Billionaire guests, Champagne on tap and an auction where the bidding starts at £20,000 – British Polo Day in Dubai and Abu DhabiEuan McElland
Daily Mail Online
You can apply for an invite, but that certainly does not mean you will make it on to the guest list.
Welcome to the fabulous world of British Polo Day – the globe-trotting, megabucks networking road show celebrating the best and the highest of high-end and promoting Britain’s most exciting firms worldwide.
Now in its seventh year, the aim of each event – which take place in only the planet’s finest destinations – is simple: to act as a platform for businesses in emerging and growth markets, giving them ‘intravenous’ access to the global elite through a shared love of the game of polo.
Co-founded in 2009 by university pals and ex-British Army officers Ed Olver and Tom Hudson, British Polo Day hosts 10 annual get-togethers over the summer months.
Guests are strictly by invite only – and invitations have to be applied for. The group has a client list 24,000 strong but only a select few hundred make the cut for each lavish banquet.
Those lucky enough to attend are self-made millionaires, those well on their way to being, or the local and British polo elite. Also present are each event’s partners, significantly wealthy backers, and international firms looking to offer a foot-up to the next massive global brand.
The event has welcomed members of 12 royal families and 100 independent billionaires – the likes of Sir Richard Branson and business magnate Elon Musk, among others. This year the Emirati occasions hosted Sheikhs, a princess and some of the Middle East’s most influential business minds.
Needless to say the glitzy soirees are held in the most exotic locations imaginable: pristine polo clubs in China, India, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, Sumba Island in Indonesia, Thailand and the United States, to name but a handful.
Every detail is pored over by British Polo Day’s army of organisers, all of whom work tirelessly – usually after an average of two hours sleep after making sure their wealthy clients’ Champagne flutes stay bubbling each night of their stay.
Those invited are put up in some of the best hotels in the world, treated to spell-binding, unforgettable visitor experiences; catered to their every need.
For their maiden events of the 2016 season, MailOnline was given ultra-exclusive access to a week soaking up all that is British Polo Day: the networking, the thrilling live sport, and the al night after parties – socialite Millie Mackintosh et al included.
And where better to observe the true opulence and sheer glamour of the swanky get-together than Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
British Polo Day Abu Dhabi is the first on the annual calendar. Held at Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club – a lush grass savannah plonked in the middle of the desert, its entrance magnificently grand – the event is considered one of the most exclusive on the tour.
While most receptions take a smart casual approach, Abu Dhabi – at the request of the Royal Family, themselves attendees – is a strictly black tie affair.
It welcomes 200 guests, which makes it a far more intimate affair than the grandiose get together in neighbouring Dubai a week later.
But do not misconstrue: it is as lavish as any that follow. Guests on MailOnline’s table included hedge fund managers, luxury travel entrepreneurs and Lebanese business magnates.
The evening before the Saturday event, the latter of that group missed the welcome gala at the harbour-side Intercontinental Hotel, overlooking the Arabian Gulf. His excuse? He was racing in Dubai’s only legal ‘illegal’ street race. His car was the slowest competing. It was a Maserati.
That meal itself was even rumoured to have started late because M. Ron Wahid – chairman and CEO of RJI Capital, the tour’s presenting partner – was delayed landing his private jet.
These are the clients British Polo Day draws.
Abu Dhabi opens with a Champagne reception as the ancient game of camel polo, first played in Persia 1,500 years ago, rumbles on in the background. As the popping of corks intensifies, the game moves from four legs to two wheels as Brompton bikes are rolled out for more modern bicycle polo.
Both are worth a glance, but most in attendance will admit the competition is hardly the reason they were so desperate to be invited along. The networking opportunities are incredible.
Nicholas Dellaportas, managing director at Taylor Morris eyewear, waxed lyrical about the doors British Polo Day opens for young brands coming out of the UK.
It was at last year’s event that he found himself clinking flutes with a key player in one of Britain’s most iconic department stores. Twelve months on and the London firm’s stock is now on sale in Harvey Nichols.
The company – the baby of one time Made In Chelsea star Hugo Taylor and best friend Charlie Morris – are now on the verge of launching in one of Abu Dhabi’s most exclusive malls, something I found out from Maki Antonelo, a charming UAE based design expert installed by the company to help them stamp their footprint in the desert sand – introduced to the boys through Polo Day.
Jack Richardson is fast becoming the David Beckham of British polo – and he is the big draw at the main event. The strapping Harrow alumni – an England internationalist paid to fly around the world entertaining at exhibition matches – was the toast of the celebration, despite the Exiles continuing their now seven-year losing streak against Ghantoot. His swashbuckling playing style is a breathtaking sight, especially when he puts the squeeze on and his pony fizzes across the grass.
With their guests well-oiled before dinner, everyone is sat down for the much anticipated charity auction, raising funds for the Women and Health Alliance (WAHA).
Hands dart to the ceiling as the price for a private meal in a top London restaurant skyrockets, each bid egged on by the unmistakable, fantastic Captain Simon Ledger, a polo commentator come auctioneer flown in for each global meet.
The dinner sells for almost £3,000. Two other lots follow, before an Arab businessman applauds himself for securing the night’s top prize: a private villa retreat in the Maldives. Price? £25,000.
As the wine flows over five-courses, business cards flutter from hand-to-hand, phone numbers shared, follow-up lunches put in the diary. This is what the event boils down to. And it does it superbly well.
Waking up hours later, many seek the perfect hangover cure courtesy of the exquisite Nurai Island, a private beach retreat a ten minute speedboat ride from the Abu Dhabi coast.
Set on one million square cubes of white sand, Nurai is a slice of tropical paradise so far from the city you’d think you’d flown deep into the Indian Ocean. Its oversized sunbeds – sea or poolside – offer a dreamy haven from where to watch the waves brush the white sand as you bake under the sun. The food is also absolutely sensational, and overnight stays are imperative for unrivalled views of the sunset.
It is then time for the travelling party to move on.
In Dubai the group stay at the colossal Shangri La, overlooking the world’s tallest structure the Burj Khalifa, or the new Palazzo Versace on Dubai Creek. Huge rooms in the Shangri La offer a warm atmosphere. The Asian fusion massage is not to be missed.
Some guests also stay at Palazzo Versace – the Italian fashion house’s palatial stamp on the city- which is a sight to behold. The rooms are vast, decorated as minimalist, bright and airy. Every thread is Versace. Its lobby is exquisite, its Michelin starred restaurant is spine-tingling and the cocktail menu sublime.
Unlike the other global parties, Abu Dhabi and Dubai tend to go as a double-header for most of those invited. Between the two, guests this year were treated to spell-binding tours of the desert, and a boozy afternoon’s volleyball at Jumeirah Beach.
By the time the Friday arrives, the group are bronzed, rested and well acquainted.
British Polo Day Dubai is a lunchtime get-together in the sun, distinctly different to its sister event in Abu Dhabi. It roars with fun and draws a massive crowd – roughly 600 established or projecting businessmen and women.
As it transpires, it is also proving to be quite the celebrity favourite, with Millie Mackintosh and a number of her Chelsea elite dotted around the city’s Polo & Equestrian Club.