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Hola, Cancun!


MEXICO: February-March means it’s time to escape the British freeze and cast out for warm climes. But where in the world would blend white-beach luxury in blue-sea tropical surrounds and syncopate hard play with a soft chill? Cancun met our party-relaxation brief with ease. Sat Bal


The Brief

Week one of our geographic was to be filled with solar-powered parties in a playful but luxury setting. The Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya answered the call like a natural, living up to its rock credentials.

Week two in Cancun required a change in tempo: privacy, peace and a reclaiming of the soul. Where better than the AAA Five Diamond awarded Secrets Maroma Beach in Riviera Cancun? A blissful recovery on a gold platter - around 45 minutes from the Hard Rock.


Hard Rock Hotel (HRH)

A 45-50 minute transfer from Cancun International airport, HRH played to our strengths with its ‘resort within a resort’ concept. The family-friendly Hacienda setting offered a hard-play edge of live music shows and beach frolics while the Heaven complex embraced a more refined adults-only isolation. Combined, the 1,264-room hotel feels vast as evidenced by the scurrying of transfer buggys across the lush palm-lined site.

Adult guests at either resort can wander across to use facilities at either Heaven or Hacienda. Stop press: HRH has announced that from the end of March 2018 Heaven will be managed as a family hotel so it’ll no longer be kids-free.





The HRH mantra is ‘undeniable excess at every turn’ and the pioneers of excess loom large here. Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Prince and other legends added a supernatural tinge to the stay, looking down from huge monochrome portraits. Jim Morrison (above) held court in the Hacienda’s Sun Bar, his hair a montage of vinyl records. Elsewhere, Aerosmith’s drum kit and all manner of artist personal effects in display cabinets reminded us why this place is called Hard Rock.



It really is - even down to ordering room service. So enjoy the indulgence of ordering up tea and coffee first thing, despite having a perfectly good coffee machine in your suite. The array of restaurants form part of the package too. Neither will you need to pack your favourite duty-free tipple; all top shelf drinks are complimentary as is the mini bar. Where things do cost, such as spa treatments, your complimentary resort credits will offer discounts.




The Bret Michael's Rock Star Suite


All rooms are well-appointed with hydro spa tubs, a private balcony/terrace with hammocks and complimentary wi-fi throughout. Views range from garden to the panorama of the Caribbean sea with first-quarter prices starting from circa $300 a night to $2,000 a night for the apex experience.

Upgrade to Rock Royalty status and the fun really starts with VIP pool area and your own personal assistant.

The two-bedroom Rock Star Suite (4991 sq ft) and the Rock Suite Platinum Rooftop Lounge (5,166 sq ft) raise the pinnacles of luxury to levels that bona fide A-listers would surely approve of.

Service is willing and warm, on a par with Asian service, across the board.


Beaches & Pools

HRH claims a private white sand beach and invites snorkel and kayak fans alike.

If the beach is your priority we’d suggest spending more time at Secrets Maroma Beach which was more expansive and less busy.

For adults only, the Central Pool at Heaven is just the ticket for sun, lounge, or cool off with an abundance of cocktails. There’s also a semi Olympic pool, cross current rhythm pool - and, of course, the crystalline Caribbean!


Restaurants & Bars



Hacienda offers seven restaurants including à la carte Asian dishes at Zen, Brazil’s best at Ipanema and hot Mexican at Frida. Caffeto is great for an early pastry breakfast or a late baguette grab. Over at Heaven head to Toro for a rich steak, Le Petit Cochon for French à la carte and Ciao for Italian among the five dining areas.   

For drinks, settle down at Heaven’s Martini Bar or the Sun Bar at Hacienda while Float bar invites the pool. At nightclub Club Heaven, live DJs starts the party around 11pm and take it into the early hours.   


Rock Spa



HRH boasts the largest spa in the Caribbean with 75 treatment rooms. On offer is everything from steam rooms to hydrotherapy current pools. The surroundings are among the most lavish we’ve seen and the view from the pools is inspirational. There’s even a yoga temple!


To follow: Secrets Maroma Beach reviewed…


Gray & Farrar Appoints New MD


Mayfair-based matchmaking consultancy Gray & Farrar has announced the appointment of Kalina Boyadjiew as its first managing director.


The consultancy leads with a policy of “No apps, algorithms or data matches” instead opting for a more personal bespoke service to its wealthy clients.

In a bid to boost global expansion of the family-owned British brand Kalina Boyadjiew brings a background of real estate and lifestyle industry experience to the role from luxury operators including the Four Seasons Hotel, Residences and Private Members Club and renowned developer Candy & Candy where she oversaw the sales programme and service delivery of One Hyde Park.

She also makes a debut as the first non-family member to join the business at managerial level from its discreet headquarters in a Mayfair townhouse in London.

Gray & Farrar was established by Virginia Sweetingham in 2005 and boasts over 40 years of collective expertise under the Sweetinghams.

Kalina Boyadjiew said: “Matchmaking is undergoing a seismic evolution as society falls out of love with the impersonal, random and casual nature of dating websites and apps, and further embraces the concierge culture which dictates that one must appoint an expert to ensure that every facet of life runs seamlessly. Gray & Farrar is leading that charge, combining a global outlook with bespoke client service, tailored to fulfil the needs and demands of the most discerning HNWIs.

“My experience in international luxury offers the ultimate background to guide Gray & Farrar through its next period of expansion, both domestically and across the globe, identifying strategically selected opportunities and partnerships along the way.”

Virginia Sweetingham added: “It is fantastic to have Kalina on board at Gray & Farrar. Her global experience is just what the business needs to build on its incredibly strong foundations, and to realise its global potential. We are looking forward to applying the knowledge and experience Kalina brings with her which, together with our unrivalled knowledge of matchmaking, will ensure that Gray & Farrar continues to offer the best possible service to its clients whilst becoming recognised as the world leader in its field.”


Neptunus Production Win

Temporary structure supplier Neptunus has been named the UK’s Best Temporary Structure Supplier at the Event Production Awards 2018.

Neptunus scooped the award in one of the most fiercely contested categories for their role at live events including The National Eisteddfod of Wales and Belgium’s electronic music dance festival Tomorrowland.

Judges said: “This was an excellent presentation, well thought out and creative and showed such diversity in the work they undertake.”

Neptunus reached its 80th anniversary last year and marked the occasion by launching an innovative new structure, Salacia. The circular Salacia was designed especially for Tomorrowland after the festival’s organisers challenged Neptunus to come up with a new and dynamic creation for their event.

The innovastructure was a key element of Neptunus’ Event Production Award entry which saw the company beat off opposition from eight other industry rivals to take the prestigious title in London.

April Trasler, MD of Northamptonshire-based Neptunus received the award on behalf of the company and said afterwards: “We are really thrilled to be named Best Temporary Structure Supplier in recognition of our performance at live events last year at a time when we were celebrating our 80th anniversary.

“Awards such as this recognise the efforts of everyone at Neptunus while our new Salacia structure also demonstrates just how creative our design team are. They are constantly coming up with really innovative bespoke solutions for our customers, pushing the boundaries to ensure that our customers’ visions can be turned into reality – and this is so important to enable us to keep ahead in such a competitive industry.”


April Trasler (pictured 3rd right) accepts the award on behalf of Neptunus with project manager Richard Treml (2nd right) and project director Ben Keast (far left).


Classic Ibiza At Ragley Hall Set To Sell Out

Organisers of the Classic Ibiza musical picnic at Ragley Hall claim that overwhelming demand for tickets signals a sell-out ahead of the event’s 7th July date. Lucy Reid

Ragley Hall (see link below) is the home of the Marquess of Hertford and has been the Hertford ancestral home for over 300 years. The estate is set in thousands of acres in the lush grounds of Warwickshire where Ragley makes its debut this summer as host venue to Classic Ibiza.

The Urban Soul Orchestra, DJ Goldierocks and a host of live vocalists will perform some of the biggest dance tracks from the last 20 years at Ragley Hall. Its sprawling grounds are to start a sun-down set encouraging revellers to picnic or dance, before DJ Goldierocks warms up the crowd ready for the USO and vocalists.

Classic dance tracks, huge screens and lasers will enhance the magic and visitors will be able to suggest their favourite dance anthems in advance, to be included in the programme on social media.

The emphasis at Classic Ibiza is on its billing as a concert for all the family. Visitors can bring their own food and drink, or take advantage of numerous stalls selling high-quality street-food and refreshments. Car and coach parking is free. 

Lisa Ward of Revival Productions said: “We’ve worked with the fantastic Urban Soul Orchestra for a number of years and can guarantee that they will put on an amazing show. My team’s job is to enhance people’s experience so that they want to come back for more. This includes selecting a beautiful venue that has the best transport links, ensuring that people can get on and off the site easily, all the way through to making sure that everyone enjoys themselves in a safe environment and doesn’t have to queue for ages to use the toilet! We’ve been overwhelmed by ticket sales at Ragley and I am confident that the concert will sell out long in advance.”

Classic Ibiza is also performing at five other venues this summer: Capesthorne Hall (30 June), Harewood House, Yorkshire (28 July), Bowood House, Wiltshire (4 August) and Blickling Estate, Norfolk (10 August), Hatfield House, Hertfordshire (1 September).


Tickets: Adults: £39.50. Children: (aged 5 –16) £17.50. Under 5's free.

Programme: 6 pm: car parks and gates open. 8 pm: chill-out set. 9 pm: interval with live DJ. 9:30 pm: dance set and laser light show. 10:45 pm: concert finishes.

See: www.classicibiza.co.uk 


Ragley Hall, click...


Dmg Events SA Acquisitions


S.AFRICA: Dmg events Middle East, Asia & Africa has announced the acquisition of five exhibitions and an associated publication, focused on the construction and transport infrastructure sectors from South African media company, Hypenica. Chris Page

The leading international events company and wholly-owned subsidiary of the Daily Mail and General Trust already has activity on the continent including Big 5 branded construction events in Kenya, Morocco and Egypt and SAITEX, AB7 and Coatings for Africa held in Johannesburg.

 “We know Africa is a key geography for the future growth of our business, as well as those of our exhibitors and visitors,” said Matt Denton, president – dmg events Middle East, Asia & Africa. “Adding these five events and the accompanying respected trade media to our portfolio is an excellent way to expand our regional reach, enabling us to leverage our sector expertise in new markets.”

The acquisition of African Construction Expo, Cape Construction Expo and KZN Construction Expo form a natural progression within dmg events’ existing construction portfolio. African Ports Evolution Forum and African Ports Evolution Forum – West Africa add a complementary transport element to the company’s existing customer base across industries such as construction, mining, power and logistics. 

The event support is augmented by Concrete Trends and its digital platform www.concrete.tv.

“Africa is a hugely important market to us so it’s only natural that we will continue to look for ways to invest across the continent, either by geo-adapting existing brands, or making astute acquisitions from capable, successful businesses just like Hypenica,” said Denton.

“It is great that we have the opportunity to see the brands we’ve worked so hard to create get taken to the next level by a great operator like dmg events,” said Devi Paulsen-Abbott, CEO of Hypenica. “The company’s approach to doing business suits our own company culture and the obvious synergy between our events will have a huge impact on the benefits the events offer to exhibitors and visitors alike.”


Time Flies At IWC 150th Anniversary


GENEVA: IWC Schaffhausen celebrated its 150th birthday and the launch of its Jubilee watch collection with a glittering gala night. Abigail Parkin


The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva saw some 800 guests join the party last night.They included IWC brand ambassadors and global stars such as actors Cate Blanchett, Dev Patel, Bradley Cooper and James Marsden, as well as sports personalities Valtteri Bottas and David Coulthard.


Cate Blanchett on the press carpet


IWC took the opportunity to show off its Jubilee collection comprising a total of 27 limited-edition watches from the Portugieser, Portofino, Pilot’s Watches and Da Vinci families.



The event was hosted by TV presenter Tess Daly with performances by Aloe Blacc, jazz drummer Eric Harland and singer Ronan Keating (headline pic) met with rousing applause. Brit Award winner Paloma Faith (above)  joined the musical throng fresh from the UK number one success of her album “The Architect”.    


John Helliwell of Supertramp and Aloe Blacc visit the IWC booth


A specially designed industrial booth at the SIHH paid homage to IWC’s since 1868 while presenting its Jubilee collection for viewing.


Blogging sensation and writer Kristina Bazan


The highlight feature of the trade fair booth was a gigantic time machine with digital display discs inspired by timepieces such as a Pallweber watch.


Model Adriana Lima 


UAE Claims ‘Largest Aerial Firework Shell’

UAE: New Year went off with a bang and firework display record on Ras Al Khaimah and Al Marjan Island in the UAE.

The celebrations took the Guinness World Records title for the ‘Largest aerial firework shell.’ Hundreds of thousands of visitors attended the New Year’s Eve event which was designed by Phil Grucci, CEO and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci for Al Marjan Island.

The event was verified by an adjudicator from Guinness World Records and the bid for the ‘Largest aerial firework shell’ was officially recognised. The award was presented to Eng. Abdullah Al Abdooli, MD of Al Marjan Island and Phil Grucci.

Eng. Abdullah Al Abdooli, MD of Al Marjan Island, said: “The 2018 Ras Al Khaimah New Year’s Eve Fireworks by Al Marjan Island was a spectacular success that welcomed visitors from around the world and cemented the reputation of the emirate as a must-visit destination for New Year’s Eve galas. Adding to the pride of Ras Al Khaimah and our nation, the event is a true testament to the joint efforts of various governmental entities, which ensured a safe and seamless celebration.”



This previous title set by the Kounosu fireworks festival in Sitama, Japan in 2014 was comfortably beaten with Ras Al Khaimah reportedly deploying over twice the firepower. Its largest aerial firework shell propelled some 1,100 metres into its orbit.

The dazzling display lasted 10 minutes and was set to action from 120 sites. Highlights included the shell packed 390 comet stars of size 100 mm each flowering into white, red and green, to recreate the colours of the National Flag.

Starting with a 10-second pyrotechnical countdown to welcome the New Year, the audience was first greeted with a canopy of glittering chrysanthemums followed by the four islands of the Al Marjan Islands lit in a monochrome.

The prelude to the Guinness World Record bid featured an array of silver and gold with the dramatic fireworks powered by the exclusive SkyEtching technology of Fireworks by Grucci.  

Preparations for the celebration started in early 2017 with the expansive area of Al Marjan Islands serving as a perfect template for a spectacular show. While it took over 600 hours to design the show by Phil Grucci, another 70,000 man-hours went into transitioning the design with a team of 40 experts including programmers, producers, pyrotechnicians and documentarians working on the project. The firework components for the aerial shell were hand-crafted exclusively by Grucci in their factories in New York and Virginia over a two-month period.

Phil Grucci said: “Our brief was to deliver a 'Beyond a Journey' design and to fabricate and display this amazing marvel in fireworks. The inspiration of the design was the unique natural resources of Ras Al Khaimah and the natural beauty and expansive space of the Al Marjan Island with a sense of celebration to welcome in the new year 2018. With the event, a performance art, we wanted to highlight the feeling of harmony and peace and the excitement and celebration of what Al Marjan Island is and is set to become. We are delighted to secure this honour for Ras Al Khaimah, which takes its New Year's Eve celebration to the next level.”

Musical co-ordination came from by Dan Mullins of Fireworks by Grucci and ranged from Race to Dakar (performed by Marvine Bounds Gordy-Benoit Pierre Grey) and Caped Crusader (James Price).


Paddington 2 Grabs Festive TV Slot

LONDON: Christmas has come earlier for the makers of Paddington 2 which has now grossed over £31m at the UK box office. StudioCanal sent us the supporting Christmas-themed TV slot.

Based on the best-selling children’s stories by Michael Bond the film is once again directed by BAFTA nominee Paul King, from a script by King and Simon Farnaby. The film is produced by multi award-winning David Heyman, producer of all the Harry Potters among other hits.

The sequel finds Paddington happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes. He buys the perfect birthday present in the form of  a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief…

StudioCanal is Europe’s leader in production, right acquisition, distribution and international sales of feature films and TV series and has fully-financed recent box office hits Paddington, Shaun the Sheep and Non-Stop. Its 2018 slate includes The Commuter featuring Liam Neeson.


See the TV clip here...




Spielberg's Ready Player One


Warner Bros. UK has revealed the official trailer for Steven Spielberg's pop culture odyssey, Ready Player One, based on the bestseller from Ernest Cline.

The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse.  Salvation comes in the form of OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance).  When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world.  When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
Joining Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse, Mud), Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Bates Motel), Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One – A Star Wars Story, Bloodline) and T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Silicon Valley), with Simon Pegg (the Star Trek movies, the Mission: Impossible movies) and Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Dunkirk) round out the cast.

Directed by Spielberg from a screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Ready Player One was produced by Spielberg, Donald De Line, Kristie Macosko Krieger and Dan Farah; with Adam Somner, Daniel Lupi, Chris DeFaria and Bruce Berman as executive producers.

The film is slated for release worldwide beginning 30th March, 2018.

See the trailer:


Lincoln In the Bardo - Man Booker Prize 2017

George Saunders is a confirmed maestro of the American short story. In Lincoln in the Bardo, his debut novel, he invites us into a book that conflates a (sort of) ghost story with Buddhist leanings in the historical setting of the American Civil War. By Sat Bal

The novel concerns the death of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie and the interplay between human and spiritual grieving. Saunders’ talent lies in building these disparate worlds such that we suspend belief and buy into his fiction. Thus we begin to accept the motivations of the spirits of Roger Bevins, Hans Vollman and the Reverend Everly Thomas, the principal narrators, whose observations take shape when young Willie dies and is interred in a crypt in their cemetery.

Buddhists see the ‘bardo’ as a spiritual holding point for human demise from which the onward fate of the spirit will be determined. Shades of Dante’s purgatory persist and, while the doom of the spirits feels laden, a hope surrounds the fate of Willie Lincoln. Partly this is because children are not meant to linger by their bodies in the cemetery and Bevins, Vollman and the Rev wish to speed Willie’s spirit on to a more promising destination. Indeed, the story unfurls over one single night.

Their own impedance to the afterlife sees them cast as grotesque mutations with Bevins’ body bearing multiple eyes and severed hands following his suicide. Yet these graphic deformities are attenuated by a narrative that tiptoes around death via euphemisms. A new vocabulary rises up here with a coffins labelled a “sick box” and “matterlightblooming" the flash that signals the next exit while the cemetery is a “hospital yard.”

The author cleverly uses the device of polyphony to introduce the many neighbours of this yard, their names signing off their comments. Sometimes one-liners, sometimes paragraphs, the comments vacillate from statement to conversation with the dialogue occasionally interrupted by a new spirit speaker - or several.

Although there’s an air of detachment with humans unable to see the spirits and the sense that the spirits talk only among themselves, cutting off the reader, the story isn’t without emotional tugs. This is best portrayed when Abraham Lincoln comes to grieve over his son’s body. Wille’s spirit is delighted to see his father arrive at his crypt yet mortally frustrated that his father is unaware of his presence:

Bursting out of the doorway, the lad took off running toward the man, look of joy on his face.

roger bevins iii

Which turned to consternation when the man failed to sweep him up in his arms as…must have been their custom.

the reverend everly thomas

The imagination and compassion that weave this novel together suggest that George Saunders should stick with the novel format and take a break from the short story.


Lincoln in the Bardo is published by Bloomsbury Hardback £18.99