Best in Dubai: Personalities of the Year

Best in Dubai: Personalities of the Year

12 Nov 2011

Introducing the Best in Dubai 2011 nominees for Personality of the Year

Check out the movers and shakers who have taken Dubai by storm in 2011. Whether they're helping to build the local community or forging ahead in business, these are the top 10 personalities in Dubai.

Read on to find out more about these amazing people and then tell us who you think deserves to take home a Best in Dubai award by voting here now...

Hurry! Voting closes at 6pm on Thursday 24 November.


Saygin Yalcin, Founder and President

Founder and President of, Saygin Yalcin is the man behind the multi-million dollar online shopping club. With a membership base of one million private shoppers, more than 120 employees and offices in Dubai, New York City and Istanbul, Saygin has been able to provide his clients with deals of up to 90 per cent off on lifestyle brands. All this within less than 18 months.

“In this business, it is all about working together to overcome the challenges of an enterprise that spans nine markets and nine cultures. At we are proud of what we have achieved and flattered by our members’ reception of this business model. We look forward to an even wider presence in the coming year,” says Saygin.

Saygin also has an MBA and is fluent in German, English, Spanish and Turkish. Moreover, as the head representative of the big European investment fund Springstar, he is opening doors for young entrepreneurs, who are passionate about starting their own business in the region.
How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
Taking into consideration that I moved to Dubai less than two years ago, I'm very happy to be nominated for this award. I hope that I can inspire many more entrepreneurs and further grow e-commerce in the region, with Dubai being a pioneer market.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
I'm proud of my world-class team and happy to have created more than 100 jobs within one year.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
I don't wish or hope. I set goals and take every hurdle as a challenge. So far, there hasn't been a challenge my team and I couldn't handle. It is just a matter of time. Hence, our internal motto is "speed".

Dalia Dogmoch Soubra, Kitch Cupcakes Co-Founder

Meet the face behind one of Dubai’s most delicious cupcake brands, Kitsch’s Dalia Dogmoch Soubra. The co-founder and chief baker of Kitsch Cupcakes has spread her love of cooking across the region and has now even set up her own online food blog,

From cooking up a storm in the kitchen to writing about her love of all things edible, Dalia has proven she’s a personality in the culinary world.

“As long as I can remember my life has revolved around food. Growing up in Paris and New York, I was surrounded by the best the culinary world had to offer. I’ve been inspired by all the foods I have tasted along the way, the many cookbooks I have read, and the experiments in my beloved kitchen. Needless to say that everyone around me knows that I have always been obsessed with glorious food. Dalia also writes a monthly food column for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, a regular column for BBC Good Food Middle East and has a cooking segment on Dubai TV’s show Mashaheer.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
I’m extremely flattered to be chosen amongst such a vibrant, talented and hard working group of people. It also proves to me once again that you need to follow your passion in order to make a mark. You can only be good at something you truly love to do.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
We set up Kitsch Cupcakes as the first cupcake specialty bakery in the region back in 2006 when nobody thought this idea was viable in this part of the world. Now there are plenty of cupcake shops across the region, almost too many, so it’s nice to look back and realise that our vision did materialise. Kitsch is a home grown concept, not a franchise, and we didn’t bring in a fancy baking team from abroad. The bakes are made fresh every day with recipes I created from scratch, so that puts a huge smile on my face. Furthermore, the fact that we have maintained our home baked feel, high end quality and personalised service, even though we have expanded, makes me particularly proud.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
I’m so impressed by the talent that the Middle East and particularly the UAE showcases. I wish that big companies would stop bringing in multinational brands and look at the fabulous home grown concepts which are being created here, which are as or even more impressive than the international brands.

Simone Heng, Radio Host and TV Presenter

TV and Radio personality, Simone Heng, was a part of the Virgin on-air team which won the 2010 Best in Dubai award for the Best English Radio Station and now she’s back to battle it out for the Best Personality. The 27-year-old Hot 100 alum moved to Dubai in November 2008 and she’s been broadcasting her voice across Dubai airwaves at 104.4 Virgin Radio ever since, for the city’s number one English lunch time radio show, Workforce Request. She’s also a regular on television stations in the region too, having nabbed her her first TV show, just eight weeks after landing in Dubai. She can currently be seen as the face of Season One and Two of Dubai 101 on Dubai One TV.

The Singapore-born Australian was also named the 18th hottest woman in radio worldwide in 2010. So when she’s not hosting her daily radio segment you’ll find the brunette bombshell mingling with Dubai’s ‘it’ crowd at the hottest events, lending her time to help charities and on stage as a stand-up comedian. Simone has also appeared in almost every major magazine in the UAE, has become a clothes horse for local designers and endorses BlackBerry and Philip Stein watches.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
I was nominated under Female Personality of the Year last year which was a total surprise. This year I think it’s cool that the category is non-gender specific. I am very flattered.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of having worked as a broadcaster in TV and radio across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. It’s been a blast being paid to travel the world and chasing the challenge of being able to adapt to different markets. It’s not easy. I’ve been doing TV and radio for seven years, and during that time I have realised that not many talents can work in so many different markets, so I am grateful to have that global appeal.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
I would have my Daddy back so he could come and visit me in Dubai and see what I’ve worked so hard for in this city. It’s hard building a public career which your friends and family cannot appreciate because you’re not living in the same country as them. It’s even harder when a loved one passes and can’t see anything you’ve achieved.

Annah Jacob, TV Presenter

From climbing to the top of a 150-metre crane to racing in an F1 single-seater to swimming with sharks, there’s nothing Annah won’t do to show off the city of Dubai, as the co-host of Twenty Something. Annah who landed the television gig in 2009 has spent the last two years in the driving seat of the Middle East’s only youth show and she’s loved every minute.                 

With an infectious laughter that belies her size, Annah soon won hearts around the world with her bubbly personality and never-say-never attitude. Annah is also a self-confessed part-time philosopher and she dishes her Annah-logic on Twitter. The television presenter is also a patron of the local talent scene, an unlikely model and an emcee to boot. Equally at ease with her South Indian middle-class roots as she is hobnobbing with celebrities, Annah was meant for the big lights and action. While most people were born with a spoon in their mouth, she was born with a mic.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
Humbled. All my life, I've only ever wanted to make a positive difference to the lives of those around me and being nominated feels like a validation of those efforts.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
Not regretting any of the choices I've made in life.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
Starring in a Quentin Tarantino film. Oh, and World Peace.

Saher Shaikh, Charity Campaigner

Adopt-a-Camp Charity campaigner Saher Shaikh is affectionately called Ma, which means mother, and Baji, which means sister, by over 13800 workers. The Dubai resident has spent the past six years of her life taking care of labourers in labour camps across the city.

As the founder of Care Packages for Labourers, Saher often calls on the community to get together to help assemble thousands of care packages for distribution at labour camps. Most recently, during Ramadan she teamed up with Dubai Chamber to put together over 3000 care packages at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Saher is also the founder of Adopt-a-Camp which provides free English classes, hygiene workshops, counselling sessions, scholarships, sports tournaments, medical assistance and other ways to improve the lives of workers living in the UAE. She even helps to improve the lives of the workers’ families and communities back in the villages they come from.  

The charity organiser has been named the Most Inspiring Woman in the GCC, she’s been featured as a Reader's Digest Hero, and her work has been documented by CNN. However Saher says that her greatest recognition comes from the blessings of the men and their families that she has helped.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
Each time a batch of my boys graduate from English class, the knowledge that they'll be moving onto better paid jobs resulting in better lives for all of their families, that makes me extremely proud of them and delighted to be a part of the process. Most proud of though? It's still a work in progress but raising kind children.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be?
To give every child in the world a safe, happy, loved childhood. Because they are innocent.

Namira Salim, Professional Explorer and Artist

Namira Salim made history three years ago when she took the First Everest Skydive 2008 challenge. Not only did she dive from an altitude of 29,500 feet she was also the first Asian and first woman from Dubai to make the leap. The tandem skydive took place on 11 October, 2008 from Shyangboche, the highest drop zone in the world.

The Karachi-born adventurer was also the first Pakistani and first woman from Dubai to have ventured to the North and South Poles. In 2007 Namira set off for the North Pole and a year later made the trek south.

Dubai-based Namira is the first UAE Founder Astronaut of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and the first Pakistani astronaut ever, who was selected out of 144,000 applicants to be aboard one of the first private spaceflights. She will also become the first female from the UAE to experience a private space flight in 2012. 

Namira Salim's film Beyond the Poles, which documents her polar adventures and potential spaceflight, was recently launched under the Patronage of HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive Emirates Airline and Group. 

Also her innovative jewelled art objects, with built-in music and voice boxes, helped voice global humanitarian messages during the UN General Assembly on 2002 and at the UNESCO Headquarters in 2000 and 2011.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
I feel very privileged being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year. It also feels special to know that what I do is being noticed and perhaps, is making waves in the lives of others. 

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
I am most proud of, and touched by, the appreciation I get from those who take my daring spirit and adventures as an inspiration. 

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?

Living in a world limited by time and space, one often loses touch with one's eternal existance – the soul. While, I spend a lot of time soul searching, it would be great fun to spacewalk one day to feel one's soul sailing amid the stars! I guess my potential spaceflight inspires me to wish for this.

Mohammed Al Habtoor, House of GlaMO Founder

Meet the man behind the House of GlaMO. The designer and business mogul set out to establish House of GlaMO, a range of t-shirts inspired by fashion propaganda.

The Hot 100 alum has been making waves on the local fashion scene with his fashion range for a few years now with no signs of slowing down. His ‘No Cash? No Oil? Who Cares! Dubai Loves U’ tees have been spotted across the emirate and Mohammed even launched a ‘Help Heal Haiti’ shirt.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
I had no idea it was going on or that I was on the list until a friend mentioned it to me. It took me completely by surprise! After reviewing the other candidates, I felt honoured due to the amazing achievements they have all accomplished. I was also very pleased to see that some of the candidates were my friends. I am very much looking forward to the outcome, because whoever wins, it is a win to us all.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
I honestly have to say that I am proud of them all. I look back at the last few years and do feel a sense of accomplishment. Whether I succeeded or failed, it was the attempt to try and complete that matters. This is because all of them started off with an aim, a goal. In a way, it’s similar to running a marathon, even if you don't win the race or are the first to cross the finish line, it's completing the run that is actually the most important thing. This is what I consider an achievement.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
I would wish for another million wishes and make tremendous change for a better world.

Katrina Thornley, Emirates Arthritis Campaigner

At the age of 18-months-old Katrina Thornley was diagnosed with Still’s Disease, the precursor of juvenile arthritis. Now the Dubai-based woman is an advocate and campaigner for the Emirates Arthritis Foundation.

When she’s not busy organising events to raise awareness for the cause she’s busy planning activities as the Patient Sports Director for the charity. Katrina’s main aim is to increase awareness of arthritis in the UAE because she knows more than anyone what it’s like living with the autoimmune disease. She’s had several operations and both of her wrists have been fused with titanium but Katrina says laughter is the best medicine.

Katrina has been able to put aside her adversities and go on to skydive, snowboard and even run a marathon. An inspiration for many, Katrina now instills her message into the lives of those who suffer with arthritis and is determined to prove that nothing is impossible.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
It was a great privilege to find out that I had been nominated for the Best in Dubai Personality of the Year.  I was very surprised to see that I had been nominated when my friend Simone heng sent me a link to the website. I feel honoured to be ranked up there with such personalities and I hope the voting public will support me. I endeavor to do as much as I can for the Emirates Arthritis Foundation and I hope what we are doing is starting to make a difference. It has been slightly challenging in the last year with another full time job and now expecting my first baby next year, but it has definitely been worth it.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
My greatest achievement I think was actually to get pregnant. It has been very hard with my arthritis and medication and has taken more than two years to get this far, so fingers crossed. I have done the normal stuff, sky dived, run a model agency and taken the lead for the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, but having a baby, this is what means the most to me.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
One wish, I know it is very cheesy, but it would be that my baby is healthy, fit and can live a happy and fulfilled life. And winning the lottery wouldn't hurt either.

Bong Guerreo, Brag Co-Founder

The co-founder and managing partner at Brag, eventologist Bong Guerreo is at the forefront of events management working to build businesses in Dubai rather than just expose them. With clients including Google, Splash, Moet & Hennesy, Puma, Heineken, Mercedes Benz, Microsoft, Iconic and Pernod Ricard the bragging rights for Bong are sky-high.

Acting as the Creative and Events Director, Bong has been in the business for 12 years and has over 500 events under his belt. He’s even worked with Sir Richard Branson and Colin Firth. The Manila-born, California-educated creative has also collaborated with the region’s best known fashion talents including Rami Al Ali, Essa, Rohit Bal, Amato, Ezra and Aigner.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best in Dubai Personality of the Year?
It came as a big surprise to me. I am humbled and honoured especially that there are some serious heavyweights on the best personality list.

What achievement in life are you most proud of?
A wise man once said that if one finds what he loves to do the most, he will never have to go to work a day in his life.

I am mostly proud of Brag, the company I co-founded a few years back. We are a happy, go-lucky, hard-working bunch.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be and why?
There is a secret dream project I’ve had in mind for years and have started to work on it recently. My wish is for it to be out of the lid and come to life very soon. Watch out this space.

Ali Mustafa, Film Director

Film Director, Ali Mustafa, has taken the Middle Eastern movie scene to international heights. His breakout movie, the City of Lights, was not only showcased in the UAE but it also went on to be shown at the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival.

Ali started his career as a Director at the London Film School. His short, Under the Sun, which he produced while at the school went on to gain a lot of acclaim in the region and internationally. Soon after that Ali worked the ropes of the commercial and advertising industries until he started directing his own films.

Now as one of the UAE’s leading movie director he’s turning heads on the film set and out on the road. Ali was named the face of Range Rover in the Middle East for 2011.