Naheed Patel, Events and Promotions Manager, Gulf News
Naheed Patel, Events and Promotions Manager, Gulf News, is the go-to person for everything related to the Fun Drive since its inception in 1986. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: She has been called the “Iron Lady of the Gulf News Fun Drive”.

But Naheed Patel, events and promotions manager, Gulf News, dismisses all such talk.

The woman behind the mega annual off-roading event of Gulf News has been involved with the Fun Drive since it was launched in 1986 (the same year she joined the organisation).

“This is my job and I am not alone in all this. I have a great team working with me, hand in hand. I cannot pull this off all by myself. My colleagues, the marshals and our sponsors all complete this cherished event,” Patel said.

‘Close to my heart’

For someone who does not drive — let alone drive into the desert — Patel has given her all to make the Fun Drive such a huge success since its launch.

“I love the Gulf News Fun Drive. It is close to my heart. I feel fortunate to be part of such a great annual event.”

Being the go-to person for literally everything related to the Fun Drive, there is a lot on her platter. And Patel said the work behind the Fun Drive is ongoing and does not end after the event.

Naheed Patel Gulf News
Naheed Patel at a Gulf News Fun Drive in the early years. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

“Through the year, we work on getting sponsors, planning the next year’s Fun Drive. It just never ends.” Patel recalled that an off-road adventure involving a civilian convoy did not exist before 1986 when Gulf News launched the Fun Drive.

“We were the first to start a desert adventure like this. In many ways, Gulf News was inspirational for desert enthusiasts and other off-roading groups to start getting out into the desert for an off-road adventure.”

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Numbers grow year after year

“When we launched the Fun Drive in 1986, there were only 75 cars registered. Following the success of our very first event, the next year this number doubled. And since then, there has been no looking back,” said Patel.

Rehashing more memories

Patel recalled one of the early marshals on the job at the Fun Drive was a former British expat, Fraser Martin. “He was route director back in the day when there was no Google map or apps to guide marshals and participants on the course.”

She said “tulip diagrams” were drawn to mark the route. “Though I am not an off-roader, I learnt to understand the tulip diagram.”

For the uninitiated, tulip diagrams, or ball-and-arrow instructions, were used back those days as a guide to route junctions. They were simple drawings where the ball indicated where one was coming from and arrow showing where one was going.

Orchestrating a massive event

Patel is a stickler for lists. “It is hard to remember everything. So I write down my “to-do list”. It has been a saviour in all the years. Planning an event this large requires a whole lot of detailing. Writing the pointers down helps a lot,” she said.

Detailing to the tee

Patel said the detailing has to be to the tee and that pretty much nails the Fun Drive. “For example, there is so much of work that goes behind preserving the markers and readying them for the next year. We have kept the hundreds of markers with us for sometime now. We just pull the sticker off, paste new ones carrying the logo of the new year’s sponsor, the venue of the drive.”

Preparations ongoing

Events and promotions for a brand like Gulf News is always on her mind. “I could be driving around Dubai, looking at hoardings, thinking this could be a potential sponsor. So, there is never a dull moment in my head.”

What makes the Fun Drive a success

Patel puts it down to the collaborative effort. “From our cherished participants to our sponsor and last, but not the least, the marshals’ team all have made this a successful event. The dedication and love from our in-house team ensure the event is successful for all.”