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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

TV presenter Lina Qishawi on preparing to marry Arab Idol’s Mohammed Assaf

A standard interview with Mohammed Assaf led to much more than Lina Qishawi bargained for.
Singer Mohammed Assaf and TV presenter Lina Qishawi are set to marry. Nabila Ramdani for The National
Singer Mohammed Assaf and TV presenter Lina Qishawi are set to marry. Nabila Ramdani for The National

Interviewing a showbiz superstar can be a stress-inducing experience, but Al-Falastiniah TV presenter Lina Qishawi took it in her stride.

Not only was her probing chat with Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf well received, she is now preparing to marry him.

“Yes, I guess you can say it went very well,” laughs Qishawi, who is only 22 yet already an accomplished media performer.

Smiling broadly in her exclusive interview with The National, she is immaculately manicured off-screen, just as she is in front of the camera. It is clear to see that Qishawi is hugely proud of the 26-year-old Assaf.

I met the couple in London, where Assaf was promoting his new biopic, The Idol, about how he escaped from Gaza to become a pop star.

While the film itself is all about Assaf, Qishawi – for the first time – is happy to offer details about her own life. “I was born in my mother’s home country of Kazakhstan and then we moved to the Occupied Palestinian Territories – where my father comes from – when I was 4 years old,” she says. She grew up in Ramallah with her parents and two siblings, an older sister called Kristina, and Khaleel, her younger brother. Qishawi’s father, an IT engineer, had decided early on that he wanted his children to be raised in his homeland, where they can speak Arabic.

Her mother, who runs a beauty salon, speaks the language with a Russian accent – something which Qishawi has always found “very amusing”.

Like Assaf, she carried on her education after high school, attending Palestine’s oldest university, Birzeit, near Ramallah, to study diet and nutrition. She then moved into television, specialising mainly in interviews with academics and health-care specialists. Three months into her job, she landed that fateful interview with Assaf. It was on August 20 and, the very same day, Qishawi signed up to Twitter and announced her impressive coup. She claims it was “just a way of announcing what was on the programme”. However, to many it sounded like a formal declaration that she had a new boyfriend.

Qishawi clarifies that the love story started earlier. “Actually, I first met Assaf six months before we got engaged [in September] and not just before the August interview,” she states.

They got together in Ramallah, and “we texted each other constantly and spoke on the phone as much as possible”.

During one of their early meetings, Qishawi cheekily told Assaf: “My family and I voted for you when you were on Arab Idol,” but added immediately: “This doesn’t mean I’m a fan of yours.”

But it is clear that Qishawi is now Assaf’s number-one fan.

“Our engagement party took place in my parents’ house in Beit El, near Ramallah,” she says, referring to the town that has been the flashpoint of some appalling violence during the current disturbances linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Qishawi is now concerned that it may be difficult to get her family from the West Bank for a Gaza wedding, such are the restrictions imposed by the occupying Israelis. For now, she has just quit her demanding TV role to concentrate on “my own real interests”, including studying towards becoming a clinical nutritionist. As for her new role of being Assaf’s official partner, Qishawi says it requires a period of adjustment.

“Accompanying Assaf on the red carpet was a pleasure, but a little stressful because of all the media attention,” she says. However, the couple’s England experience was not just attending ritzy events. They managed some window shopping on Oxford Street. Although Qishawi has one tiny grumble: “He hasn’t bought me my engagement ring,” she says. “He still has plenty of time.”

artslife@thenational.ae