It's not every day you witness a Guinness World Record as you say goodbye to one year and welcome another.For me, it all began as I sat down to dinner on the beach at around 7 o'clock. That sounds quite casual doesn't it? Well, it was almost anything but! For I was sitting down to the Royal Gala Dinner - the real highlight of the NYE celebrations at Atlantis, The Palm and the guaranteed way to have a front row seat for the fireworks. It was a grand dinner on a grand scale, with over 3000 diners who enjoyed food from around the world, free-flowing Champagne and a huge festival-worthy stage on which live music played out all night long. All this, just metres from the beach. On more than one occasion during the evening I wandered to the water's edge just to see the sea calmly touch the shore in small, gentlly caressing waves, as if to remind myself that I still had my feet on the ground.
A record-breaking fireworks display
The best way I can describe what happened next over the following six hours, is that it was the biggest, proudest, most extravagant party I've ever attended. This sounds a little overwhelming, but it really wasn't. In fact, despite my tired eyes and aching feet (and perhaps a slightly sore head!) I would love to do it all over again, right now! It was a night of sheer indulgence, shared with others perhaps more used to overdosing on luxury than me - though I quickly caught up with them!
Of course the evening's crescendo was the fireworks, a world record attempt that as I wrote previously, everyone was talking about and before midnight arrived a cluster of guests were gathered to the left of the stage. I squeezed my way to the front and searched for a steady place to lie my GoPro camera to record a video and to also set up my camera and tripod, with my trigger finger poised over the shutter button. My phone was in my other hand and I began to whisper little prayers to the Photography Gods - Please let me get some good photos, please... - and then I waited.
And waited. The countdown came and went, people around me were hugging. I was still too anxious and focused on taking a good photo to think about missing NewMan, my friends and family - my index finger hovering over my camera began to ache.
I suddenly realised that I really, really, really wanted to see these fireworks. And so did everyone else.
All around me people were the same - the screens of their phones lighting up the sky. People around me began to get restless and they knocked the table my GoPro camera was set up on. I hurried to get it back in a good position. A teenage girl behind me asked why there was a delay and I told her that I didn't know. She responded with a full smile and she raised her phone up again, her thumb just a few centimetres away from the capture button on the screen. It's a strange feeling to share such a want with a group of strangers, but it's also fascinatingly unifying.
Suddenly in the distance the Burj Khalifa erupted shooting off fireworks from either side. We all turned to watch. His impossibly thin needle-like point was too far away to photograph on phones or my entry-level camera. Instead we stood and watched and admired.
"Wow!" The girl beside me said, dragging the vowel sound out over many seconds.
When it was all over we turned back to the beach and out to The Palm's outstretches. I realised then that I had no idea what to expect. despite many days of the fireworks being a focus. The real details (including the total cost) had been kept a secret and what a good thing too, it was what was keeping us all hanging on, desperate to see them and answer our curiosity. How high would the fireworks climb? What colour would they be? Would there be music? What if we're all actually facing the wrong direction? How will we know when it's all over? How will we know when it's about to start?
WHOOOSH! The sky lit up a bright white. Palm trees of bright light lining the horizon - as we far as I could see - turned the dark night a ghostly colour. It had begun.BEEP. I began recording with the Go Pro.
CLICK, CLICK. I began shooting on my camera, trying to hold it as still as I could.
"OOH! AHH!!" I couldn't help myself; I began to gush over the way the sky turned pink, orange, yellow, green... After a while I realised the girl beside me had turned her back on me and she was glancing up at Atlantis, the hotel.
"Cool!" I said, again involuntarily. Streams of light were shooting out from the roof of the building and the sky was just as bright behind as it was in front. These fireworks were everywhere... I already knew at this stage that my photos weren't great. And later I would learn that most of them aren't even that good, but in a weird way, resigning myself to this very quickly enabled me to stop focusing on taking the photos and just enjoy the fireworks, the celebrations and the happy crowd around me.
You know in the UK it's a little bit of a shared joke that when we watch fireworks we have an inexplicable need to say "Oooh!" and "Aaah!" in chorus. It's one of the few strange unifying customs we share. And you know what was really lovely about this experience for me, was finding out that actually this may just be a border-crossing trait of us all. Because last night as the sky went from black to white, it sounded like the whole world was "Oohing" and "Aahing" together at the fireworks. I am very honoured that I got to experience both that and a new World Record.There are more amateur or fuzzy videos of the footage here and here.
Disclosure: I am in Dubai as a guest of Atlantis, The Palm but all opinions, excitement and "Oohs!" and "Aahs!" are 100% my own.
Frances M. Thompson
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