My style icon is Frida Kahlo. She was the perfect example of how what we wear is never devoid of meaning. Her handpainted medical corsets and decoratively customised prosthetic leg, as well as her extraordinary jewellery, showed how aesthetics can be a transformative source of emotional strength. Clothes are structures of meaning that we create for others to read – why not have fun doing so?
The last meal that truly impressed me was at Bu Tafish Seafood Restaurant in Abu Dhabi. The owner is a Palestinian who came to the Emirates as a teenager in the 1960s and ran a mobile sandwich bar on the Corniche. Legend goes, Sheikh Zayed, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, chanced upon him one day and wanted to give him a hand. He advised him to open a larger restaurant and gave him financial backing, as well as a secret recipe for maskoof, an Iraqi seafood dish. The setting is resolutely frill-free but the seafood is delectably fresh. Al Marasy, Ground Level, Building 3, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi (+971-2304 8187).
The best gift I’ve given recently was a moving blind-embossed photo-lithograph by Salama Nasib from her Shadow series, a portrait of the artist and her mother. I gave it to a dear friend of mine after we visited Nasib’s grad show together. A photo of a family trip to India focuses on the gestures of care and touch visible in these images.
And the best one I’ve received recently was a green agate necklace a friend designed for me as a thank-you for being her bridesmaid. Agate is believed to balance energies and inspire creativity. I love how the stone warms against my skin when I wear it.
The last music I downloaded was the full Dua Lipa playlist on Apple Music. I try to run most days – which my husband Charles calls a “walk” – and am always on the lookout for upbeat tracks. With her poppy sound, Dua Lipa is a perfect accompaniment.
In my fridge you’ll always find avocados – I’m obsessed. Even my children tell me to vary my breakfasts. There’ll always be mangoes too. When the blender comes out, lots of berries and bananas get chucked together to make something amazing – carrot, apple and ginger is another favourite combination. We are all chocolate-lovers and favour local brands Patchi and Mirzam. But nothing beats the dates from our family farm near Abu Dhabi, eaten with freshly roasted Blacksmith coffee from the brand’s speciality store on Saadiyat Island. Blacksmith Coffee Company, New York University, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (blacksmith.ae). Mirzam, mirzam.com. Patchi, patchi.com.
An object I would never part with is an abstract land-art sculpture group by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. It’s made from a mixture of leaves, clay and soil foraged by the artist from the mountains in Khorfakkan in the UAE, where he was born and raised. They’re intriguingly anthropomorphic – I always see them as a mother with her two children.
An indulgence I would never forgo is walking by the sea. My top three walks would be Saadiyat Island in the UAE, Vamizi Island in Mozambique on a very indulgent holiday and Salalah in Oman on a weekend getaway.
My favourite room in my London house is The Blue Room, so called as the walls are painted a deep Wedgwood. A velvet sofa was a gift from Charles’s parents that we reupholstered in blue, and placed opposite are two green-patterned emperor chairs that we designed ourselves in a sweet little shop calledf The Painthouse on Northcote Road. The chairs are ridiculously high because Charles is very tall and wanted to ensure he could rest his head comfortably on the back. We hadn’t a clue about measurements, so they tower above all the other furniture in the room and I love them. Kate Arbuthnott came to the rescue and tied these completely random elements together with clever lighting and bits and pieces. Kate Arbuthnott Interiors, 01935-850 130; katearbuthnottinteriors.co.uk. The Painthouse, 52 Northcote Road, London SW11 (020-7924 51180).
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could would be Hassan Sharif, now deceased, a close friend of Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. He, Ibrahim and a few other artists were pioneers of conceptual art and experimental practices in the UAE in the 1980s and ’90s. Sharif’s work encompassed performance, drawing, painting, assemblage and large installations. I would love to collect one of his larger installations but have no idea where I could possibly display it.
If I had to limit my shopping to one city, I’d choose Dubai. Away from its rather overwhelming shopping malls, it has a fascinating crop of concept stores with a little bit of everything. Comptoir 102 is a perfect example, a standalone boutique with yoga classes by the beach, regular trunk shows and an organic restaurant. For casual or eveningwear, I always pop into landmark boutique Sauce, which did for women’s fashion in the UAE what Biba did for London in the 1960s. The Lighthouse in Dubai’s Design District is a cool new concept store with a minimalist, slightly Scandinavian vibe. It’s a great source for books and handcrafted design objects and has a talented in-house chef, Izu Ani. Comptoir 102, 102 Beach Road, Jumeirah 1 (+9714-385 4555). The Lighthouse, Building No 6, Dubai Design District (+9714-422 6024). Sauce, Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (+9714-339 9696; shopatsauce.com).
The people I rely on for personal grooming and wellbeing are the Amro hairdressers in Abu Dhabi, which has perfected the art of the half-hour blowdry, even with my long hair. In Knightsbridge, the Hershesons Blow Dry Bar at Harvey Nichols is a close contender. Though I’m otherwise pretty low-maintenance, I can’t resist the Sense of Calm massage at the Iridium Spa in the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi. They use a blend of rose, jasmine and sandalwood oils, and it feels just as heavenly as it sounds. In London, I love the Savasana Sleep Well Polti massage at The Bulgari Spa. Amro Ladies’ Salon, The Collection Mall, St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi (+9712-679 9736). The Bulgari Spa, 171 Knightsbridge, London SW7 (+020-7151 1055; bulgarihotels.com). Hershesons Blow Dry Bar, Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1 (020-7259 4410; hershesons.com). Iridium Spa, St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (+9712-498 8996; iridiumspaabudhabi.com).
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a watercolour that Charles painted of the Cornish coastline. He works in finance but paints whenever he can find the time.
If I didn’t live in London and Abu Dhabi, the city I would live in is Florence, in a heartbeat – on condition that I could live in the same apartment I once had near the Ponte Vecchio, with views across the Arno into the courtyard of the Uffizi. From there I could see the length of the queues and decide whether or not to visit that day. One of my favourite restaurants is Osteria del Porcellino for its cosy atmosphere – Enzo Ferrara and his sister Maria welcome diners like cherished guests. There is also 4 Leoni, a romantic little trattoria on a square near Santo Spirito. My favourite is their signature dish – handmade pasta stuffed with pears and taleggio in a buttery asparagus sauce. In the Oltrarno, the Locchi atelier makes beautiful contemporary crystal alongside restoring heritage pieces. And I always make an appointment at Angela Caputi’s 17th-century Palazzetto Medici workshop – she makes one-off jewellery from synthetic materials crafted to resemble jet, coral or tortoiseshell. Iris Apfel is a fan, and included some pieces from Caputi’s Giuggiù collection in her Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition. I love her recent Ocean collection. Angela Caputi Giuggiù shop, Via Santo Spirito, 58R, 50125 Florence (+39055-212 972; angelacaputi.com). Locchi, Via Domenico Burchiello 10, 50124 (+39055-229 8371; locchi.com). Osteria del Porcellino, Via Val di Lamona 7R, 50123 (+39055-264 148; osteriadelporcellino.com). Trattoria 4 Leoni, Via de’ Vellutini 1R, 50125 (+39055-218 562; 4leoni.it).
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a novelist, perhaps. It’s hard to imagine life without some form of art. Art is not a career for me, it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I can imagine writing in a remote setting, perhaps by the sea – as long as I had easy access to avocados.