RIP, Gary

Many moons ago, when I was still new to Dubai, I worked with a charity. Whatever It Takes was the brainchild of Charlotte di Vita, MBE. She worked out that by getting celebrities to do a quick drawing, you could licence it out to get put onto a multitude of items and make a lot of money for good causes.

By the time I joined, she had an incredibly impressive portfolio. Celebrities including George Clooney, Donna Karan, Chris Martin and Heidi Klum had drawn a ‘picture of hope’, written a ‘statement of hope’, and signed to say that they could use any or all of the images on things that ranged from t-shirts and mugs, to olive oil and wine.

Genius really. It takes 5 minutes to do and you can help so many people.

Fast forward a bunch of years from the start of the project, and I happened upon the chance to work with this incredible woman and help send money to places like the Nelson Mandela Childrens Fund, who were building the first ever dedicated pediatric hospital in Southern Africa. It was an opportunity not to be missed and I threw myself into all aspects of the job.

That’s how I first met Gary Rhodes.

It was at the Taste of Dubai food festival. He was there with one of his restaurants, not only cooking up a storm to showcase a new menu, but to meet and greet with his fans.

Whilst sitting with Reza Mahammed and Jenny Morris, collecting their artwork, rumour did the rounds that Gary was about to arrive. I couldn’t leave what I was doing because Reza and Jenny were so kind to give their time and their work. While I would have jumped at the chance of getting Gary’s artwork, I was having a ball where I was.

After we had finished up (you can see their work here and here), Reza’s kindness took a further step forward. He took me over to personally introduced me to Gary. It’s very rare that I get star struck (mostly because I don’t ever recognise anyone, anyway!) but meeting a chef of his caliber totally did it!

Reza had to run back to do his next show, and left us to chat. Gary was just lovely. He was being shouted at to get back to the kitchen, but he ignored everyone and gave me more than enough time to stutter my way through my name and my pitch. It was because he was so kind and totally focused on what I was saying, that I relaxed really quickly and didn’t make a bigger fool of myself.

As soon as I had finished a brief explanation, he agreed to donate his artwork. Without hesitation or consultation. He had a lot of questions but they were excited and interested ones. He wanted to know everything so that he could help promote what he was doing.

Before long he was called back to the kitchen for the final time and made me promise to drop off the things he needed at his restaurant the next day. He didn’t want to take them into the kitchen for them to get messed up, and he didn’t want to leave them out so they got lost. He gave me his mobile number and said to call if there was anything else he could do.

What a seriously lovely chap.

I now, however, somewhat regret feeling that he was as lovely as he was that day because I never asked to have my photo taken with him. He made me feel like we had been friends for an age, so it didn’t even cross my mind.

The next day I dropped the info pack and bits off to him. I considered calling to say I was on my way but decided that he had more than enough to do without me following him around any more than I had already. I dropped the bag off with the hostess, and explained who I was so she didn’t think I was some random and dodgy fan girl trying to leave an inappropriate gift! Her face lit up in recognition. Gary had apparently told them all to expect me and to invite me in for something to eat.

This is a good example of the person he was. He was doing me a massive favour by agreeing to do the drawing and write the statement, yet he wanted to thank me for including him in the best way he knew.

I’m sure you will now all be surprised to hear that I actually declined his kind invitation. I know I am! I really did think had more to do than faff on dealing with me. I thanked him profusely,by way of the hostess, and scuttled away.

At work the next day, the phone rings. This is how the converation started, although I may be paraphrasing…

Him: Hello Sharon, it’s Gary.

Me: Umm… Hello? How are you?

Him: I’m good, thanks, How are you?

Me: Great. Ummm… how can I help you today?

Him: You don’t know who this is, do you? *chuckle*

Me: *awkward semi laugh* Of course I do… Ok, maybe not. Sorry!

Him: No problem. It’s Gary… Rhodes… from the Taste of Dubai…”

I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I was mortified. How could I have not recognised this lovely chap’s voice?! Especially as I had only left the artwork pack for him about 12hrs before! That’s probably why actually. I didn’t expect him to be in contact so soon.

Thankfully, and with all credit to him, he thought it was hilarious. He was calling to say that he had finished and ask where could he drop it off.

Again, it’s a testament to who he was. The world famous chef wanted to know where HE could bring the artwork he just created for this charity. Another example of what a great man he was.

A few years later, at another Taste of Dubai, I bumped into him again. I was super shocked that he actually recognised me and asked how everything was going, and if his artwork had helped. I assured him it had, and explained that although I had left the charity a few years before, I had friends that were still there and it was going well.

We had a quick catch up and it was great to see him again. He had that same air of kindness that made it feel like I was catching up with an old friend. So much so that I asked if he had preferred my godmother’s tomato soup to his own. He looked a little baffled until I told him that the owners of the tomato farm he had on his show a year or so before, were my incredible godparents. The world really is a small place.

He laughed and assured me hers was better (even she doesn’t believe that!) and asked after her and my godfather – and even their dogs. It was such a lovely chat that again was over all too soon and left me feeling like I had just been having a natter with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while rather than a household name.

So yes…You guessed it. No selfie again!

I have hated writing this post, and using “was”. It makes me so incredibly sad that he died this week.

The news broke this morning and I was truly shocked. I still am. We (the public) still don’t know what happened. I just know that 59 is no age and it should not have happen to one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He should have lived to be 100 and watch the ‘natural beauty blossom’,

RIP, Gary. And thank you.

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