Talal Omar on setting the world record straight

Talal Omar has judged the highest bungee jump, largest dabke dance and longest football match for the Guinness World Records books, but the records that really stand out are the ones that are triumphs of human spirit, he tells Shiva Kumar Thekkepat

  • Talal Omar: "I’ve been with Guinness World Records for more than four years – I joined them in 2008 as an adju Image Credit: Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM
  • The largest sky drawing by a jet aircraft display team is 5,287,050 square metres and was achieved by the Roya Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Sultan Kösen, the world’s tallest living man, who measures 251 centimetres, with Talal, who stands at 175 cent Image Credit: Supplied picture
Friday

Talal Omar may look more like a professional businessman than an adjudicator of records for a company that publishes one of the most popular books in the world – The Guinness World Records – but there’s no doubt that when it comes to judging, the 33-year-old father of two is a hard-nosed investigator. Of the 600 claims of records from the UAE, only 42 got in the book. And there are no signs of apology here.

“What really moves me is not so much the act of making a record, but the fact that the person setting it wants to be known as the best in that particular area,” says the country manager for the Middle East and North Africa of Guinness World Records. “Such people really inspire me and are the reason I feel I have the best job in the world.”

That’s why among the catalogue of largest, tallest and strongest, the world record attempt that stands out for him is the one by three Saudi Arabian women, who collected four tonnes of school supplies for underprivileged children in 24 hours. “It’s really inspiring to see people attempting to set records as well as doing good deeds for society,’’ he says.

With the number of attempts to create records going up in the Middle East – the UAE alone holds 110 records – Guinness World Records opened a Dubai office this month.

Talal was chosen to head the Dubai office because he knows the region well. “The Gulf News Fun Drive’s attempt to set a record for the longest convoy of vehicles in the desert will be the first I adjudicate from the Dubai office,” he says. “It’s going to be a great challenge.” Talal tells Friday why he thinks he has the best job in the world.

Work

I’ve been with Guinness World Records for more than four years – I joined them in 2008 as an adjudication executive. My job at that time was to travel the globe and verify some of the incredible and amazing records.

My schedule was interesting. One weekend I’d be in the south of France verifying the record for the highest bungee jump from a helicopter, then I’d head to Lebanon the week after to watch the largest dabke dance performed, and then on to Dubai to check out the highest restaurant in the world in the Burj Khalifa.

I enjoy travel, so this kind of lifestyle suits me. It’s a far cry from what I was trained for: chemical and process engineering at London South Bank University. I worked in marketing for a few years in the UK before I heard about this job at Guinness World Records.

My strong point is my ability to communicate. It’s a very important part of my job, dealing with different kinds of people in different countries, from different cultures.

I was trained in communication, as well as how to deal with the media and how to go on stage to present programmes.

Due to the extraordinary growth we’ve had in this region, we decided to open an office in Dubai to be close to our clients and to monitor and witness the records.

The Middle East is one of the fastest growing regions in terms of records in the past four years. Last year there was a 130 per cent rise in the number of applications we received from the region.

Work at Guinness World Records is very different from an everyday job. You deal with people who are the best at what they do; people who inspire you, who want to be successful and to be recognised globally. Being in the Guinness World Records is proof that you are the best. Nobody asks who’s the second.

We receive around 1,000 applications for records every week globally. I’m responsible for those for the Middle East. There are a few parameters for setting a record in any field. It has to be measurable in terms of length, width, size, speed etc. And it has to be interesting,
of course!

If it matches the record guidelines – which you can see at www.guinnessworldrecords.com – we ask the applicant to attempt the record and come to us with the evidence. In some instances, we arrange for an adjudicator to go and witness the record being set.

My job is to check if the participant or the group follows all the rules and regulations and that the record conforms to the norms laid down by the company.

If the record is set successfully, it leads to one of the best parts of my job – sharing the success with the record holder. It’s a very exciting moment for me. No matter how experienced you are, the adrenalin rush you get when you share the excitement of the record setter is what makes the job so worthwhile.

I’ve adjudicated more than 300 record attempts in the past four years. I can’t say I have a favourite among them, but one stands out.

I have a passion for football and am a big fan of Manchester United. I remember a record attempt I adjudicated in Qatar – the longest football match. They collected the best footballers from all around the Middle East and the game lasted 40 hours.
I watched around ten hours of the match. What was incredible was that even when they were into their 37th hour, they were still as passionate and celebrating goals – 320 against 310. After they reached their target of 40 hours, they didn’t want to stop, they wanted to keep going! That was the spirit of the participants.

Another record I really loved was attempted in Saudi Arabia. Three girls aged between 20 and 25 collected and donated four tonnes of school supplies to underprivileged students within 24 hours. The girls went around collecting supplies from people, sorted out the donations, cleaned them up and sent them off to orphanages and charities.

Then there are record attempts that pump the adrenalin in your body. For instance, when we went to the south of France to record the highest bungee jump attempt of 1,500 metres from a helicopter. It was scary to hover at that height and even scarier to see a person jump from it.

To make matters worse, the cameraman who was in my helicopter decided to open the door to get a better shot. That frightened the wits out of me. The guy setting the record, Patrice Traut, gave me the thumbs up and calmly jumped out. That was quite something.
What I have learnt over the years is that there is no limit to achieving. If you are inspired and work hard for it, you can achieve what you believed was impossible.

We think sometimes when a record is set, no one can break it, and then someone will. The people who attempt records are different – with some it’s the dream of their life, for others it’s the competition. They don’t want someone to be better than them. I think it’s in their DNA that they want to excel at whatever they do.

The stories that come from record attempts can sometimes touch you in amazing ways. Although I was not a part of this, it affected me very much when I heard about it. It was about a 24-year-old woman in an impoverished village in India who’d been abandoned by her parents.

Kids would taunt her and pull her hair, and almost by chance, she realised she could lift children using her hair. Word soon spread about her extraordinary strength and when the Guinness World Records team went to India to film a television show, they scouted for talents and were told about this woman.

They gave her a challenge: to pull a truck using her hair. She did, and she received a certificate from us. That changed her life. Her parents took her back and she managed to make the entire village feel proud of her. It was turnaround like no other. I am really proud that Guinness World Records was a part of this – an instance when a record can change a life.
I often feel I should set a record one day. I haven’t thought about what that will be, but
I’ll definitely do one some day.

Play

My father, Abdullah Omar, worked in the finance industry and was posted to several banks across the world. So I grew up all over the world – in the US, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen.

I enjoyed my nomadic childhood. I like seeing different cultures in different places.

The disadvantage is that you don’t make too many friends.

It’s difficult to keep in touch while moving so much, but the flip side is the exposure to different cultures and insights you gain in life.

I have a son, Mohammad, four, and a daughter, Muntaha, who is 11 months old. My wife, Hana, and I are passionate about movies. We also like to go to different restaurants for dinner; we never repeat the restaurant! Exploring different places is a passion.
Another love is football. I just love it – both playing and watching. I also love swimming, and now that I take my son with me every weekend, it is beginning to rival football. It’s the best time of the week for me.

Recently, I’ve developed an interest in Islamic art. I am especially interested in Islamic art in architecture, carvings and calligraphy. You can study the history of a civilisation through its art and how it changes in time.

I now plan my holidays so I can visit places where examples of Islamic art or architecture exist. Maybe it started out because my wife
is an artist.

I don’t need to relax, as I don’t have any tensions at my job. I just love it. Every day is something new and I always learn something from every assignment. I meet different people who inspire me to be the best I can be.

My wife is my biggest support. I have to travel so frequently that it can’t be easy for her, but she encourages me and that is a great help. She is a part of what I do, and an important reason for my success.

Dream

I dreamt of becoming a great football player when I was kid. It was not just to become famous, but to excel at that great game. I still enjoy football, but with the job I have, it’s difficult to devote regular time to it.

I don’t have any big dreams now, but people could either live for themselves or they can be beneficial to others. I try to live for others, for society. By excelling in everything I do, I would like to leave a print or a legacy for my children and family, that they would be proud of. I still don’t know what that would be, but I am searching for it. Maybe it could be something that I do in future.

As a person from this region, I would like to see more people pursue their dreams and put the Middle East on the world map. I would love to see them set records and celebrate their moment of triumph with them.