x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'I just wanted to hug him' says fan who grabbed Justin Bieber on stage in Dubai

Abderrahim Gotni, the fan who ran onstage at Bieber's concert in Dubai, has no regrets about his stunt, but is sad that the pop star looked so terrified, Tahira Yaqoob reports.

Abderrahim Gotni rushed onto the stage during Justin Bieber's Dubai concert to 'hug him'. Sarah Dea / The National
Abderrahim Gotni rushed onto the stage during Justin Bieber's Dubai concert to 'hug him'. Sarah Dea / The National

They are of a similar age, dress identically and know all the words to Be Alright and Die in Your Arms.

And there the similarity pretty much ends. One is a global superstar and is worth millions, the other lives with his mother in a small apartment in Sharjah.

Yet fate conspired to bring Justin Bieber and Abderrahim Gotni together on a collision course.

Gotni, 17, was the hapless Bieber fan who decided to crash the stage at the Canadian pop star's recent concert in Dubai. The disastrous result is YouTube history. In a clip watched more than four million times, Gotni - known as Abdo to his friends - runs towards Bieber with his arms outstretched for a hug and has barely touched his arm when he is rugby-tackled by four security guards.

In the ensuing scuffle, the invader - who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs a mere 45 kilograms - is pushed onto a piano, which then topples over as the security guards effortlessly grab his arms and physically drag him off stage - all while Bieber the trooper skips to the other side of the stage and blithely continues singing Believe.

Gotni has had ample time to reflect on the wisdom of his actions. He was roundly mocked when he returned to Salman Al Farsi school in Al Qadisia, Sharjah and blew his chances of hearing from the pretty Lebanese girl he had been chatting up earlier in the evening. But even the fury of the bouncers was little match for the wrath of his mother Saida Khalifi, 33, who says he is not an attacker, just a very naughty boy.

"I was angry with him for three days," she says. "Even though I was still talking to him, I was angry in my heart. After what happened, I burned everything he owned related to Justin Bieber."

Gotni, wearing his baseball cap back to front and sporting an acid-washed denim waistcoat and cut-off jeans in the style of his idol, admits: "I thought I would be in big trouble and go to jail."

Moroccan-born Khalifi says her son's fixation with western pop stars is the bane of her life.

"He is a good boy," she sighs, "but I have one big problem. It is Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and all these stars who lose me money.

"I know all their names because they cost me money every time he goes to a concert.

"Abdo cries if he sees Bieber. When he sleeps, he hears Bieber; when he wakes up, it's Bieber. He even takes him into the shower with him playing on his phone."

But her indulgence of her son is clear and she works hard to ensure that no expense is spared on his upbringing.

Gotni's Dh3,000-a-month allowance for music and clothes goes on Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, a studded black jacket from Zara, which matches the one Bieber wore in the video to As Long As You Love Me and a wardrobe to rival his hero.

Dressing like Bieber, he adds, brings him a "60 per cent success rate" with the girls.

When Gotni won through to the first round of the Arab version of X Factor last year singing Would You, his mother bought him a state-of-the-art karaoke machine, with which he practises singing his idol's hits for hours on end.

But Mrs Khalifi's doting is about to come to an end. After the debacle of his stunt at the Sevens stadium in May, she has banned her son from going to any more concerts.

"That's it - no more parties," she says. "I learned all the words to Die in Your Arms and Be Alright because anything my son likes, I try to like too. He is my baby.

"But now I hate Bieber and all the stars."

In an echo felt by many parents of teenagers, she mourns their former closeness.

With her husband Ahmed Gotni, 46, a flight attendant for Air Maroc, often away from home for long spells, she and her son were once inseparable but now, she says, he "likes his friends more than he likes me. Two years ago we were very close."

She reluctantly spent Dh1,300 on a front-row ticket for Gotni for that fateful night: "I told him that would buy food for two weeks but he begged me to let him go and said he would not ask for anything for three months."

And so to that day when Gotni unwittingly made international headlines. Having once managed to jump on stage at an Enrique Iglesias concert in Dubai, he hatched his plot on the lengthy journey to the stadium by bus and taxi and confided in his friend Khalid Zuhair, 21.

"It is his dream to be a singer and to duet with Bieber although I do not think that is going to happen now," says Zuhair. "He told me he wanted to hug him, say hello and take his picture, but I told him he could not do it."

Yet despite tight security at the event, Gotni saw his chance two songs from the end while two bouncers were busy chatting and another went to get a drink.

He leapt over a barrier and ran up steps onto stage with security in hot pursuit. "They were fast," smirks Gotni, "but I was faster."

As he touched Bieber's right arm shouting "Hi Justin" his hero turned to look at him with terror in his eyes.

There was, alas, no time for photos before Gotni was flattened on stage. He was interrogated backstage and sent home with a flea in his ear.

It was only when calls began flooding in the following day that he realised it was time to confess to his mother.

"For two days, he was in a very bad state and would not talk," says Zuhair. "He was so upset that everyone was saying he attacked Bieber. He was afraid of what might happen."

Gotni, who will be studying at the American University of Dubai from September, says: "I was just really excited to be there and thought if I got a chance, I should jump on stage to hug him and take a picture. I thought I would have a story for my friends but they all laughed about it.

"For me, though, it was something special. I have no regrets. I still like Bieber but I am upset he looked so scared."

Meanwhile, with a concert ban in place, he has a battle on his hands persuading his mother to let him attend Rihanna's Diamonds show in Abu Dhabi in October.

"I always tell my mother this is the last concert, but I usually persuade her to let me do most things," says Gotni.

His 15 seconds of fame have, however, given him a wake-up call and he has, at least, decided to rethink his career aspirations from pop star to sports journalist.

"I do want to be a singer," he reflects, "but this is a dream not a reality."

Tahira Yaqoob is a regular contributor to The Review.

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