x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Lubna Habib: The spotlight shines both ways

How the audience responds to her, and how she trumps expectations, tell us something in turn about the capacity for change in the nation at large.

"I do this job because I get to meet huge amounts of people every week and show people that Emirati women are accessible and friendly," said Habib who grew up in Dubai and has been presenting for over two years now.

DUBAI // Her outspoken humour and witty one-liners are fast winning her a legion of fans, but there is a serious side to Lubna Habib that the Dubai One cameras do not pick up.

An Emirati woman working as an English-language television presenter, Habib has always been comfortable under the spotlight.

Since school, she has had a passion for the performing arts; that has evolved into a determination to turn upside down the many tired stereotypes that carry such currency in the UAE.

Sitting in the shade outside a restaurant in Media City on a dusty, afternoon, she garners curious glances from other diners in her pristine black abaya.

First up, the 27-year-old shoots down any suggestion that women in the abaya should be perceived as reserved.

"Emirati women are very approachable and talkative," she says. "I think for whatever reason expats see the abaya and view it as some kind of barrier. But that's not the case at all and I want to help change this view."

She credits her parents, an Emirati lawyer and an Egyptian physical education teacher who divorced when she was six, for giving her the freedom to express herself.

"I remember telling my mum not to worry and that I would look after her and my younger sister. It seems strange to say but I really grew up after that."

If anything, her upbringing made her even more determined. "I've always had this expressive confidence and desire to be on stage or TV.

"My mum has always said I have been a bit of a chatterbox and that I never shut up, so I guess being in front of the camera is the perfect job for me."

Her childhood was spent watching American and Arabic television shows. She admits a fondness for the character of Alexis Carrington in the 1980s soap opera Dynasty.

Her first taste of show business came when she performed a Broadway-style school show when she was eight. She was hooked.

"It was a wonderful experience and that's where I really got bitten by the bug," she says.

Her star was on the rise from an early stage according to friend Sara Jabbri, 29, from Bahrain, who has known her since their school days first at the Emirates International School and then the English College.

"Lubna has always had a very outspoken character and even in those days I could tell she would end up in front of the camera," she says.

"I remember we used to have singing contests amongst our friends and she would always win because of her voice."

Ms Habib studied at English College Dubai and Latifa School for Girls before doing advertising at the American University of Dubai. She wanted, she says, to study journalism, which was not available at the time.

A university friend and businessman, Abdulrahman al Hussain, 30, a Saudi national, describes her as "determined and single minded."

"She's also one of the strongest, toughest people I know, and also one of the kindest," he says.

"I think she embodies the true face of Dubai, especially being an Emirati woman on TV, and I can see both the local and expatriate community relating to her."

After graduating in 1999 she moved between jobs at a bank and an advertising and PR company before joining Dubai One as a researcher and writer in May 2009.

She quickly moved up the ladder, becoming a content consultant and then a presenter in April 2010.

She currently fronts the youth show Twenty Something, now in its second season, along with her co-hosts Marwan Parham and Annah Jacob. New episodes are broadcas on Mondays at 6.30pm, with repeats at various times Tuesday through Saturday (today's is at 2pm).

"A lot of our guests, particularly expats, sometimes get taken aback by my style," she says. "They are expecting a quiet interview and I bombard them with questions."

Her aim is to continue to develop her performing arts skills and to try standup comedy and acting. But that is for the future.

Right now she is happy to break down barriers and turn perceptions about Emiratis and expatriates upside down.

nhanif@thenational.ae