The camera pans across a vast expanse of desert before careening toward an artificial island lined with luxury homes in the Arabian 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 city 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’ debuts on Wednesday, June 1 (June 2 in the UAE), 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 13,000km 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 say showing off their extravagant lives on screen debunks stereotypes about the UAE.
“This is an opportunity for me to show the Western world, or the world in general, how a modern Arab woman can be,” Sara Al Madani, a serial entrepreneur and single mom, told the Associated Press from her quirky villa adorned with portraits of her favourite non-fungible tokens and a room full of trophies commemorating her career.
Al Madani was the first to admit: “I’m not your typical Arab or Emirati.”
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. Caroline Stanbury, a reality star who stirred up drama in Bravo’s ‘Ladies of London’ series moved to Dubai with her kids after getting divorced and remarrying a former football player.
Caroline Brooks, an Afro-Latina businesswoman from Massachusetts, rose to success in Dubai’s cut-throat real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my exes.”
Nina Ali, an ultra-glam Lebanese mother of three, founded Fruit Cake, a fruitcake business. Lesa Hall, 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 in the UAE to walk for top-tier European fashion houses, is now developing a make-up 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 provides a fitting backdrop.
With zero income taxes, gleaming skyscrapers and countless malls, the emirate was engineered to be a global destination for the ultra-wealthy. Fortune-seekers, rich and poor, flock to Dubai from around the world, including migrant workers from South Asia, Africa and the Philippines. The franchise, however, takes as its focus just a tiny subset of wealthy womanhood.
“You have glitz, you have glamour, you have fashion,” Stanbury said, cradling her black Pomeranian named Taz against her sequinned Prada crop top. On her coffee table was F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Beautiful and Damned.’
“You don’t understand how much it’s worth to live in a country like this,” she added.
Fans can expect fun gatherings and dramatic confrontations from the show, said Sezin Cavusoglu, the Bravo executive in charge of the series. But there will be no drink-throwing, table-flipping, hair-pulling or otherwise ostentatious fighting in public.
“They live there. They know what’s acceptable, and what’s not acceptable,” Cavusoglu said. “They still gave us amazing content just by being who they are and having really honest and difficult conversations.”
Dubai’s government-run media office did not respond to AP requests for comment. Dubai’s Tourism Board and Film Commission approved the series and facilitated its production.
“It’s meant to be just entertainment,” Stanbury said from her pristine kitchen, where on a clear day she can see elephants stalking a nature preserve and the world’s tallest tower rising over the desert. “You guys get insight into all of our crazy lives.”
Don’t miss it!
‘The Real Housewives of Dubai’ will stream on OSN+ in the UAE at the same time as the US. The first episode drops in the US on June 1 at 8pm Central Time, which is 5am UAE time on June 2. New episodes release every week.