Event organiser Rob Appleyard tells Piers Grimley Evans why Dubai deserves its own variety show

Of all the uncertain professions in Dubai's exhilarating state of flux, few can guarantee as much tooth-grinding as event management.

As the expat population ceaselessly shifts profile and disposable income, who can predict who it will pay to see?

Yet, after 10 years in the market, Rob Appleyard of Infinity Events certainly sounds confident. Otherwise, the 35-year-old Geordie event organiser would be taking the leap of initiating the city's very own variety show. "I tried it 2 years ago and failed miserably," he says.

Perfect location

This time, though, he believes he has hit upon the perfect location and formula for his "celebration of the performing arts".

Each edition will feature performances from various branches of entertainment united around the presence of a genuine celebrity.

"I'm looking to get 'Variety Show of Dubai' as a known name," he says. "I'm looking to build it up and bring into it different formats - it could be dance troupes, illusionists, even excerpts from ballet shows."

The list of celebrities he plans to bring out over the coming months could indeed fill sever bumper issues of Hello. But it includes both highly bankable entertainers and showbiz legends that may now have passed into the "Oh, I remember him!" category.

BBC celebrity

Depending maybe on your age, Tom O'Connor - who will compere the first events - could fall in either camp. "He was one of the top BBC celebrities in the eighties," says Appleyard. "He's a very, very good standup."

Along with O'Connor are tribute singers. The following edition of the show is set to include a Latin American dance troupe, a rock band and a famous TV personality/comic.

Comedy will be an integral part of every show - not the risqué, alternative genre but the more mainstream kind that Appleyard believes fits his target of punters best. "I don't mind doing rude comics, but some use disgusting things to cover up their lack of material," he says.

Mainstream performers will also be considerable relief for him as host - a capacity that has been sorely tested by years of bringing alternative comics to Dubai.

"You really got to baby-sit them," he says. "Some of them are still in bed while they are due on stage in half an hour. I could tell you some stories." Which he does, in a tone that veers between authentic northern disapproval and wry amusement.

The more alarming tales include project vomiting and potentially custodial run-ins with customs officers and border guards.


"I always had trouble at customs," he says. "I told them, 'no laughing and no smiling at the Oman border'.

But when the officials opened one of the suitcases they found a mouse-trap. 'What's this?' 'It's a weapon of mouse destruction'. We were all creasing ourselves, but the guard got very serious."

But does Tom O'Connor represent a lurch too far on the side of conventionality? The golden age of variety is gone. Is there still a market for the less edgy humour that once united families around the television?

"The Royal Variety show is still huge," says Appleyard. "The people I am bringing out are legends. They still sell out theatres in the UK - and I'm bringing them out at a lower ticket price."