Abu Dhabi Grand Prix champion Max Verstappen isn’t the only one defending his title at Yas Island this week.
A few miles north at Yas Acres Golf Club, pop star Akon was perfecting his approach shot on the 12th hole as part of the Steve Harvey Golf Classic.
Named after the comedian and TV host and organized by Melt Middle East, an events and consultancy firm, the friendly tournament is part of a week of star-studded events, including a gala dinner at the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Friday followed by the grand race at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
Some of those invited to star were Emmy Award nominated actor Anthony Anderson, comedian DL Hughley, model Chanel Ayan, fashion designer Lesa Milan and boxer Badou Jack.
Talking with The national teamthe tournament’s inaugural winner, Akon, says the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is why he returned to the emirate.
A regular at the event, both as a celebrity guest and as an artist, he says the race has become a major networking opportunity for budding and established entrepreneurs.
“Abu Dhabi is an ideal place for various forms of conventions as it brings together people from all over the world to create opportunities for each other,” he says.
“And sport is a great platform to have some of this communication and exchange ideas. A great job can arise from these things and I make sure, every time I come back here, I meet people and cultivate these contacts”.
While the price tags for F1 Grand Prix lounges are expensive globally – prices at The Luna Lounge at Yas Marina Circuit start, for example, at Dh7,000 – Akon says it’s a worthwhile investment, a provided you come prepared.
“Listen, if you want to have fun then the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will definitely give it to you,” says Akon.
“But as an entrepreneur it’s also a place to make important connections, so you have to be prepared if you make that investment.
“You can meet people who will provide value to your business that you may not bring to yourself.
“And there will also be people who can provide you with ideas you never thought about for positioning your business in a new location. So you have to come to these events with an open mind and a collaborative spirit.”
As for Anderson, star of the hit TV sitcom Blackishhe says exposure to a new culture is what brought him to Abu Dhabi.
“Our perceptions of the Middle East, especially in states, is what the power of the media feeds us. They shape our thoughts for us before we even have a chance to set foot on the ground to experience it for ourselves,” she says.
“The world is a big place and it would be arrogant of us to think otherwise. We have to learn to live with everyone and do it from different walks of life because that’s how we grow as individuals.
That’s a lesson Anderson learned as he traveled with his mother, Doris Bowman, throughout Europe as part of an upcoming series of travels.
Next year, Anthony Anderson & Mom: European Vacation, sees the feisty duo take on various parts of the continent, including Italy and Spain.
If the show does well, Anderson hopes there could be a sequel to the Middle East, with Abu Dhabi as his first destination.
“The city is a perfect melting pot of all cultures,” he says. “My mom exposed me so much about life as a kid and I’m happy to do the same.”
Feel at ease in Abu Dhabi
Stepping outside your comfort zone can also provide some surprising insights.
According to the American comedian DL Hughley – who along with Harvey is part of the famous comedy group The Kings of Comedy – his first visit to Abu Dhabi was a revelation.
“This has been a life changing experience so far,” she says.
“And listen, I’m not being hyperbolic here because this is the first time I’ve been somewhere as a Black American where I felt like I wasn’t just being tolerated and suspected,” he says.
“It took me a while to figure this out, but it’s an interesting and beautiful feeling just to be in one place and not feel hindered by what other people think of me and what I think of them.”
Updated: November 18, 2022, 4:56 pm