Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Laila Abdallah attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens. (Getty Images)
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Updated 12 June 2024
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Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

DUBAI: US singer Joe Jonas was spotted enjoying a beach day in Greece with Lebanese actress Laila Abdallah as they attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens along with other celebrities.

The paparazzi shots sparked an international internet manhunt for Abdallah, who was previously identified by magazines around the world as a “mystery brunette,” according to the Daily Mail.

The pair did not attend the opening event together, and mingled among other high-profile guests, including former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, actor Welsh actor Luke Evans, French designer Olivier Rousteing and Australian pop icon Kylie Minogue, among others.

But paparazzi at the resort were solely focused on Jonas and Abdallah, who enjoyed a beach day on Monday.

Jonas, who filed for divorce from British actress Sophie Turner in September, was photographed swimming in the sea and lounging on the shore along with Abdallah and others.

Although the snaps sparked international headlines and speculation amongst fans, neither camp has commented on the photographs and according to multiple reports they are just friends.

The 28-year-old actress was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents on Jan. 8, 1996, and began acting in the early 2010s, landing roles in Arab TV series.




Laila Abdallah attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens. (Getty Images)

Abdallah can speak in sign language as she was raised by parents who are deaf and mute. The actress is the oldest of four siblings and previously spoke to Emirati podcast host Anas Bukhash about that responsibility.

“Because I’m the oldest among my siblings, and always I’m the one who does everything… I mean, I call myself the man of the house, the father, the big sister, I’m everything, so it’s impossible for anyone to see me cry, impossible,” she said.

Abdallah previously starred in a music video for Saudi singer Abdul Majeed Abdullah but her first acting role was in the TV show “Saher Al-lail” in 2010,  which was directed by Muhammad Daham Al-Shammari. The director also cast her in a recurring role in his series “Tu Nahar.” Abdallah most recently starred in the TV series “London Class” in 2023.

She boasts five million followers on Instagram and is known for sharing behind-the-scenes shots from her international travels, as well as her red carpet moments — notably, she recently hit the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In December 2017, she married Iranian actor Abdallah Abass, but they divorced in 2018.


Saudi star Fahad Albutairi on his new family comedy film

Updated 12 July 2024
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Saudi star Fahad Albutairi on his new family comedy film

  • Albutairi plays workaholic dad in Maitha Alawadi’s Saudi-Emirati film ‘Al Eid Eiden’

DUBAI: Saudi actor, writer and comedian Fahad Albutairi cites two main reasons for taking on the role of beleaguered workaholic dad Rashid in the new family comedy movie “Al Eid Eiden,” which follows a young Saudi-Emirati couple and their three unruly children on vacation at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

“What attracted me to the character initially was the fact that Rashid was a father. And I became a father myself recently,” the 39-year-old tells Arab News. “Also, it’s not very common to see millennials being portrayed as parents in productions in the region, and specifically in the GCC.”

Albutairi ’s second reason involved the film’s all-Emirati female crew, including award-winning director Maitha Alawadi, producer Rawia Abdullah and screenwriter Sara Al-Sayegh.

“Sara has been a colleague and a friend for quite some time now. But this was her screenwriting debut. And, for me, I was really curious about the script,” he says. “The fact that it wasn't slapstick in any way, or a little too on the nose when it came to the comedy… It was very much situational. And the premise just got me hooked.

“I also met online with the director Maitha Alawadi and saw that she was a very collaborative person,” he continues. “So that got me really excited about the film.”

Fahad Albutairi and Meera Al-Midfa star as a married couple with three children in ‘Al Eid Eiden.’ (Supplied)

Emirati actress Meera Al-Midfa, making her feature-length debut, plays Rashid’s wife, while Abdulmajeed Fahad, Layal Fahad, and Abdulmohsen Al-Harbi feature as their energetic children: mischievous Ali, headstrong Mariam, and shy Mohammed.

“I immediately picked up on Meera’s tininess,” says Albutairi, laughing. “So that helped with a lot of the physical comedy in the film. I had never seen her in anything before, so then I looked up her short film ‘Monster,’ which she was wonderful in, but that was a drama. Working on comedy scenes is a two-way street; it’s a collaborative effort. If the other person doesn't have good comedic timing, it can ruin (a) funny moment. That was never the case with Meera. She really came into her own when it came to the comedy. I think she’s one of the funniest characters in the film.”

At the heart of the story, Albutairi says, lies “the struggle of parents who are trying to excel professionally as well as have a pretty stable family life. It's a very delicate balance between the two. And in the case of Rashid, I think he's swayed one way more than the other. And the film explores how he turns it around.”

Albutairi — who rose to fame in the early 2010s with his YouTube sketch show “La Yekthar” and, in 2016, was reportedly the first Saudi stand-up to perform at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood — is delighted to be appearing in a movie representing local culture, humor, and family life. It’s something he believes we need more of in the Saudi entertainment scene.

“We have one of the biggest box offices in the region, if not the biggest,” he says. “And it’s happened over a short period of time since we opened cinemas in Saudi (in 2018). With that comes a huge hunger for content and for more representative films that people can watch and relate to a little more — especially if they're made by Saudi filmmakers.

“I'd like to see more family films like this one. But we also need a diversity of genres. There’s definitely a need for more action stuff, more sci-fi stuff. And I'd love to see that happen very soon,” Albutairi continues. “We’re still testing the waters and seeing what the audience's tastes are. As a content creator and filmmaker myself, I’d like to know more about the audience's thoughts through their reactions and appetite for different productions.”


Best & Worst: Actress Darin Al-Bayed talks fashion trends and bad advice

Updated 12 July 2024
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Best & Worst: Actress Darin Al-Bayed talks fashion trends and bad advice

DUBAI: Based in Saudi Arabia, Lebanese actress Darin Al-Bayed discusses fashion trends, breathing exercises, and bad advice. 

Best TV show/film you’ve ever seen?   

“The Pianist.” Adrien Brody gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. And I really enjoy true stories in movies.  

Worst TV show/film you’ve ever seen?  

I don't like horror movies because they’re fantasies and I don't like fantasy films.  

Best personal style moment so far?   

I absolutely love oversized clothes! You can wear them out, keep it casual, dress them up for formal occasions… Basically, no matter how you style them, they always look great. Even as PJs or when you're chilling with the girls, they just work. 

Worst personal style moment?   

I can’t stand anything tight. Neon colors are a no-go for me too. One time, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something new — a fabric test to see what colors suit me. Silver and gold were okay, but bright pinks and similar shades just don’t work for me, and, honestly, I don’t like them. 

Best accessory for a little black dress?   

I prefer when a girl's natural beauty shines through. Simple and natural is my style. I believe the woman should bring value to the outfit, not the other way around. If I do accessorize, I go for simple, petite gold jewelry, like earrings and rings. I hate necklaces. I prefer something subtle that complements the look. 

Worst accessory for a little black dress?   

If someone forces me to wear jewelry they think looks better, it can be tough. That often happens with photoshoots when there’s a stylist involved. They have their own vision, which can be quite different from mine. You know what works best for you and what you’re comfortable with, but sometimes they push you out of your comfort zone. So, I end up wearing the bulky, chunky pieces they pick out. 

Best fashion trend of 2024?    

I still think oversized pieces are trending, and I love that.  

Worst fashion trend of 2024?    

Ripped outfits. I can’t stand them. I just don’t see the appeal. To me, they make a person look like they don't know how to dress properly. I’m not sure how it became a trend.  

 Best advice you’ve ever been given?   

I forget a lot, but the best advice always comes from my mom. She's a treasure trove of wisdom. I’m short-tempered, and my anger issues sometimes lead me to do things I regret. I often wish I’d listened to her when I was younger, around 15, especially about breathing. She’d tell me to go to my room, take 15 seconds to breathe, and make this a habit before bed. When I finally followed her advice, it completely changed me. I thought I needed a doctor, but my mom was the doctor all along. 

Worst advice you’ve ever been given?  

“Do whatever you want” is the biggest lie and the worst advice. I need people who understand situations, especially older people with more experience. I can’t always rely on my feelings. I might think I’m making the right choice, but that’s not always the case. 

Best book you’ve ever read?    

“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” It inspired me to start my show “Ana Wa Heya,” which explored the differences between men and women in their duties, thoughts, responsibilities and feelings. I did two seasons. Back then, YouTube was the trending platform, and we’d get six to seven million views for each episode. 

Worst book you’ve ever read?    

I don’t really have a “worst” one. Some take more time to get through, but I don’t regret reading them — I think it’s good that I did. 

Best thing to do when you’re feeling low?    

Breathing exercises. Seriously, they’re incredibly helpful. I also write. A lot. I jot down things that are hard to talk about. I had habits that I’ve changed. Instead of ranting to a friend, I take a notebook and write down my feelings. I also do yoga and stretching. Or I go outside and sit on the beach. During this time, I don’t speak a word. I just write and keep my phone away. 

Worst thing to do when you’re feeling low?    

You have to confront situations. It’s OK to acknowledge that you’re feeling down and give yourself time to feel that. Escaping is not the solution. Give those feelings time, sit alone, and work through them. Then you can move past it. 

Best holiday destination?    

For me, a perfect holiday is doing what I love. Playing volleyball, going to the beach, swimming, and driving from one city to another with people I love are all I need. Even enjoying my favorite foods can make my holiday special. These might seem like small and simple things, but to me, they’re everything. 

Worst holiday destination?   

I can't stand being around controlling people. I hate when someone tries to force me to do things while I am traveling. Having people dictate where I should go and what I should eat feels really limiting to me.   

Best subject at school?    

I really liked history and arts. I love watching historical movies and exploring monuments when I travel. I used to enjoy them even more when I was younger.  

Worst subject at school?    

Math. I never understood it.  

Best thing to do to ensure you have a productive day?   

I always plan my day the night before. I can’t wake up without knowing what I need to do. Not having a plan makes me feel lost.  


Bonjour Saudi presents fresh travel and culture experiences for tourists

Updated 11 July 2024
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Bonjour Saudi presents fresh travel and culture experiences for tourists

RIYADH: In the heart of Diriyah’s Samhan district is an old Najdi-style house that’s been given a new lease of life as Bonjour Saudi — a ‘travel and experience design house’ and a local offshoot of UAE-based Bonjour Middle East.

“At Bonjour Saudi we focus on being a bridge between foreigners, expats, tourists and Saudi culture by creating experiences that showcase different parts of that culture — like cuisine, art, and tradition,” French co-founder Cecilia Pueyo told Arab News. “It’s very important for me to work routinely with Saudis to make this happen.

Whether guests are signing up for a multi-day journey around historical sites or for a two-hour cooking or art workshop, though, the aim is the same: to leave them with a better understanding of Saudi culture and history. (AN Photo/ Abdulrhman Bin Shalhuob)

Pueyo is a crafting enthusiast herself, and noticed a gap in the market when she visited the Kingdom and found it hard to access workshops on traditional Saudi crafts such as Sadu weaving, palm weaving, or Kabsa cooking. So, she wanted to create a space for such workshops. It also includes House of Artisans — a store showcasing local handicrafts like candles, abayas, handbags, jewelry, and more, giving guests an opportunity to take a piece of Saudi home with them. 

And Bonjour Saudi also provides guided tours across the country to popular spots including Jeddah, Abha, and AlUla.

Whether guests are signing up for a multi-day journey around historical sites or for a two-hour cooking or art workshop, though, the aim is the same: to leave them with a better understanding of Saudi culture and history. 

In the heart of Diriyah’s Samhan district is an old Najdi-style house that’s been given a new lease of life as Bonjour Saudi. (AN Photo/ Abdulrhman Bin Shalhuob)

“Even though it’s relatively new for the Kingdom to welcome foreigners and expats, (it’s clear that) people want to showcase their culture and share it with you, as well as their hospitality and generosity,” Pueyo said.

“Now, we are in a very important moment and shift in Saudi,” she continued. “This is what I think Bonjour Saudi is about; how we want to make an impact on people. Even if they only have one hour, we can connect them with the right person to deliver a message about the country, about the culture — about their passion — and I hope the guests will understand his or her vision of the Kingdom.”


Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations

Updated 12 July 2024
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Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations

Arab News writers share their favorite destinations to spark your wanderlust. 

ICELAND 

I had an inexplicable affinity to Iceland before I’d ever visited (how is there not a word for that?). And when I did visit, it exceeded all my expectations. Despite its harsh terrain, it’s the most picturesque country I’ve ever seen, and unlike any other I’ve experienced. And despite the geographic isolation and extreme winters, Icelanders are among the friendliest, warmest and most progressive people I have met. Iceland’s size means one can stay in the capital and easily visit the country’s many attractions. Despite all the odds, this land of volcanoes and glaciers has spawned one of the most egalitarian, eco-friendly and happy societies in the world. And if all that was not enough, its people and government are supporters of the Palestinian cause! It’s odd that I, as a foreigner, would feel pride in Iceland’s achievements, but such is my love for this country, which I plan to visit for the third time this year. 

Sharif Nashashibi 

The Godafoss waterfall in Iceland. (Shutterstock)

FLORENCE 

It sounds cartoonish, but I stopped dead in my tracks the first time I saw Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Seeing the glittering marble façade of what was the largest church in the world when it was consecrated in 1436 remains one of my all-time travel highlights. Florence, home to Michaelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” is a maze of Renaissance ingenuity and perfect for anyone who fancies fueling their cultural awakening with mounds of gelato. The city is so full of art history that I stumbled across Botticelli’s grave by accident in the quiet Franciscan church Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti. I’m not even sure I was supposed to be in there — I was the only visitor. That experience is emblematic of Florence, a city where you’ll discover masters and masterpieces in the most unexpected of places.   

Saffiya Ansari 

Florence is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. (Shutterstock)

MARBELLA 

Marbella, on Spain’s stunning Costa del Sol, is known for its upscale resorts, elite social scene, and gorgeous Mediterranean beaches. Stroll through the charming Old Town, with its narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings, and delightful plazas. Be sure to visit the iconic Orange Square, with its stunning Baroque architecture and lovely central fountain. Stop for tapas at one of the many lively restaurants and bars. Browse the high-end boutiques and galleries that line the Golden Mile, Marbella’s ritzy commercial district. For outdoor adventures, head to Río Verde, a scenic nature reserve perfect for hiking, birdwatching, and exploring. Or spend a day relaxing on the soft sandy beaches, taking a dip in the azure waters, and soaking up the Andalusian sun. In the evenings, Marbella truly comes alive. You can dance the night away at one of its renowned nightlife spots, or eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Or both. Marbella is the chic Spanish escape. 

Rahaf Jambi 

The resort area lies on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, part of the Andalusia region. (Shutterstock)

EDINBURGH 

Scotland’s capital is a memorable mix of history, stunning architecture, rich culture, breathtaking natural scenery, and warm people. The Old Town boasts an array of medieval castles and Victorian tenements, and houses the famous Royal Mile leading to the majestic Edinburgh Castle, perched high on its rocky crag and framed by the serene Princes Street Gardens. Don’t miss curved Victoria Street with its colorful, multi-story buildings — home to cozy cafés and quirky stores, including a beloved Harry Potter shop. Just minutes away is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano with 360-degree city views. Nearby, discover Dr. Neil’s Garden, a hidden gem with diverse herbs and plants by a serene river. Edinburgh truly feels like a place out of a fantasy book — fitting for a country whose national animal is the unicorn. 

Sherouk Maher 

Don’t miss curved Victoria Street with its colorful, multi-story buildings. (Shutterstock)

HONG KONG 

Going to a bucket-list country can be like meeting your idols — somewhat of a letdown as you discover their many flaws. But when I looked out of my Hong Kong hotel room window and saw the runway of the former airport that planes would thread their way through the skyscrapers to reach, it sent shivers down my spine. The city’s skyline is spectacular, whether seen looking up from the Star Ferry as it crosses the vibrant bay, or down from The Peak, the iconic towers standing tall in the foreground, nestled among the refreshing greenery of the city’s parks. There’s so much to see that it’s exhausting — but that’s OK, because this is also a foodie’s paradise. And as you sit in one of the many dumpling restaurants, or tuck into a bowl of noodles, you can be planning where next to indulge yourself as you discover just how much more the city has to offer. 

Peter Harrison 

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated territories in the world. (Shutterstock)

 

BUDAPEST 

Sitting pretty on both banks of the majestic Danube River, Hungary’s capital (comprising Buda and Pest) showcases the best of what Central Europe can offer, whether you’re looking for history, culture, food, or nightlife. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Buda Castle Quarter, Andrassy Avenue and Danube River Panorama) as far as the eye can see, the city provides a portal into the past with its towering castles, museums and galleries, ruin bars and healing thermal baths that date back centuries. (No trip here is complete without ‘taking the waters’ at the Szechenyi Thermal Bath, built in 1913.) 

But don’t let the gothic and Art Nouveau architecture fool you. Budapest is more than the sum of its historic parts and will surprise you with its sophisticated modern touches: from Michelin-starred restaurants and trendy cafés to sleek spas and up-and-coming design stories. 

Shyama Krishna Kumar 

Hungary’s capital (comprising Buda and Pest) showcases the best of what Central Europe can offer. (Shutterstock)

NEW YORK 

Very few cities can put all five senses into overdrive. New York tops the list. The archetypal melting pot, the city where you can find anything you need or want. Let’s start with standard New York fare: bagels. Every New Yorker swears by “their guy,” and who am I to judge? (But clearly Russ & Daughters’ Everything Bagel with Lox and Veggie Cream Cheese is the best — soft and chewy with bits of crunchy vegetables that make your tongue tingle with excitement.) Grab your bagel and make straight for the High Line, one of my favorite walks ever. It takes you through the Meatpacking district to Chelsea and on to the otherworldly Vessel in Hudson Yards. Lush with greenery and solely pedestrian, it’s a welcome oasis from the insanity of the traffic. As is Washington Square Park — featured in at least one scene of every NYC-based film. This small plot has a wildly diverse array of people. From a man with a typewriter claiming to be scripting the next “Schindler’s List” to a guy offering free hugs. It makes for ideal people watching in the original concrete jungle.  

Tarek Ali Ahmad 

The High Line takes you through the Meatpacking district to Chelsea. (Shutterstock) 

OXFORD 

From the grandeur of the historic Bodleian Library (the location of several “Harry Potter” scenes) to the architectural masterpiece that is the Radcliffe Camera, England’s famous university city is a treasure trove of ancient wonders. As you wander the cobbled streets, you’ll stumble across hidden gems such as the History of Science Museum, which houses a blackboard preserved from a lecture by Albert Einstein in 1931. You can also visit Edmond Halley’s enchanting house, where, in 1682, he made his groundbreaking discovery of the famous comet that now bears his name. With its picturesque parks and gardens, charming cafés, and bustling marketplaces, Oxford is a city that stimulates the mind and nourishes the soul.  

Ghadi Joudah 

England’s famous university city is a treasure trove of ancient wonders. (Supplied)

 


Mountains meet the sea in Georgia’s Batumi — a new hotspot for Gulf tourists

Updated 11 July 2024
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Mountains meet the sea in Georgia’s Batumi — a new hotspot for Gulf tourists

  • The Black Sea resort is becoming increasingly popular with GCC tourists. It’s easy to see why 

BATUMI: Georgia’s tourism authority has said it aims to triple the amount of visitors the country receives from Saudi Arabia over the next five to 10 years.  

With direct flights operating from Jeddah and Riyadh — as well as Dubai — Batumi is becoming an increasingly popular destination for GCC residents. It’s less than four hours by plane, and there’s just one hour’s time difference from the Kingdom. Safety and affordability are also major draws. 

Batumi has much else to offer, including 21km of swimmable areas along its coast, stunning botanical gardens overlooking the clear blue waters of the Black Sea, and, of course, the sea itself. 

Batumi Botanical Garden overlooks the clear blue waters of the Black Sea. (Shutterstock)

There is also the beautiful lush countryside no more than an hour’s drive from the city center. There, you’ll find walking trails through the tree-lined mountains and hills; valleys filled with vineyards; and rivers and streams that cut through the undergrowth. Visit the breathtaking Makhuntseti waterfall, which is located in the village of the same name. 

Another must-visit just a short drive out of the city is the point at which the muddy waters of the Acharistskali meet the clear Chorokhi river that enters from Turkiye. The two rivers join, but do not appear to mix at first. There are many theories as to why: some say it’s the difference in density or minerals of the water, others believe it is due to temperature difference. What all can agree on is that it provides an extraordinary sight as the two rivers flow alongside each other undisturbed before finally blending further downstream. 

Batumi’s surrounding countryside, then, is the perfect place to unwind, but also to get involved in outdoor pursuits such as mountaineering. For the less energetic, there’s always bird watching — hundreds of thousands of migratory species suddenly appear around Batumi every September. 

But you don’t have to leave the city to enjoy some nature: Batumi is home to a number of landscaped parks and gardens, including the Seaside Park, which runs alongside the boardwalk for 7km, and is filled with plants, trees and sculptures. 

The Kinetic Statue of Ali and Nino stands in Batumi. (Shutterstock)

There’s also the 108-hectare Batumi Botanical Garden — one of the largest in the former Soviet Union — in Mtsvane Kontskhi, around 9km from the city center. As well as the carefully thought-out gardens, there is also a zipline that runs in front of the cliff face – the greenery on your left and the sea to the right — and way down below. 

A stroll along the boardwalk provides views of the mountains, the sea and the modern towers that decorate parts of Batumi’s coast, as well as the mesmerizing kinetic statue of Ali and Nino — the creation of Tamara Kvesitadze which tells the story of a Muslim and Christian who fell in love. 

In the same area are various boats offering short trips to sea to get a wider view of the city’s impressive coastline. 

Away from the water, the city streets are perfect for wandering — the older, smaller, architecture offering a more-relaxing environment along the tree-lined historic areas which open into various squares where you can relax at one of the many cafés and restaurants. You might even catch a display of traditional Georgian dancing, where the men leap impressively into the air, while the women seem to glide effortlessly around. 

Batumi's Old Town boasts various architectural styles. (Shutterstock)

As for the food… be warned, Georgians love carbs. But it’s worth indulging in a Khachapuri Adjaruli — a boat-shaped white bread dough, covered in a heavy white cheese, with a raw egg on top. 

There’s also the traditional Khinkali — a dumpling filled with meat and gravy. Eating this is a skill in itself — you bite a small hole in the dumpling and take a slurp of gravy before savoring the meat. But do wait for it to cool before trying this! 

Stews are heavily featured, and if these don’t float your boat, then the grilled meat is a great option, alongside a bowl of Georgia’s finest tomato and cucumber salad — especially welcome after a few hours tramping through the winding streets or following a leisurely stroll through the mountains. 

Whether you plan to make Batumi part of a wider visit to Georgia, or simply to spend a week or long weekend here, it’s a great location to relax, explore, and — if 95 percent of Saudis surveyed are to be believed — come back to.