“OK, the job is confirmed, can you fly to Qatar tomorrow?”
This must be one of the most last minute jobs I have ever done. I agreed to go and wished Claire luck to hold the mantle and do a sand drawing for BBC One Show and a workshop in Helensburgh Scotland.
Qatar Tourism had commissioned an advert from Al Rayyan TV to make a commercial to entice other people from the Middle East to Qatar for their holidays. The advert was to show a Qatari family starting a sand sculpture, then they go and visit all the attractions and shopping malls in Doha and afterwards return to the beach to finish their sand castle which turns out to be simply amazing showing the Doha skyline and all the things you can do there.
This was related to me in Heathrow Airport and we hadn’t even found a suitable sand yet or even decided where the sand sculpture would go. Half an hour before flying, the producer Kwok Yau requested that I increase my team to make the sculpture more elaborate and so I phoned up my friend Ferenc Monostori who lives in Budapest, Hungary with a similar question “Can you fly to Qatar tomorrow?” He was in the bath and was a little perplexed but agreed to come.
So the next day we gathered at an office of Al Rayyan with the British film crew headed by Kwok Yau. As the commission had only been confirmed the day before they too had little preparation and I was amazed to see the wheels in motion. It was also dawning on me from my short walk from the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned building, that Qatar is hot! Around 45 to 50 degrees during mid-day.
I was then put with a local ‘Fixer’ called Sami. This was an appropriate title as Sami fixes problems that you may encounter when working in a foreign country and I found during the course of my stay that he is a terrific chap. Our first task was to find suitable sand and so we embarked on a road trip around Doha politely entering building sites and testing the sand that they were using. Finally after hours of deliberation on the best type of sand Sami had a brainwave and took me to the best sand in Qatar which will from this day forth remain top secret.
Sami and I then went to Katara beach to decide on the best place to put the sculpture which was promptly changed by the film crew to another place entirely. Here we worked with Deane Thrussell to make sure the sculpture had the correct orientation for the sunset light that we would use during filming.
Some significant challenges were now arising:
- We couldn’t use a machine on the beach.
- It was so hot that it made me sway and become immediately drenched in sweat so physical work would be very challenging.
- It was Ramadam. This meant that we had to respect local customs of not drinking and eating during the day because it was a month of fasting.
Sami’s solution was that we would resort to using lot of labour and we should work in the night. He would supply some fancy night lights as well.
So a couple of days later at 3am we all turned up on site. A truck with 20 tonnes of sand was surrounded by cars with their lights blazing, 10 labourers eager to shovel and a local film crew to capture the moment of the sand slipping off the truck. As the truck began to tip the sand, the film crew were poised. Ferenc and I however looked quizzically at the sand as it tumbled out of the truck in great lumps……oh dear. This was not sand but 20 tonnes of very nice clay.
The driver insisted that it was the right sand until I showed him the sample we had taken and he concluded that a ‘miscommunication’ had occurred. After some hours the clay was popped back on the truck and 20 tonnes of sand promptly arrived. By hand we and the labourers then began moving the sand over 30 meters across the beach to compact a pile. By 10:30am it was 47 degrees and I was totally exhausted, I am not sure I have ever felt so spent and my heart was pounding with the effort of standing up never mind using a shovel. I promptly went for a sit down in the shade and after 10 minutes of strained thought came to the conclusion that we would pack up and resume at 8pm in the evening. This was met with much agreement.
So in the evening we resumed our compaction marathon of moving all the sand and at 1:30am all was done. Little water was required to wet the sand as we were all sweating so much. Even in the night it was at least 30 degrees. All involved had worked incredibly hard.
Over the following days Ferenc and I were on easy street and embarked on doing what we do best which is to make sculptures and chatting to people whilst enjoying fine cuisine and very nice Arabic coffee. We worked from 5pm until 2am to avoid the heat of the day.
Three days later Ferenc staggered from the sculpture like some sort of pre-historic creature just before sunrise at 4am and the sculpture was finished. The dramatic shift in our schedule meant we were by this stage very sleep deprived.
But all was not done. The film crew arrived later in the day and our sand sculpture suddenly became a film set with actors, directors, steady cams, trolley cams, and drama. This all went on until sunrise until it was finally a wrap.
Ferenc and I then staggered into a taxi and went to a local market called The Souk to eat and soak up a bit of local culture. We had that little glow that you sometimes get when you have done your best, enjoyed yourself doing it, and have made something quite nice. We then deliberated on how lucky we are making sand sculptures all across the world and what a wonderful friendship has come from it. We have now know each other 11 years and I welcome another 11 years to come.