DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – The camera pans across a vast expanse of desert before careening toward an artificial island lined with luxury homes in the Persian Gulf. Eerie chords ring out, as though warning viewers: This is not your Real Housewives of Orange County.
For the first time in its 16-year history, the American franchise that has become an institution of reality television will take its glamour and soap opera abroad – specifically, to the skyscraper-studded sheikhdom of Dubai.
While the franchise has sold countless global spin-offs from Lagos to Vancouver, none have been produced by the Bravo network before.
The Real Housewives of Dubai debuted recently, inducting six new women into network’s crown jewel of catfights and marital meltdowns that is beloved, binged and hate-watched around the world.
Dubai might be some 13,000 kilometres away from the California gated community where the reality-show empire premiered in 2006, which a cameo by camels in the series’ teaser makes clear.
But as Dubai’s “housewives” gossip over lavish lunches, bicker while sipping from stem glasses and arrive at casual gatherings engulfed in designer logos, it turns out they’re not so far from Orange County after all. That’s a message the women want to convey. Cast members said showing off their extravagant, party-hard lives on screen debunks stereotypes about the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“This is an opportunity for me to show the Western world, or the world in general, how a modern Arab woman can be,” serial entrepreneur and single mom Sara Al Madani told The Associated Press (AP) from her quirky villa adorned with portraits of her favourite non-fungible tokens and a room full of trophies commemorating her career.
Instead of the traditional black abaya, Al Madani sported a wide-brimmed suede hat.
Al Madani is the only Emirati cast member – a ratio that comes as no surprise in a country where expatriates outnumber locals nearly nine to one. The other “housewives” found Dubai’s glitz from far afield.
Reality star Caroline Stanbury who stirred up drama in Bravo’s Ladies of London series moved to Dubai with her kids after getting divorced and remarrying a former soccer player.
Afro-Latina businesswoman from Massachusetts Caroline Brooks rose to success in Dubai’s cutthroat real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my exes.”
Ultra-glam Lebanese mother of three, founded Fruit Cake, a fruitcake business Nina Ali. , a Jamaican designer of luxury maternity clothes and former beauty queen, recently posted on Instagram an ice-cream cone – with a 24-karat-gold-leaf on top.
Chanel Ayan, a breezy Kenyan-born model who overcame prejudices to walk for top-tier European fashion houses, is now developing a makeup line. She described herself in an interview with the AP as “outgoing, funny, crazy and insanely hot”.
Like American stars of the franchise, the women in Dubai are not housewives in the traditional sense but rather socialite business owners trying to define their brands. And Dubai, a city ceaselessly trying to market itself on the world stage, provides a fitting backdrop.
The cast members described Dubai as a Westernised playground where women are free to have fun and do what they want.
“You have glitz, you have glamour, you have fashion,” Stanbury said, cradling her black Pomeranian named Taz against her Prada top.