positive association with the destination, making it memorable. We are committed to offer people access to pieces of art that make the destinations both engaging and relatable, and the booth achieves both aspects beautifully. As destination operators and marketers, we’ve leveraged the red booths on several occasions — most recently, it was part of our festive campaign where we challenged people to find a ‘tin soldier’ named Chris, using the #FindChris across our social media platforms.”

Digby Halsby is a director at Flint Culture — a specialist international cultural communications consultancy based in London. In 2012, he worked with BT’s Artbox project, and provides context to what the UK’s traditional phone box means for the world at large: “An icon of British design, [it is] rightly celebrated alongside the Mini, the Routemaster Bus, the Submarine Spitfire and Concorde.” The original version was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott back in 1926, and with their august classical design, reassuringly robust cast iron construction and bright red finish, they have become a familiar and much-loved feature of the British high street — redolent of a particular Britishness, traditional and resolutely practical, but with a restrained confidence. “They are familiar the world over,” he says, “due largely to their cult status as a must-have background to tourist snapshots shared endlessly on social media. It seems no short break to Great Britain is complete without the obligatory shot of a family, grinning enthusiastically, squashed uncomfortably into a bright red phone box. In the age of the mobile phone, the phone-box is, of course, an anachronism. But the endless creativity with which these bright red metal and glass boxes have been repurposed, as mini-libraries, art galleries and first aid stations, is a testament to the enduring affection with which they are held, not just in the UK, but in far flung corners of the world.”

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