x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Lay your fans on me

Outside the Palace gates with Bon Jovi's far-flung faithful.

Can't stop the rock: 17,000 Bon Jovi fans can't be wrong.
Can't stop the rock: 17,000 Bon Jovi fans can't be wrong.

The tanned British girl who was first in the queue for Tuesday's Bon Jovi concert at the Emirates Palace spent a lot of time on her metallic pink mobile phone. "I'm at the front!" she yipped again and again, bouncing up and down. "The very, very, very front!" Three not-so-tanned British girls in shorts and bikini tops disagreed. Ellie, Caren and Debbie flew to Abu Dhabi from England for the show. "We took a few days off, came for the weekend, and made it a Bon Jovi holiday," said Ellie. For reasons that never became clear to me, the girls were not in the queue, but sat next to it on the kerb. They looked tired from sun and sweat and standing.

"She thinks she was here first," spat Ellie, glaring towards the pink phone. "But we're first. We've been here since midday." "And they've already admitted that," added Caren. "So there shouldn't be a problem." I wonder aloud whether Bon Jovi is playing in England anytime soon. He is. "We'll be there," said Debbie. "Some people get season tickets for football games. We go see Bon Jovi." "Don't write nasty things about us," asked Caren, who looked ready to fall asleep. "We just want to be in the front."

A bit further back in the queue, there was another trio of long-distance travellers. Unlike the British trio, Cynthia, Lea and Samia were grinning and dancing just to be there. They flew in from Lebanon, where last week a military conflict shut down the airport. Until it reopened last weekend, they didn't know if they would miss their first chance to see their favourite band. For whatever reason, I had a hard time convincing these girls that I didn't work for Bon Jovi. "Get him to come to Lebanon!" they implored me loudly and repeatedly. "Everyone loves him - all ages."

"Even my brother is coming from, Syria," said Cynthia. Robby, Christina and Pamela, Lebanese teenagers living in Dubai, wore homemade t-shirts with Bon Jovi song titles printed across the front: Livin' On a Prayer; Never Say Goodbye; Lay Your Hands on Me. "No one is too old for Bon Jovi," Robby told me. A few men selling general admission tickets for over double their Dh290 list price hovered furtively between the car park and the line, which by 5.30pm had grown to include almost 200 people. A group of school friends - some Scottish, some Palestinian, some Lebanese, most spotty, all smoking and proud of it - darted about looking for something within their budget.

Since the concert was outdoors, everyone in line got to hear the band's sound check. At 5.45pm, seemingly as a reward to the devoted, they broke into It's My Life, their career-reviving 2000 single. Instantly, the girl on the pink phone hung up, the girls sitting on the kerb stood up and the Lebanese girls stopped chattering. The song's verses and bridge are neither memorable nor easy to sing along with. Everyone in line gave the first verse a hearty go, but they fizzled out by the end, at which point they fell silent, sucked in a big collective breath, then proudly and tunelessly belted out the chorus ("It's my life / It's now or never") for the first of eight times that night.