British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his new book ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his new book ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
Renowned British explorer, travel writer, expedition leader and former soldier Sir Ranulph Fiennes has lived his life on the edge. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 February 2024

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his new book ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on his new book ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
  • The British explorer talks to Arab News about the parallels between his life and that of T.E. Lawrence, and his own time in the Arab world 

DUBAI: The renowned British explorer, travel writer, expedition leader and former soldier Sir Ranulph Fiennes has lived his life on the edge. He was the first to cross Antarctica on foot and reportedly the only person to set foot on both the North and South Poles.  

Since he started his travels back in 1967, when he was in his early twenties, Fiennes has seen it all, including the great mountains Kilimanjaro, Everest and Elbrus, the latter being the highest mountain in Europe. So, where has this drive come from?  

“It’s called DNA,” Fiennes tells Arab News. “My dad was killed in the Second World War, four months before I was born. My mum told me all about him. He’d been wounded so many times. He was in command of the greatest British tank regiment of the time and all I wanted to do, as I grew up, was to get into the British army and then become a colonel like dad. But I only reached the rank of captain.”  

After exploring cold climates, Fiennes decided to head into “the great heat,” just like one of his heroes — the British archaeologist and intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, famously known as Lawrence of Arabia — did.  

An undated portrait of Sir Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia. (AFP)

Lawrence had a reputation for being a friend to the Arabs who were seeking autonomy from ruling Turks during the centuries-long Ottoman Empire. During World War One, he famously led bold military raids with Arab tribesmen in the great Arab Revolt. Like Lawrence, who died in 1935 at the age of 46, Fiennes was also involved in strategic military action in the Gulf, specifically Oman. In the late Sixties, he captained Arab troops in the Dhofar Rebellion, fighting against the Marxist threat.  

“I saw an advertisement from the Sultan of Oman for a two-and-a-half year posting and I put my name in immediately and was accepted,” he recalls.   

Ranulph Fiennes (front, center) with recce platoon in Dhofar 1968. (Supplied)

Fiennes has recently written a biography of Lawrence, in which he also offers his own perspective of battle. Lawrence’s story of the harsh heat of the desert has always resonated with Fiennes.  

“When I went out (to Oman), I had a copy of one of Lawrence’s books with me and I really felt more about him than any other person that I’d read about,” he says.  

Fiennes also explains in the book that “it was only after treading in his footsteps and embarking on similar adventures that I realized the man’s true greatness. . .  While there are some interesting parallels between us, I’ve often found that he is a man without equal. His adventures in the desert were enough to stir the blood.”  

Lawrence’s life of adventure began with a difficult childhood. He was reportedly abused by his mother. But his intelligence and maturity shone through from an early age.  

“It was said that he could recite the alphabet by the age of three, while he could also read the newspaper upside down before he was five. He became fascinated by military history, devouring all manner of books on the subject, including all thirty-two volumes of Napoleon’s correspondence,” according to Fiennes.  

Ranulph Fiennes (right) in Oman in the late 1960s. (Supplied) 

After studying history at Oxford University, Lawrence visited the Arab world for the first time in 1909, and it left a lasting impression on him. A few years later, he performed archaeological work in Carchemish in northern Syria.  

Lawrence was fluent in Arabic, friendly and approachable, developing a bond with Arab communities, as well as offering them medical assistance. Fiennes says that the man fit right in.  

“I came out with the definite opinion that he did love working with those particular Arabs and I loved working with the Arabs in a military situation, like he was. His actions made a great difference to the whole fight against the Ottoman Empire. He got on very well with the key guys, like Feisal. I don’t think you could have had a better person — Muslim or non-Muslim — than him in every way,” notes Fiennes. 

The ‘Feisal’ that Fiennes is talking about is Prince Feisal Bin Al-Hussein, the son of the Grand Sharif of Makkah. The prince was the leader of the revolt, and a close ally of Lawrence.  

“I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek, the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory,” Lawrence once wrote of the prince in his memoir, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”  

Between 1916 and 1918, the revolt galvanized Lawrence and Arab troops to attack Turkish-heavy locations in modern-day Syria and Jordan, notably the Hejaz Railway and the Aqaba fort. There was a lot of marching in the desert for miles on end, an intense task which tested Lawrence.  

“He was a very hardy guy,” says Fiennes. “He could put up with discomfort an awful lot. On one occasion, when he was leading an attack, he shot his own camel as he charged and fell off. He managed to just get back on again and carry on. That was just one of many examples of his hardiness. It’s not normal to start camel travel with a gun. You normally do it slowly and learn to get comfortable on board a camel.”  

Aside from setting foot in Damascus and Aleppo, Lawrence also stayed in modern-day Saudi Arabia. His traditional two-story house in the city of Yanbu, located on the Red Sea, still stands today. It was recently renovated to attract visitors and history enthusiasts.  

Victory for the Arab Revolt turned sour when the winners of the First World War — Britain and France, among other nations — unveiled their own plans for controlling the Levant, going against Lawrence’s promise that the Arabs would have the right to self-rule.  

“He felt terribly guilty that the Brits would take over, like the French and sometimes the Russians, instead of handing it straight over,” says Fiennes. “Unfortunately, he was not in as important a position as those people who wanted the French and Brits to divide Arabia between them.”  

When the disappointed Lawrence returned to England, he kept a low profile. “He was very honest about his own view of himself. He didn’t want to be famous or infamous. He just wanted to disappear,” says Fiennes.   

Nearly five decades have passed since Fiennes’ days in Oman, but despite the fact that he and his men were in a situation where life could be snatched away at any moment, he has many fond memories.  

“I am very lucky to have had such a wonderful time with many Arab soldiers in Oman,” he says. “Many things that were in Lawrence’s book remind me of the happy times — all the nights sitting around the fire, joking and laughing — with those soldiers in the desert.” 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
Nadine Dorries, who at the time was the British secertary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, visits Gharem Stud
Updated 13 June 2024

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
  • Founder Abdulnasser Gharem discusses the sweeping changes he has witnessed over his career as an artist in the Kingdom

DUBAI: There is perhaps no better person to ask about the magnitude of Saudi Arabia’s current cultural boom than Abdulnasser Gharem. Gharem has been creating art for decades, and has established himself as one of the Kingdom’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, despite the many obstacles he faced starting out at a time when there was really no pathway to becoming a professional artist from Saudi Arabia and most of those with a creative bent in the country were left with little choice but to pursue other careers. 

“I was in the army for 23 years,” Gharem, 51, who comes from the south of the Kingdom, tells Arab News. “There was no way you were going to be an artist with an income in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Most of my friends and relatives were in the army, so it was a popular thing. I became an officer, just to make sure that I could earn (money), and art would be something I’d do on the side.” 

Gharem also remembers how he discovered that two of his best friends from high school, raised in a strict environment, were part of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. “After high school, they just disappeared. We thought that maybe their parents moved to another city,” he says. “And suddenly I found their names in the list of the 19 hijackers. I was really shocked, because I was asking myself: ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ We were in the same neighborhood, the same school, the same environment, and had the same education. I think that’s why I became an artist: I was insisting that I wasn’t going to just rely on others. I just needed to create my own path.” 

And that is exactly what Gharem has done over the past two decades. In 2003, he co-founded Edge of Arabia in London. The arts platform, which highlighted Saudi artists through touring exhibitions, became hugely influential.  

A decade later, Gharem decided to set up his “own space” in Riyadh, which made him realize that there was a huge lack of support for the country’s up-and-coming generation of artists. 

“I had the experience of establishing a studio, dealing with challenges, bringing in sponsors, and setting up programs,” he says. “I was shocked to see how young Saudi talents — boys and girls who were interested in fashion, art, photography, filming — didn’t have their own space.” 

In Gharem Studio, young creatives from a variety of fields are invited to use Gharem’s library, art, filming equipment, the space itself, and — most importantly — to share ideas among themselves. He is much more than simply the founder of the studio, and has become a mentor to several young artists. He hopes that his non-profit arts organization can inspire self-expression and freedom of thought.  

Abdulnasser Gharem, founder of Gharem Studio. (Supplied)

“It’s really fascinating for me. We have artists like photographer Haitham Alsharif who discusses gender issues, and the artist Halla Bint Khalid (the studio’s co-owner), who is looking into family and children,” he says. “So, it’s all related to society. It’s nice when you listen to issues from different aspects, ages and slices of society. The studio became a think tank.” 

When Gharem Studio was launched, its artists flew abroad to experience art fairs in Europe and exhibited their own works in the UK and the US, traveling across 15 states. Gharem admits that in the beginning there were some hurdles to overcome, not just at home but overseas too.  

“We were doing international shows, because contemporary art wasn’t accepted yet in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “It was honestly tough to sell Saudi art. Of course, now it’s different. Now the government is putting us on the cultural map of the world. We are living in what I call ‘a grant narrative,’ and that’s what we have been looking for since we were young. I can’t believe our dreams became true. Suddenly everything changed. We have two biennales in this country. We have Desert X and Noor Riyadh Festival. These kinds of cultural events have become part of people’s daily lives. They can spend time at the movies, in a restaurant or at a concert, or a biennale. The public sphere has become totally different.” 

In early May, a selection of predominantly photographic works from Gharem Studio were displayed in an exhibition at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery in Dubai. This month, the studio will be moving to its new home in the cultural hub of JAX District in Riyadh. According to Gharem, there are also plans to establish a bio-art lab in the studio, where artists can explore environmental issues.  

“Our mission,” he says, “is to bring something new to the artist and society.”  

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
Updated 13 June 2024

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
  • Controversial media personality Guy Hochman tried to rush stage in Athens wearing Israeli flag
  • Frontman Chris Martin: ‘We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide’

LONDON: A Coldplay concert in Athens had to be paused after a man with an Israeli flag injured himself trying to reach the stage, The Independent reported on Thursday.

Footage of the man, later identified as Israeli media personality Guy Hochman, was posted to social media showing him trying to climb over a lighting rig before falling, knocking over several pieces of equipment.

Lead singer Chris Martin was seen asking the rest of the band several times to “stop” after witnessing the event directly in front of him, gesturing at crew around him to assist. He and bandmate Johnny Buckland then tried to help Hochman from the edge of the stage.



Hochman identified himself on social media, posting an image of himself at the concert wearing a black baseball cap and draped in the Israeli flag.

He also posted footage of himself on TikTok, saying he had led chants of “bring them home” in the audience in relation to Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Hochman then posted footage of his efforts to climb onto the stage, narrating as he got closer that he was “smelling Chris Martin’s sweat.”

After the fall, Hochman wrote on social media that he had damaged his ribs. “I have fallen. Right rib gone,” he said.

Hochman, who has courted controversy in the past for making jokes about the killings of Palestinians in Gaza, received mixed responses from fellow Israelis on social media despite his claims that he had “made history” with the failed stunt.

One person wrote on his TikTok: “I’m glad it didn’t work out. It saved us a great embarrassment and maybe even increased antagonism from Chris.”

Another said: “Really unnecessary and would have made us (a joke) if you came to him with an Israeli flag. Be healthy and glad you didn’t succeed.”

Last month, Hochman claimed that he was removed from the Eurovision village in the Swedish city of Malmo for waving the Israeli flag.

The event was dogged by controversy over the participation of an Israeli entrant in the annual song contest, with local protesters and other performers critical of the decision.

At a Coldplay concert in Tokyo in November, Martin appeared to speak out against Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

He told the audience that there were “so many terrible things happening,” and that he believed “most people on Earth are full of love and full of kindness, compassion.”

He added: “We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide, nothing like that.”

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
Updated 13 June 2024

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
  • The Bahrain-based indie outfit have built a fanbase in the Kingdom over the past two years and make their Riyadh debut later this month

ALKHOBAR: “It’s just across the border, but it’s a whole different world, right?” Debbi Francisco, the Filipino frontwoman of Bahrain-based band Juniper’s Club, told Arab News ahead of her group’s show at Alkhobar’s Bohemia Cafe & Records in early June.  

“The Saudi energy is different. While playing, I have the habit of always looking down. And then I look up and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re actually staring at me.’ The Saudi fans really focus on you,” Francisco’s Indian bandmate, guitarist Sean Fernandes, added with a smile. 

Since the pair formed Juniper’s Club two years ago, they have performed many live shows in Saudi, all in Alkhobar. They love their mini tradition of driving across the King Fahd Causeway to perform. For their gigs, they are joined by John Goodwin on drums and Ryan James on bass.  

Francisco and Fernandes, both in their 20s, met in 2019, when they were both music instructors. “We realized we had a lot of things in common, musically,” Francisco said. “And we actually started a bunch of projects together, but, eventually, we were, like, ‘Yo. Why don’t we just do something with just the two of us?’” 


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Their music seamlessly transitions from cutesy indie-pop to full-on rage-rock — but remains danceable, relatable, and sonically cohesive. Fernandes cites Coldplay as a major influence on his guitar playing and mentions Blink 182 and The Beatles as early favorites.  

“I actually started playing music very late. I didn’t play anything until I was 18,” he said. “My brother left his guitars behind when he went to college to pursue sound engineering. I had no siblings around, so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the guitar, and here I am.” 

Francisco, meanwhile, was brought up on gospel music. “That was my main reason for going to church as a kid, I would just watch musicians play,” she said. “I learned by watching people play live. I was also big on the Jonas Brothers — then I grew out of that and into Paramore. I started playing drums because of Paramore. I wanted to learn all their songs.” 

Growing up in Bahrain, neither of them ever ventured into Saudi Arabia. 

“Saudi was like a neighbor you’ve been wanting to say hi to for a long time, but you were a bit shy and they were a bit shy. And then one day they invite you to dinner,” Francisco said. “Now, we’re breaking bread and rocking out! Honestly, it’s such an honor to play in Saudi. Less than 10 years ago that wasn’t in the picture at all. It was almost impossible.” 

They’re now building a solid following in the Kingdom with their mix of indie-pop and alternative rock, featuring haunting, sometimes angsty, lyrics with melodic hooks. Live, their music is considerably heavier than on recordings.  

“We always try to make our shows as energetic and fun as possible,” Francisco said. “We want the crowd to have as much fun as we are. At its core, Juniper’s Club is just me and Sean, but it’s evolved into something else live; it becomes a Juniper’s Club club.” 

On June 28, Juniper’s Club will make their Riyadh debut at The Warehouse in the JAX District. 

“We also have an EP coming out, hopefully by the end of June,” Francisco said. “We’re going to introduce some of those new songs live. We’ve really revamped our setlist, so it might get a bit crazier than usual. It’s going to get loud.” 

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas
Updated 12 June 2024

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

DUBAI: US singer Joe Jonas was spotted enjoying a beach day in Greece with Lebanese actress Laila Abdallah as they attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens along with other celebrities.

The paparazzi shots sparked an international internet manhunt for Abdallah, who was previously identified by magazines around the world as a “mystery brunette,” according to the Daily Mail.

The pair did not attend the opening event together, and mingled among other high-profile guests, including former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, actor Welsh actor Luke Evans, French designer Olivier Rousteing and Australian pop icon Kylie Minogue, among others.

But paparazzi at the resort were solely focused on Jonas and Abdallah, who enjoyed a beach day on Monday.

Jonas, who filed for divorce from British actress Sophie Turner in September, was photographed swimming in the sea and lounging on the shore along with Abdallah and others.

Although the snaps sparked international headlines and speculation amongst fans, neither camp has commented on the photographs and according to multiple reports they are just friends.

The 28-year-old actress was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents on Jan. 8, 1996, and began acting in the early 2010s, landing roles in Arab TV series.

Laila Abdallah attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens. (Getty Images)

Abdallah can speak in sign language as she was raised by parents who are deaf and mute. The actress is the oldest of four siblings and previously spoke to Emirati podcast host Anas Bukhash about that responsibility.

“Because I’m the oldest among my siblings, and always I’m the one who does everything… I mean, I call myself the man of the house, the father, the big sister, I’m everything, so it’s impossible for anyone to see me cry, impossible,” she said.

Abdallah previously starred in a music video for Saudi singer Abdul Majeed Abdullah but her first acting role was in the TV show “Saher Al-lail” in 2010,  which was directed by Muhammad Daham Al-Shammari. The director also cast her in a recurring role in his series “Tu Nahar.” Abdallah most recently starred in the TV series “London Class” in 2023.

She boasts five million followers on Instagram and is known for sharing behind-the-scenes shots from her international travels, as well as her red carpet moments — notably, she recently hit the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In December 2017, she married Iranian actor Abdallah Abass, but they divorced in 2018.

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge
Updated 12 June 2024

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge
  • ‘He is massive in a way that we don't understand (in the US) – for people in Japan, and all over Asia, he’s bigger than Superman or Spider-Man,’ the director said
  • In this film, the titanic superhero meets his match when he adopts a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju

DUBAI: Set to release on Netflix on June 14, 3DCG-animated feature film “Ultraman: Rising” sees Tokyo threatened by rising monster attacks when baseball star Ken Sato returns home to take on the mantle of Ultraman.

Ultraman is already an international pop-culture phenomenon and has been a fan favorite since the Japanese television series “Ultra Q” in 1966, with countless reboots and sequels across different mediums released over the years.

In statements shared exclusively with Arab News in the Middle East, Emmy-winning artist and filmmaker Shannon Tindle shares how his childhood influenced the decision to create “Ultraman: Rising.”

“When I was a kid, I loved sitting on the floor with my parents, watching kung fu movies, Godzilla, and, most of all, Ultraman. The image of a towering, monster-fighting superhero was forever burned into my brain (and heart) and would eventually inspire this film,” he said.

In this film, the titanic superhero meets his match when he adopts a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju whom he protects from nefarious outside forces.

“Although family has always been a part of the Ultraman legacy, we’re leaning into parenthood in a way that hasn’t been explored before. What does it feel like to have this incredible power and still be overwhelmed by a child? There’s something deeply emotional and incredibly entertaining about that shared experience,” Tindle explained.

As for the responsibility of creating the next step in a revered Japanese franchise, the Kentucky-born director and writer says it is not something he took lightly.

“I learned that he is massive in a way that we don't understand (in the US) – for people in Japan, and all over Asia, he’s bigger than Superman or Spider-Man,” Tindle explained, adding: “Our goal was for Japanese folks to see themselves in the film, from how people engage with one another to what their houses and signage look like … we worked with our cultural consultant, Mayumi Yoshida, who is a talented filmmaker in her own right, and we also had our own internal team that included both Japanese and Japanese-American folks who would have weekly meetings to review all of our materials,” he said.

VFX supervisor Hayden Jones and animation supervisor Mathieu Vig took aesthetic inspiration from manga and anime for the film, that The Wrap critic Rafael Motamayor described as featuring “dazzling and memorable stances and shots.”