It occurred more than a decade ago, but it still remains in Danielle Nay’s mind. “It was in 2000,’’ says the head of transformers, an event content and rentals company in Dubai. “I was operating an event managing firm in the UK called Dr Party when I received a call from Sir Bob Geldof, the musician behind Live Aid. ‘I’d like you to create an event for my 50th birthday party on the fifth of October,’ he said. ‘It should be unforgettable and sweep the guests off their feet.’ He went on to tell me that he wanted a Moroccan-meets-Balinese-meets-Bollywood event,’’ says Danielle.
She had just a fortnight to set up the event for a 300-strong guest list at Bob’s country home in Kent. Ever willing to take on a challenge, Danielle agreed and set to work.
For the party, the lawns of his home were transformed into a spectacular world that could have been straight out of an Arab/Oriental movie. “I set up ornate tents decorated with silk brocade and arranged for succulent kebabs and oriental delicacies to be served,” says Danielle. “There were talented belly dancers to entertain the crowds, and foot-tapping music with the likes of Sir Mick Jagger, Sting and Trudie Styler taking the stage.’’
Bob was so delighted with the party that he asked Danielle to organise his 60th birthday as well. “He wanted it to be combined with his daughter Pixie’s 21st birthday celebration,” she says. “He also asked me to organise an event for his elder daughter Peaches’ second marriage to singer Thomas Cohen.”
Bob Geldof isn’t the only celeb on Danielle’s client list. With clients including designer Karen Millen, model and dancer Dita Von Teese and corporate giants such as Disney, Microsoft and the BBC to name a few, this Dubai-based ‘event alchemist’, as she prefers to call herself, has several A-listers on her speed dial.
Relocating to Dubai in 2009 after her husband Adrian Bell set up a communications agency here, Danielle first headed the communications division at an event management organisation, and then was the organiser of Barry Kirsch’s Big Ball charity event, before setting up transformers in 2011.
With a goal of redefining entertainment and event management in the UAE, Danielle believes in giving her clients a fun-filled event with never-seen-before glitter and edginess. She tells Friday how she makes it all happen.
Successful event management requires creativity and organisational capabilities. A helping of diplomacy and charm goes a long way too. Many event management projects are basically about logistics. I only embrace the ones where we get to innovate in some small way. In the words of Apple: “Think Different!”
After my graduation in classics and modern languages in 1990, I joined as the personal assistant to Alan Crompton-Batt, a public relations consultant credited with creating the notion of the celebrity chef. He was the man who could turn chefs into stars.
Working there for three years gave me all the experience I required, and in 1996, I joined the UK broadcaster Channel 5 as their PR and events manager. My brief was to reinvent the network’s communication division. It was a challenge as I had a very small team and had to create great ideas to publicise the channel.
It was during this time that I met the Spice Girls, who were not very well known at the time. They had just released Wannabe (their first single) and were on the cusp of success. We opened dialogue with them a few weeks later about fronting the launch. By the time we launched Channel 5 in Spring 1997, they were huge and our timing was brilliant. I had to pinch myself when the photo stunt we staged with them at Marble Arch in London made almost every newspaper front page in the UK.
My success with the channel helped me set up Dr Party in 1998, which was acquired by Bob Geldof’s media group Ten Alps Communications in 2001. I continued as a director of their events division. I had great success in the six years that I ran it, putting on parties for Karen Millen, Ralph Lauren, Madonna and of course Bob.
"Another event that still stays in my mind is the one we did for Karen Millen’s 40th birthday party, with a Moulin Rouge theme. We built a bridge over the swimming pool in her garden, floated candles and flowers in it, then erected a huge tent over the pool. Then we turned the structure into the Moulin Rouge set, complete with a heart-shaped doorway. The next morning when we returned to the house, we found a ceremonial sword – used to slice the fantastic Jane Asher cake – in the swimming pool. That has to be the sign of a good party.
At Peaches Geldof’s wedding this year, her Golden Retriever Parper was the ring bearer. We were worried about whether Parper would be able to manage. That famous mantra, ‘never work with children or animals’ is one that I usually try to live by. However at the rehearsal, Parper (as the groom’s father later wryly observed) was the only one to do exactly as he was told. He behaved impeccably on the day and looked great too, wearing a huge flower collar.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some inspiring and fun people over the years, including Batman director Joel Schumacher, the Spice Girls and brands like Sony, Microsoft, Ralph Lauren and Gucci.
I’ve produced highly theatrical private parties and weddings for Madonna, author Martin Amis and, of course, for my favourite repeat clients, the Geldof family. Peaches Geldof’s lovely country wedding was my latest production for them: it was full of vintage, cinematic touches and I’d describe the look as Federico Fellini meets Merchant Ivory.
While organising such mega events, you have to be very professional – get everything in writing as it saves any squabbling if someone doesn’t deliver on the day. I prefer to visualise it all, and give a detailed list to my client. I also make sure I’ve got enough staff on hand so I’m free to enjoy the party.
I have a low boredom threshold, so for me, content is king at a party. I care a great deal about the little details. I think a good event needs talking points and photo opportunities, especially since the advent of social media where every event and experience seems to be shared in real time.
This is the fundamental insight that led me to start my Dubai-based events company, transformers. Our mission is to provide unique (often interactive) finishing touches to transform any gathering into event gold. The UAE is such a fascinating place to work, where great things can happen in the blink of an eye. I find it inspiring.
A large part of my work involves creating wonderful environments in which to entertain guests. I definitely get that passion from my mother Helen Andersen, a celebrity portrait painter-turned-fashion designer. She would also throw glamorous dinner parties and is the most creative person I know.
She would bake the most spectacular cakes for my birthdays. I recall one Goldilocks and the Three Bears cake, where she actually made rice-paper bedsheets, such was her attention to detail. I think my father Salvator, a retired TV producer and director, gave me the ability to weave a narrative and create a three-dimensional personal experience at my events.
We lived in Belgium until I was five and then we moved to Liverpool, where my mother owned a leather boutique.
By the time I was 14 I had already begun throwing my own parties and getting others to have fun. But back then I didn’t know that I could actually do this for a living.
I graduated in classics and modern languages from New College, Oxford. My work is all about colour and visual spectacle, but at home I crave serenity. Our large apartment in Dubai Marina is decorated in calming neutral colours with flashes of glamour – the occasional chandelier or bespoke furniture piece.
I met my husband Adrian Bell, who now runs a live events and bespoke communications agency, in 2008 in London. Adrian and I moved to Dubai in 2009.
Not having children gives us time to enjoy the arts and leisure scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is gathering momentum.
We also love food and enjoy dining out and cooking at home for friends. We could probably do a better job of staying in shape, but we’re looking forward to cooler sea temperatures so we can take up paddle boarding.
We travel as much as we can. Dubai is a great base for people with wanderlust! Of course everybody passes through sooner or later, so we often have house guests, be that business associates, friends or extended family.
The promenade below our home is the perfect place to walk a dog. This is good news for our one-year-old Lowchen, Freeway, who we named after the star of 1980s TV series Hart2Hart. He’s a truly adorable creature, who I was obsessed with as a child.
I have always dreamt of being a proper, hands-on patron of art and design and writing in my spare time. I have about three books inside me that are bursting to get on to the page.
I desperately miss the London theatre, which was always such a rich source of inspiration. I’m looking forward to the day when Dubai has its own opera house and museum of modern art.
I am hoping to identify home grown, local talent to nurture and collaborate with on creative projects for our clients.
My personal dream is to write and also to work more with the arts in general, not necessarily anything to do with my work, but more as a writer and patron of the arts.