Season 1
Episode 23: Dubai: The End of ‘The World’ as we know it?

The dark side of Dubai’s sunny island paradises.

Dubai, the Middle East’s plastic fantastic paradise, is home to ‘The World’ – 300 islands in the shape of a world map. Their rise, fall, and rise again is a story of money, corruption and a level of luxury you won’t believe.

Super Skyscrapers, Lamborghini police cars, streets where it rains 24/7 in the middle of desert… Welcome to Dubai, the UAE’s most populous city and one of the richest and most absurdly ostentatious places in the world. Those stories of diamond encrusted Hummers? They’re all true. It’s the epitome of luxury.

And nowhere is this more true than in the city’s islands. Well, artificial islands to be exact. Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, loves them, and in the mid 2000s he built his most ambitious to date. We’ve been around the world on Passport but now we’ve found the world in one place. ‘The World’ islands, a 300 island archipelago off the city’s coast.

It’s one of the most ridiculous pieces of architectural engineering you’ll ever see, but the story behind them is equally absurd, and incredibly dark. This week we’re headed to Dubai for a story about obscene luxury and how it all gets paid for. The answer? Corruption. On a big, big scale.



    Food, drink, and beachside fun on the first Island in ‘The World’ to open to the public.
    Jaw dropping views from the top of the tallest building in the world.

    Designer stores, an indoor ski slope, and cupcake coated in edible gold.

    A mouthwatering, modern twist on Indian cuisine served in an indoor forest.

    Head back in time to historic Al Fhaidi and get a real taste of old Arabia. 


On Instagram: @passportpodcast

On Facebook: @passportpod

On Twitter: @passportpod

On The Web:

Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 

This episode of Passport was written and edited by Harry Stott. 

Big thanks to Sana Chikahlia, Peter Kirechu, Maira Martini, Jim Krane, Alistair Bonnet and Linton Besser for all their time and insight

The music on this episode was written by Nick Turner, with extra tunes from Lt. Fitzgibbons’ Men, Auracle, Musicbox, Off the Menu, Pickle Juice, Jake the Dog, Hint of Mint, Riverdeep Mountaindue, Automated Acoustics, Klaatu Verada Necktie, Tender Horns, Lobo Loco, Pollux Troy, Turku Nomads of the Silk Road, Ehl-i Keyif and Jared Gutstadt.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski. 

Eliza Engel is our production assistant. 

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are often spotted rolling through LA in their gold plated hummers and they executive produce the show. 

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and Passport’s very own oil dealing, bling wearing, diamond encrusted Sheikh, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.



ANDRÉS: Yeah. So for everyone listening, we’re, we’re in the box in the height of Barcelona summer, so we’re kind of mimicking the experience of being in Dubai by being in this box right now.

NEIL: We’re method podcasters.



ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.


[Song playing]

NEIL: The Persian Gulf is a warm, shallow sea in the heart of the Middle East. It’s surrounded by antique lands – all crumbling ancient citadels, and white, hot sand.

ANDRÉS: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Qatar – for millennia, they have all relied on this sliver of crystal clear water for trade, food and life. The garden of Eden was said to lie on its northernmost tip.

NEIL: If you looked out from Eden, you’d see a final country off in the distance, jutting out in the gulf’s south eastern face. The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, ancient tribal societies ruled by kings who wield ultimate power.

You’ve probably heard about their momentous Trump sponsored peace accord with Israel recently. It’s a country in constant flux, changing for good, for bad, but remaining bound together by oil.

With the money that black stuff gave them, the UAE built cities of gold.

ANDRÉS: Dubai is the Emirates’ most populous and famous city state and it is spectacular. A celebrity playground littered with Lamborghinis and Gucci handbags, plus the world’s tallest skyscraper. It’s a city of undiluted ambition in the middle of the desert and it’s succeeded against all odds.

NEIL: But how?

Well, Dubai is creative and audacious. The city of gold is home to some of the world’s most innovative and ballsy feats of engineering.

But how they did it? Well, that’s a different story.

Because this story set in a glittering, plastic fantastic paradise, sees architecture meet ambition in one of the most extraordinary real estate projects the world has ever seen.

But it’s also a story, maybe inevitably, about corruption. When the sun’s that hot, you’re going to end up flying too close to it.

ANDRÉS: If you fly over Dubai, the first thing you’ll notice are strangely shaped spits of sand poking out of the Gulf. These are manmade islands dredged up from the sea floor.

NEIL: You’ll recognize the Palm Jumeirah, an entirely artificial piece of land blossoming out from Dubai’s coast to form a perfect palm tree. It’s one of Dubai’s most luxurious neighborhoods.

But there are other artificial islands in Dubai, islands that are more bizarre and much more creative.

We’ve been around the world on Passport, but today producer Harry Stot has found the world in one place, a replica of the world in the Persian Gulf, just off Dubai. They’re called the world islands and their story is a saga of epic proportions.

ANDRÉS: You know, I usually come in here pretty green, but I don’t think I’ve been as green as today. I’m like a newborn child.

NEIL: Me neither.

ANDRÉS: I know we’re in Dubai and that’s it.

NEIL: I like your description of Dubai by the air because that’s the only place, the only time I’ve seen it from. I’ve been to Dubai many times.

ANDRÉS: It’s like the stop off point. Yeah.

NEIL: They have a nice departures lounge. You know you can judge a place just by the kinds of shops that are in their, like, walking terminals.


ANDRÉS: I mean, yeah, I guess so.

NEIL: There’s just like, Rolex, Cartier, like it’s…

ANDRÉS: Ah, right. You just feel like a homeless dude?

NEIL: Yeah.


NEIL: People are constantly telling me to put my shoes back on.

HARRY: Well from the air, I think is probably one of the best ways you can see it.

NEIL: It’s insane.

HARRY: Yeah.

NEIL: It’s like, yeah, a jewel in the middle of like complete blackness. As you circle to go to the airport, you circle around the city and the buildings are above the plane.


HARRY: Really?

NEIL: It’s mental.

HARRY: I think it’s always been this kind of thoroughfare, just because of where it’s situated between, at the kind of crossroads between Asia and Europe.

But even back to the time of the silk road and all that.

NEIL: It still is like, we were just talking before about how friends who would like go there for two years, work and then go home, put down a deposit on a house.

You don’t pay any taxes. 

ANDRÉS: Ah, right. It’s one of these murky places.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: I mean, yeah,

NEIL: It’s a transient city.

ANDRÉS: It’s like oil Vegas.


HARRY: Ahhh.

ANDRÉS: Okay. So what do you think? Do you think there’s anything we should know? Or should we just dive in?

HARRY: Obviously Dubai is part of the UAE.

ANDRÉS: Right.

HARRY: Which is seven sheikhdoms. The other famous one is Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the UAE.

ANDRÉS: And the most fun one to say.


HARRY: It is. Abu Dhabi.

NEIL: I like sheikhdom.

ANDRÉS: You like it?

NEIL: I like it.

HARRY: Nice word, right?

NEIL: It’s really good. Yeah.

ANDRÉS: I would say sheikdom.

HARRY: Sheik-shake

ANDRÉS: Yeah, cause I’m a sheik-shake.


NEIL: My sheik-shake brings all the boys to the yard.


ANDRÉS: It’s going to be one of those recording sessions.


NEIL: And they’re like, it’s better than yours.

ANDRÉS: I guess recording this episode in 45-degree heat might not be the best idea.

HARRY: The delirium is going to set in.

ANDRÉS: Maybe, yeah, maybe turn off the Flamingo.


[Song playing]

HARRY: People hear Dubai and they think gold plated Hummers, fake old Arabia, big fancy malls and air conditioning everywhere. It’s become Dubai’s global image, it’s brand. But why?

What’s the real benefits of building super skyscrapers and artificial islands? This is what I wanted to get to grips with. What on earth is the point of a Lamborghini police car?

But first, we should probably work out how true this all is. Does Dubai’s platinum brand feel real when you’re there on the streets? To find out, I needed to speak to someone who lives that life, who mixes with the great and the good of the city.

SANA: It’s so surprising that 50 years back there was nothing, it was just desert in sand all around you.

HARRY: Meet Sana Chikhalia. She’s that most modern of professions, an influencer.

SANA: And now it’s a full city. Whatever you want, there is something, everything what you require.

HARRY: Sana is originally from India. She’s a Dubai ex-pat, one of a demographic who actually make up 83% of people in the city. Apparently, it’s quite hard to come across a real Emirati citizen.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Dubai is a city of excess that blossomed out of the arid sands of the Arabian desert. The place around it is barren, a lunar landscape. The city has no right to be there at all. So to counter it, modern Dubai has set itself up as the opposite. It’s the epitome of luxury.

SANA: Dubai, if they dream it, they actually try to achieve that.

There’s another underwater hotel, so Atlantis. When you wake up, there’s all fishes swimming all around you.

Every year, they have an exhibition over here for only cars. I’ve even seen diamond crusted cars and gold covered cars. And the police over here, they do have the best cars, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, Mercedes.

HARRY: Turns out I wasn’t dreaming. You’ll see diamond encrusted Lambos and Aston Martin police cars rolling by in Dubai. You can’t beat that for indulgence.

SANA: There are a lot of, uh, celebs who come and stay here. A met a lot of, uh, chefs so Greg Malouf, there is, uh, Gordon Ramsey who keeps coming here quite often.

HARRY: David Beckham has a place in Dubai.

So does Giorgio Armani. Lindsay Lohan has been hiding away there from the paparazzi for the past few years. Because if you’ve got the cash to burn, you can live like a genuine king in Dubai. And if you’re planning a trip, it’s going to revolve around the beach, fancy food and shopping. The last of these takes place in Dubai’s notorious malls.

They’re basically the center of life in the city.

SANA: Yeah, the malls are a central part of Dubai. In the mall you can even find a ski park, an aquarium, the biggest aquarium in the world, a dancing fountain. Whatever you want there is in the mall. So you can easily spend a few weeks in Dubai without getting bored.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The biggest mall of the them all? The Dubai mall in the city’s downtown. At 12 million square feet – that’s 275 acres of space – it’s not just Dubai’s biggest, it’s the world’s biggest

SANA: People do tend to go to the mall a lot more because it’s all air condition. Whereas if you go outdoor, especially in the summer, it’s like standing in the oven and I’m not sure if you’ve seen videos, but they show where they fry eggs on the car, because then it’s actually fried.

[Walking around]

HARRY: The streets of Dubai are actually not that busy to walk around. It’s hot here, seriously hot. Plus 100 degrees hot every day in summer.

SANA: We also have, I’m not sure if you have heard, but cloud seeding because it gets so hot, the government actually does fake rain just to make us feel better and we look forward to it.

HARRY: Cloud seeding is manmade rain. Dubai even control the weather.

SANA: And when it rains, the roads are so busy because everybody wants to go outdoors. You know, you’ll be seeing on Twitter and Instagram, you will be sharing, oh, it’s raining, see the clouds and they’ll be sharing their favorite food combination of hot chocolate and marshmallow.

HARRY: As a Brit, this is possibly the weirdest thing I’ve heard yet. We spend our lives running away from the rain. In Dubai, they’re running towards it.

SANA: Just the other day I heard they’re making a street in Dubai where it will rain 365 days constantly. Initially, I was like oh my gosh, I was so surprised, but then I was like, oh yeah, it’s Dubai, you know, they can do anything, whatever you think, they can actually make it happen.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Things that are normal in Dubai are not normal anywhere else. It’s that kind of place, Las Vegassy vibe. Capitalism unchained.

And that’s down to more than just Dubai’s wealthy residents. To build the malls, the skyscrapers, the underwater hotels, you’ve got to have someone in charge who is willing to loosen the purse strings when they need to be loosened.

You’ve got to have an economy set up to pursue the most outrageous of projects.

JIM: They are the first and only successful post oil economy in the Middle East, full stop.

HARRY: That’s Jim Crane, an American reporter and a fellow at Rice University. He lived in Dubai during the early nineties and found it so fascinating he wrote a book about it. It’s the best modern history of Dubai there is.

JIM: I moved there from Iraq.

I was in Iraq and in the, in 2003, 2004, as the country was basically being destroyed and moved to Dubai, which was just kicking off this incredible boom and basically just rising up into, you know, magnificence.

HARRY: He has the gruff, no nonsense voice of a war reporter, which is what he used to be. It’s the kind of attitude you need to succeed in this part of the world.

JIM: I used to call home once in a while, and you know, people say, well, where are you calling from? And I’d say, well, I’m calling from Dubai. And they’re like, oh, where is that? And I’d be like, well, it’s right next to Saudi Arabia and right across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

And they’re like, oh, you know, you keep your head down. I’m going to pray for you. And I’m like, well, you know, it’d be sitting on my balcony, overlooking the pool with the palm trees.

I said, well, maybe you’ve already been praying for me because I got a pretty good over here.

HARRY: Jim was in Dubai during the good times, the boom years of the early two thousands, but the city’s history, wasn’t always palm trees, swimming pools, and easy living.

Until the sixties, the region was barely inhabited and much less explored, the most desolate corner of a desolate land as Jim puts it in his book.

[Crickets chirping]

HARRY: The hardy tribes who lived in this place of dust storms, salt crusted tidal flats and cavernous gorges made a little money diving down into the gulf for pearls.

[Water splashing]

HARRY: Or sending their slaves to dive down, I should say. The UAE only banned slaves in 1963. More on that in a bit.

It wasn’t until they struck oil in the sixties that things really began to change. And oh, did they.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The impact of oil on the entire Arabian peninsula was enormous. It went from a place of wandering nomadic tribes to the modern air conditioned super states we know today.

[Song playing]

HARRY But Dubai never actually had that much oil, not compared to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, anyway. So instead, they chose to focus on trade and tourism, pumping what oil money they got into vast infrastructure projects like ports and skyscrapers. This is the post-oil economy that Jim mentioned earlier.

Well, I say they chose, we’re really talking about two men doing all the choosing.

JIM: Dubai is, it is as we know it now, basically because of the personalities of two people, Sheikh Rashid and his son Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, who’s now the ruler.

HARRY: Dubai has been ruled by the Al Maktoum families since 1833, but Sheikh Rashid, who died in 1990 and his son Shaikh Mohammed who’s in charge now are by far its most influential rulers. And in Dubai, the Sheik’s powers are all encompassing.

JIM: I mean, Dubai is autocratic. As autocratic as it gets. Politics are illegal. You know, political parties are illegal.

HARRY: The city today is created in the Sheiks’ image. And Rashid and Mohammed were as creative as they were ambitious, Mohammed particularly. He changed Dubai from his father’s city of pragmatism to one of opulence, an ostentatious tourist hub to be envied the world over.

Jim actually worked as a consultant for Mohammed when he was in Dubai. So he’s seen firsthand how Dubai’s king of kings operates.

JIM: He’s just an extreme motivator. Partially by fear, but also partially by kind of personal force of his personality.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Mohammed sounds more like an entrepreneur than a king. He’s made the city pretty much tax-free. I mean, that’s why lots of foreigners head there. But to attract the ex-pats and businesses, there’s a bit of social leeway as well.

JIM: I was constantly surprised by the level of, of social freedom. So political freedom, absolutely not, you know, full stop, but social freedoms are plentiful.

HARRY: Does Dubai follow sort of strict muslin rules?

JIM: It certainly does not, no.

I mean, um, you know, you cross the border into Saudi Arabia and it is very different. You can feel it right away. I used to play softball and it was right next to one of the biggest brothels in town. So there would be hookers in the, in the stands, in the bleachers watching us play and I’d come back to my car afterward and sometimes there’d be two or three prostitutes sitting on my car.

HARRY: There’s a curious dichotomy in Dubai. It’s fundamentally autocratic, but in certain ways it can be surprisingly liberal on the bad sides and it is really bad. You’ve got the stories of Sheikh Mohammed kidnapping his own daughters, multiple times.

[News report: a missing Emirati princess, a French spy, a yacht seized in international waters. It has the hallmarks of being a bestselling geopolitical thriller, but this is no novel.]

HARRY: That was the recent story of Mohammed’s daughter, Princess Latifa. She tried to escape Dubai in 2018 on a yacht. Mohammed found out and sent armed commandos to bring her back. Apparently she was screaming she’d rather be shot than return.

His other daughter Shamsa pulled a similar trick back in 2000, but she was returned to her dad’s loving embrace too. She hasn’t been seen in public since.

And remember I said slavery was only banned in the UAE in 1963? Well, modern slavery is alive and well in Dubai in the guise of a vastly exploitative work sponsorship system called Kafala. 

Have a look at the damning reports on the treatment of migrant workers from Human Rights Watch, and you’ll get the full picture.

[Archival report: tens of thousands of women every single year migrate to the United Arab Emirates. We found that many of them were subject to egregious level of abuses.]

HARRY: But for the Dubai elites and the celebs and footballers who holiday there, Dubai is really quite permissive, even if they’re having fun on the back of South Asian workers toiling for almost nothing in the desert sun.

People turning a blind eye to abuses and the stuff going on behind the luxury is really how the city has been able to march to modernity at such a pace.

Sure, Dubai may glitter. But the gold is blacker than you think. And nowhere more so than in its buildings, because Dubai is home to the world’s most ostentatious architecture.


NEIL: That was like, that’s some dark bling.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. I feel like I need a shower.


ANDRÉS: And then how you get from that tribal culture on the Persian Gulf to diamond encrusted Lamborghinis.

HARRY: 40 years.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. And, and a place where it’s like, so inhospitable outside that you build basically the most insane hotels on earth.

NEIL: Or a street where it rains 24 hours a day.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. I mean, that’s the, when you, when you’re at the point where your government makes rain, that is like comic book villain shit.

HARRY: Yeah.

NEIL: I don’t know if you guys, have you seen the, uh, that, the time lapse footage of the city being built?

ANDRÉS: Of Dubai?

NEIL: Yeah. It looks, it looks like the intro to the Lego movie.

These just cranes going [making noises].

HARRY: Yeah and one of the most interesting things looking into it is the influence of these two Sheiks. You know, they’re basically, it’s like a fascist state. It’s a totalitarian state essentially. But when you have two rulers who arebasically like business savvy.


HARRY: So if you kind of dismiss the, you know, the way they did it and the awful things that went on behind it. It is

NEIL: It is actually pretty cool. It’s impressive, isn’t it?

ANDRÉS: It’s impressive. You can definitely say it’s extraordinary because usually when you have a kind of dictatorial figure, it’s just, you know, portraits of themselves, pictures of them looking at goats, starving farmers.

HARRY: I’m sure there is that. I’m sure there is that.

ANDRÉS: There’s a little bit of that as well. But rarely is it like let’s make the whole country into a business venture, right?

NEIL: Yeah. It does remind me of like Vegas though. It’s very,

ANDRÉS: It’s got that Vegas thing. I was going to say Vegas on steroids, but maybe Vegas on meth.


NEIL: Vegas on Molly.


ANDRÉS: Yeah, because it’s like heightened, it’s, it’s volume up to 11 Vegas.

NEIL: Yeah.

[Song playing]

HARRY: So, we’ve been behind the camera, now let’s get in front of it. One of the main things people are going to Dubai for: to take snaps of, pictures in and selfies on top of are its buildings. They are utterly ridiculous.

JIM: The Burj Al Arab, that was opened in 1999, I mean, this sort of sail shaped hotel, very iconic, uh, that really put it on the map.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Dubai’s lavish skyscrapers and hotels are the thing it is known for, perhaps above all else. The seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel is opulence made flesh. Turn up and you’ll be offered a complimentary pickup in a Rolls Royce, plied with dates and rosewater as you head up in a gold-plated elevator past gold plated pillars to your $24,000 a night room.

It’s opening basically marks the point when Dubai truly exploded.

People call the early years of the new millennium the super boom. For the first time, foreigners were allowed to buy property, sending the market into a frenzy.

JIM: You know, it was basically a city erupting onto the face of the earth. Trying to buy a home as, as things heated up, it was like a fish market. You had buyers pushing and shoving, you know, trying to cut in front of each other in line, outbidding each other. The boom was uh, just such an unbridled boom, that it was, um, it, you started to feel it physically.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The crowning architectural glory of this period is undoubtedly the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest buildings since it went up in 2009.

You’ve probably seen a picture of it, even if you didn’t realize. It’s half a mile high, twice the size of the empire state and stacked up like an uneven card castle, it’s spiked top poking way above the clouds.

[Plane flying and waves crashing]

HARRY: Dubai’s gleaming skyscrapers are undoubtedly the city’s crown, but its most prized jewels lie not in the sky, but just off the coast. And they’re not made of steel and glass, but sand.

JIM: So when we moved to Dubai, the shoreline did not have it’s manmade looks to it, nothing like what, uh, what happened, you know, once the first Palm was built.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The Palm, or the Palm Jumeirah to give it its full title, is an island.

A manmade island. A manmade island in the shape of a palm tree with a series of leaf-like spits unfurling into the water. It’s full of villas and high-rise hotels each with their own slice of beach front. At one point, there was actually going to be a Trump hotel on there.

[TRUMP: I’m doing a big building in Dubai, a fantastic building, a hotel, right smack in the best location, right in the middle of Dubai]

HARRY: But the Palm Jumeirah doesn’t really look like an island at all, not a normal one.

It’s more like a work of art. So the question that comes to mind when you see it is, how on earth did they build it?

How do you go about creating your very own island?

[Song playing]

ALASTAIR: The story of manmade islands is much older than people think. Uh, I know we’re building a lot now, but actually we’ve been building them for thousands of years.

HARRY: To find some answers, I called up Alastair Bonnet, a geography professor at Newcastle University in the north of the UK. He just wrote the book on artificial islands, but I know what you’re thinking. A geography professor, elbow patches, boring lectures about tectonic plates, but Alastair isn’t your normal academic. He’s more like an explorer.

ALASTAIR: The Gulf States became the go to place for island building. The Palm Jumeirah is really an iconic artificial island. It’s seen as a huge success.

HARRY: In Dubai’s tourism push, they focused on one thing they knew they could do well. Beach time. But Sheikh Mohammed saw a problem – by the early 2000s, they had run out of coast.

The space they had was already full up with boutique hotels and villas. His solution was as ludicrous as it was ambitious. Build more coast, have more space for tourists. The Palm Jumeirah was the first attempt at this and it was a roaring success. By dredging up the sea floor and blasting rocks out of nearby mountains and putting this all together in the gulf, they made manmade islands that add 50 miles to Dubai’s coast.

The opening party saw Robert DeNiro, Charlize Theron, Michael Jordan, Janet Jackson, and Shirley Bassey come to watch Kylie Minogue sing. And David Beckham was one of the first to buy a house on it.

It was masterfully marketed. Most of the plots were sold before it was even built in 2006. In fact, it was so successful, Mohammed wanted to make more.

ALASTAIR: So there have been various Palms planned, but only partly built. The Palm Jumeirah actually has a larger sister up the coast called the Palm Jebel Ali. And it’s bigger than the Palm Jumeirah.

HARRY: This was when things began to go a bit wrong. Drunk on the thrill of island making, the Sheikh wanted to go bigger and more elaborate. So he built the Palm Jebel Ali, an even larger version of the Jumeirah poised to be topped with houses, pools, and trees. But look now, it’s just sand.

Then there’s the Deira islands, a swirling mass near the Palm Jebel Ali. But they too lie undeveloped. At one point, there were even plans for islands in the shape of a poem, calligraphy sketched into the sea. The poem, which was written by the sheikh himself went as follows:

ALASTAIR: Take wisdom only from the wise. Not everyone who rides a horse is a jockey. It takes a man of vision to write on water. Great men rise to great challenges.

HARRY: Silver tongued as Mohammed no doubt is, the calligraphy islands also never got built. The Jumeirah is actually the only one with people living on it. We’ll find out why in a bit.

[Person talking]

By now, I think we’ve got the cut of Dubai’s gib. It’s absurdly ambitious with a leader strong-willed enough to follow his creative whims no matter the scale. It’s utterly global and it delights in big statements, statements that make it the center of the world.

How do you sum all this up in an island?

Well, Mohammed found a way. To show off Dubai to the world, he would build his most ambitious islands yet. He would bring the world to Dubai.

ALASTAIR: If you fly into Dubai and look out the window, there’s a kind of a map of the world that appears.

HARRY: A map of the world made out of sand in the Persian Gulf. These are the World Islands.

ALASTAIR: The World Islands are an engineering marvel. They are spectacular. These are 300 plus islands, you know, all the countries, most of the countries, I should say, kind of there. And the big countries like Russia, they’re broken up into smaller islands. So there’s a Moscow Island, there’s a Siberia Island.

HARRY: Look up the World Islands now and you’ll see how amazingly absurd this is.

Africa’s there. Asia’s there. Europe’s there. The America’s are chopped up into hundreds of small plots.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Conceived in 2003, the World Islands were originally planned as private getaways for the uber, uber rich. Places for celebrities who wanted their own little slice of home to hide away from the paparazzi in the Persian Gulf. As with the Palm, there was a lot of interest.

ALASTAIR: There were stories in the press around the world. The idea that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were going to buy Ethiopia for their children. Uh, the idea that Karl Lagerfeld was going to create a fashion island. Putin wants to build a whole bunch of islands in the shape of Russia.

Somalia was going to be shaped into a sea horse and then, uh, apartments built allowing the residents to, uh, knock golf balls off their balconies straight into the sea.

HARRY: The tabloids flocked to these rumors. There was talk of Hilary Swank making Spain and France into something called Aquitania. A developer wanted to recreate the Giant’s Causeway on Ireland.

Chinese buyers wanted a model of Shanghai’s iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. Madonna supposedly bought one, Richard Branson was spotted on the GB Island in a Union Jack suit. It became a worldwide phenomenon. The prices ranged from 15 to 50 million.

ALASTAIR: Although it’s interesting to realize that this is just the stub end of an even bigger and more ambitious vision, because the idea was that the world was going to be surrounded by the universe.

So islands representing the solar system, different galaxies, it just shows the nature of the ambition.

HARRY: This is Dubai in a nutshell. Where no architectural idea is too farfetched, too expensive, too tasteless.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The World Islands have become a symbol of super boom Dubai and not just for the good reasons.

Almost exactly 12 years ago, the World Islands were finished. All 320 million cubic meters of sand had been dredged. All 25 million tons of rock were in place. 60% of the islands were sold to developers, ready to be equipped with houses, pools, gardens, whatever. They’d spent an estimated 13 billion. Then this happened.

[News report: Lehman brothers is going bankrupt. In financial markets from Asia to Europe are doing their utmost to prevent Monday from turning from dark to black.]

HARRY: The financial crash in 2008 hit the world, the real world that is, like a train, but it was felt really acutely in Dubai. The boom years had given the city an air of invincibility.

The crash ended that. With Dubai’s economy in tatters, the construction that had engulfed the city stopped almost overnight, leaving the coastline with skeleton structures half made -the Jebel Ali and Deira islands included.

But the most conspicuous undeveloped islands were of course the World Islands, whose main owner, the government investment arm Dubai World, was revealed to have debts of 60 billion.

And there were other challenges too, which became magnified in light of the crash. Here’s Jim again.

JIM: The world is a tricky one. I mean, it’s much further out at sea than the, um, the other reclaimed islands. And you cannot drive to it and there’s no services. I mean, there’s no power, the islands are really small and they’re very, very close together.

HARRY: The rumors of Brangelinas and Madonnas getting their own islands went cold around the same time as the crash.

ALASTAIR: At that point when all the celebrities decided, well, maybe they didn’t really want an island in Dubai, people started to say this whole project was a disaster and there was a lot of stories in the international press saying the islands are being washed away.

It just shows the hubris of Sheik Mohammed and people seem to always relish that idea that the world was a failed project.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The tabloids and people outside Dubai, many of whom tend to have a pretty snobby view of the city state, really did delight in the world’s failure in 2008. It was Dubai flying too close to the sun. An absurd piece of engineering which no one thought could work and then it didn’t.

Mohammed and his acolytes had put everything on the line, their cash, their business reputations. The failure of the world was then seen as Dubai’s greatest folly.

But Mohammed’s hubris and the financial crash weren’t the only things which stopped the world in its tracks in 2008. They actually serve to highlight some other bigger and more sinister issues in Dubai. Issues which speak to why the city enjoyed such an unprecedented boom, why something so crazy as the World Islands were actually thought possible in the first place.

NEIL: It’s so weird having a mark on a city like that, where it’s just, you stand up and

ANDRÉS: You can see it.

NEIL: Yeah, you can see it. You’re like, remember that time when we were going to do the world? Ahh, seems so long ago.

ANDRÉS: What’s also crazy is like all these celebrities just buying in like, hook, line and sinker…

NEIL: Hilary Swank.

ANDRÉS: Like what

NEIL: Combined Spain and France

ANDRÉS: What random celebrities were like…

NEIL: Hilary Swank?

HARRY: Hilary Swank was very surprising.

ANDRÉS: Oh, so you’re like, she’s…

NEIL: Like Hilary Swank’s cool, like, I really like her. She’s a great actress, but is she like buying Spain and France good?


NEIL: She got hit in the head a lot in that boxing movie.

HARRY: Didn’t she fall over and hurt herself at the end I think a little bit?

NEIL: Yeah, she did. She had, she took a bit of a booper.

HARRY: Took a little bit of a blow.

NEIL: Clint Eastwood was really sad.

ANDRÉS: This is a Passport, um, parallel section on…

ANDRÉS, NEIL & HARRY: Million Dollar Baby.


NEIL: Yeah. So what are these, where are we going? What’s going on with this, this sinister Harry Stott piece?

ANDRÉS: Yeah, what are these sinister things, Harry?

HARRY: Well, the crisis with the World Islands actually highlighted a few other things about the owners of the World Islands.


HARRY: So, the owner of the GB Island went to prison because he bounced $50 million dollars of checks.

ANDRÉS: That’s a lot of

HARRY: That’s a lot

ANDRÉS: checks

HARRY: That is a lot, yeah. Although he was, I should add, he was exonerated after three years.


NEIL: Okay.

HARRY: Um, but then the owner of the Ireland island, the island of Ireland, I know he killed himself.

ANDRÉS:  Whoa. Wait, wait wait. The owner of the island of Ireland killed himself?

HARRY: Yeah, he committed suicide because he had so, he had so much debt because of the crash. And then a few years later, the owner of Thailand was sent to prison in the UK for an unrelated fraud, but against the NHS, the UK health service.

ANDRÉS: Oh, how dubious is that?

HARRY: Yeah, so all this stuff basically came up and it just became toxic, the whole, that was a big part of why everything stopped.

NEIL: Just investigations upon investigations.

ANDRÉS: Well, it’s almost like the island itself was this kind of tumor of the economic crisis that was happening in 2008. And then when it happened, it was like, yeah, we can’t do this. This is, we’ve gone too far.

NEIL: You see this? This is why these things happen.


NEIL: It’s like a birthmark.


[Song playing]

NEIL: We’ll be back after the break with money laundering and investigation and the future of Dubai. See you in a sec.

[Song playing]

HARRY: When you start digging down into Dubai’s sandy foundations, you begin to find more stories like this. Because the allegations which swirled around the world post 2008 speaks to another side of Dubai. A side which underpins the super boom, the luxury and the enormous growth in real estate throughout the 00s.

Dubai is an autocracy, and that means it’s secretive. And some of those secrets get pretty dirty.

On top of the human rights abuses we talked about earlier, Dubai is considered one of the world’s number one hotspots for money laundering.

JIM: Dubai is to the Middle East what Miami is in the U.S. for the Latin America. I remember when I was working in Afghanistan, having a few drinks with a guy from the DEA who was telling me all about the heroin traffickers were basically laundering their cash in Dubai apartments.

HARRY: Yeah. It’s some shady stuff, but let’s hold off for a sec. You’ve obviously heard about money laundering a lot, but do you know what it really is? How it really works? And what about its human impact?

[Song playing]

HARRY: Before we delve into Dubai’s secrets and find out who exactly owns all these buildings, let’s have a little lesson in how the criminal money system works.

PETER: So money laundering is actually a very common issue all over the world.

HARRY: This is Peter Kirechu. When we spoke, he was the program director of the conflict finance and irregular threats program at the center for advanced defense studies based in Washington, D.C. They go after the big boys in criminal finance, mapping the networks of people who fund conflict around the world.

PETER: Because illegal activities require funding like any other legitimate business, criminals have to find a way to have money flow through the normal banking system in order to actually access it and put it to work.

HARRY: How are Al-Qaeda, Latin American drug cartels and the Italian mafia paying for all their stuff? Sometimes you have to go through legal channels and to do that, you have to clean your ill gotten gains.

Money laundering is how you do this. It’s basically taking criminally procured cash and making it legit by putting it into the legal financial system.

There’s a few ways that criminals actually go about this. One of the most common is as simple as a bit of creative accounting, but another commonly used way is through real estate.

Peter reckons the amount of money being laundered through real estate every year globally could be as much as 2 billion.

PETER: So real estate is actually a great option for a lot of reasons. First, there’s a huge transparency gap in many countries, which makes it difficult to know who’s the actual owner of any given property at any given time.

HARRY: Criminals will often use proxies or fake shell corporations to buy real estate, keeping their name away from it.

The fact that in many places you don’t have to say who is buying the house helps, a lot.

PETER: And then there’s also the second issue of the real estate business being a very cash heavy business in some countries. And so you will find cases whereby you can walk into a real estate broker’s office with just a briefcase full of cash and finalize that transaction within a matter of minutes with very little documentation.

HARRY: Hmm. Where does that remind you of?

JIM: It was like a fish market, suitcases of cash to buy real estate.

HARRY: Dubai during the super boom takes all the boxes for a place that looked attractive for money laundering through real estate. But are all Dubai’s amazing buildings caught up in this? Are the World Island’s involved?

I was in this deep already, so why not see how far the rabbit hole goes, right?

[Skype ringing]


HARRY: Hi, Maira, how are you?

MAIRA: I’m fine, how about you?

HARRY: That’s Maira Martini. She’s Brazilian, but she works in Berlin for the aptly named organization, Transparency, where she’s the head of their money laundering program.

MAIRA: Our vision is a world free of corruption.

We started to look into the UAE and Dubai, as they have been playing a very prominent role, let’s say.

[Song playing]

HARRY: While it’s true that money laundering through real estate takes place across the world, London is a notorious hotspot, as are plenty of places in the U.S. There’s something about Dubai which makes it extremely susceptible.

MAIRA: It’s really a lot of secrecy. In the UAE, you basically have no action going on.

HARRY: That blind eye we heard about earlier, well, it’s true. The authorities in Dubai were not interested in looking where the money was coming from for their huge new projects, as long as the money was there.

MAIRA: So there’s different research that actually shows pretty strong connection between the ruling family in the UAE and the financial sector.

So, it’s also very profitable. There is just not, not political will and perhaps even a conflict of interest there because those benefiting from the system that has been created, are those also making the political decisions.

HARRY: Does the ruling family in Dubai own a lot of assets and companies?

MAIRA: There is not a lot of transparency, so that’s a difficult question to answer. I think that’s the key thing in, in the UAE, right? Is secrecy. There is secrecy of everything.

HARRY: We certainly experienced that kind of secrecy in making this podcast. Trying to get people in Dubai to speak about the World Islands was a serious battle. As such, leaks and whistleblowers are the ways in which Transparency get their information. And in 2016, there was a good one.

An anonymous source leaked information about the owners of a huge amount of high end real estate in Dubai. Peter and his team used it to create the Sandcastles Report for C4ADS.

PETER: And so this was a new long effort within our organization to identify and map properties owned by individuals who had either been sanctioned by the United States and in some cases by the European Union.

And these violations can range from attempts to procure nuclear materials, um, terrorism-related violations, um, or human rights abuses.

HARRY: You’ve got to have done something pretty bad to be sanctioned by the U.S. government and the number of sanctioned individuals using Dubai apartments to hide their cash is pretty shocking.

PETER: The top line findings here that we discovered more that we found 44 properties in Dubai directly associated with seven sanctioned individuals. And those were worth approximately $28.2 million dollars.

We dug deeper and found 37 additional properties worth approximately $78.8 million dollars.

HARRY: So these luxury buildings, these ambitious architectural projects, big chunks of them were paid for by people who the U.S. and the EU had deemed criminal enough to sanction.

C4ADS found that hundreds of millions of dollars were being cleaned in this way through Dubai’s high-end real estate. And there were some really nasty pieces of work involved.

PETER: One of my favorite investigations here, um, had to do with Rami Makhlouf, um, who is the cousin of, of Syrian president Bashar Al Asaad.

It’s everything from Columbian drug cartels, um, you know, to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Another guy, Kambiz Mahmoud Rostamian, was buying nuclear materials on behalf of the Iranian government and using Dubai real estate to clean his cash. A Pakistani fellow named Altaf Khanani – AKA the billion dollar criminal – ran the world’s most prolific money laundering operation from his base in Dubai.

And he used real estate to clean the cash of Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, drug cartels and biker gangs. It’s really grubby stuff. Even the Palm Jumeirah and the Burj Khalifa were implicated. Not even the highest profile properties were left off that list.

Dubai’s buildings are built on foundations of sand. The corruption at the industry’s heart, allowing foreign criminals to purchase real estate to clean their money is now coming out thanks to the work of Transparency and C4ADS. But its effect on Dubai’s reputation, especially for tourism could be devastating.

ANDRÉS: Dark, dark, dark.

NEIL: Yeah. Hezbollah.

ANDRÉS: I mean, yeah, when you’re, when you’re in the same league between Al-Qaeda, it’s like when, when you’re playing at that level of money,

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: It’s just the most dubious things.

NEIL: It makes the growth of that place make sense. I mean, it makes you wonder about how much going in there was just completely filthy money.

ANDRÉS: Well, in a way it’s like,

HARRY: They knew.

ANDRÉS: There’s this perfect experiment in capitalism where if you take away the names of people and you just let money flood a place, what happens?

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Right? No wonder Trump loves this place, man.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: It’s like his paradise.

NEIL: What we’re listening to now


NEIL: Would it turn you off going to Dubai?

HARRY: Would it turn you off going to London? Would it turn you off going to New York and loads of places in the U.S.? I mean, London especially is notorious as a hotspot for Russian

NEIL: Yeah

ANDRÉS: Totally

HARRY: Criminals hiding their money in real estate.

ANDRÉS: Absolutely, yeah.

HARRY: So, it’s difficult to draw this, to draw this line, you know?

NEIL: Yeah. I was just thinking, listening to it, like really how much when you go to visit a place for the first time, like how much do you really read into the politics of a place?

HARRY: Oh, exactly. It’s no, I think all of these things are no, it’s nothing on the people who live there.


HARRY: Normal people live there. They, you know, there’s nothing to do with them. It’s, it’s the politics and the government, which allows that kind of stuff.

NEIL: Yeah. And it’s just big, big, big business on a massive scale, massive scale.

ANDRÉS: It’s the fact that visually it’s so striking to be in the Persian Gulf and that to just be coming out from the ground.

[Song playing]

HARRY: Let’s head back to the World Islands, checking up on how they’re doing now. We last saw them after the crash in 2008, tainted by allegations of corruption. A big, big blip after the years of plenty. Since then, the World Islands, haven’t been much more than slivers of sand in the stream. Uninhabited and barren, most of them anyway. Alastair visited them a couple of years ago.

ALASTAIR: So only two islands were ever actually developed, there was an island built for the racing car driver, Michael Schumacher, and gifted to him by Sheik Mohammed. There’s Lebanon, um, and that’s the one that you can go and visit.

If you go to Dubai, you can get a boat out to Lebanon and there’s a restaurant and there’s you know, deck chairs.

HARRY: The Lebanon island is the only one standing and it’s branded itself as a kind of party getaway for normal people to visit. If you fancy chilling on your own private island for the day, drinking in the impressive skyline of Dubai, it’s worth a look, but it’s nothing really to write home about.

ALASTAIR: It would have been very easy for me actually, to just wade over to the other islands that were surrounding Lebanon. But on the day I was going, it was pouring with rain.

HARRY: Pouring with rain in the middle of Dubai. Yeah, cloud seeding again.

But on the World Islands, they’re actually taking it even further. There are plans to make it snow in the Gulf. Because on the World Islands today, things are beginning to stir. The world is coming back to life.

[Song playing]

ALASTAIR: It’s fortunate to have been turned around by a guy from Austria. A politician from a right-wing party called Josef Kleindeist.

HARRY: Josef Kleindeist owns a big chunk of the World Islands, which he is calling the heart of Europe. I tried to get in touch with him to ask him some questions about his projects on the world.

But yet again to no avail, but Kleindeist’s plans are actually pretty exciting. He wants to make the World Islands even bigger and better than ever. And he’s going to efforts to remove that toxic image too.

ALASTAIR: If you go to Dubai, you’ll see his cranes and there are hundreds of them and he is building big, he’s taking what he calls the heart of Europe, which is the islands of Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and he’s got Saint Petersburg there and Venice.

HARRY: These plans for the World are even more elaborate than those of the super boom years. Kleindeist is planning 15 hotels and 4,000 holiday homes with a projected cost of 5 billion. He’s building villas on Sweden that look like upturned Viking ships. There’s a Maldives inspired heart shaped honeymoon island.

The Portofino hotel will be a recreation of an Italian Amalfi village, and there are going to be 78 three story floating seahorse villas with underwater views.

And then, there’s the snow.

[Walking in snow]

HARRY: Kleindeist’s Germany will be filled with quaint northern European taverns, Christmas markets, Oktoberfest and climate controlled cobbled streets lined with snow.


ALASTAIR: Kleindeist has taken on this project and the world from being something that was just for the very rich is now being turned into something that is more for the many, rather than just the few.

 I was really struck when I went to Dubai, I was expecting to encounter, you know, wealth and rich people. But in fact, the people who really go to Dubai are quite ordinary people. And I think, and that’s often overlooked in this narrative about Dubai being a playground of the rich and famous.

[Song playing]

HARRY: The world, like Dubai is changing. Yes, there are still voyeuristic celeb stories like Lindsayland, Lindsay Lohan’s plans for her own island that she announced on her Instagram last year.

[Lindsay Lohan Instagram: I’m discussing designing an island in Dubai, Lohan Island at the World Islands]


HARRY: But in reality, the World is ditching its focus on the super-rich and opening up to the middle classes. And they’re taking steps to reclaim the Marine environment too.

ALASTAIR: Yeah, the world is surrounded by protective reefs. They are some of the most impressive protective reefs for any artificial island in the world.

And now they’re a place where divers go down to spot the wonders of the deep. So the environmental story of the world is not all negative.

HARRY: It feels like the World Islands are growing up. Gone is the reckless speculation of buying plots that aren’t even built.

The new approach is making something which tourists will actually want to visit. Breathtaking luxury, yes, but more practical, even if practical means something as crazy as making it snow in the desert.

And Dubai is actually maturing too. Especially as a place to live. Here’s Jim again

JIM: It’s become more of a normal city in many ways, which is kind of a relief actually.

I mean, when, during the boom period, it was an unfinished city, you know, it looked great from the air and it looked great driving past, but when you were there walking, it was really difficult and it’s actually, you know, a much more comfortable, livable city now.

[Song playing]

HARRY: And the future? Well, new anti-money laundering laws brought in, in the wake of the Sandcastles report could help to curb the scourge of corruption. And Peter and Maira were actually cautiously optimistic.

But new leadership could propel this change even further. 

JIM: I suspect when the rulers Baton passes from Sheikh Mohammad to his designated successor, the Crown Prince Hamdan, I’m sure that the crown Prince is probably putting into place, you know, his plan of action, where he wants to take Dubai.

HARRY: Crown Prince Hamdan, or Fazza to you and I, doesn’t feel like his father. He’s a young, hip, romantic poetry writing social media superstar.

So what will Dubai’s future look like under this new millennial Prince? Well, Fazza is saying all the right things. And that Israel piece accord we mentioned at the start. It’s another sign that this region could be turning a corner. A corner that leads to peace.

We’ll soon see whether this country of flux and its cities of gold can change as quickly as it’s skyline and this time really for the better.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Jesus, okay.


ANDRÉS: Yeah. It’s a lot to kind of take in all at once.

NEIL: I also can’t blame Dubai, right. Because it’s almost like this, Dubai is like, somebody on Twitter who gets a million followers way too quick and has nothing to say.


ANDRÉS: In the end, it’s a question of time, you know, it’s gone so quickly that the super boom period is nothing.

So, the only thing we can say is like, I hope, right, that this, that the, that there’s a possibility for transformation.

NEIL: Yeah. They’ve got to have some, uh, some allowed politics. They’ve got to have some allowed form of discussion, that might help.

ANDRÉS: I mean, yeah, if there is a lesson, if there is a lesson it’s like maybe a little bit of politics is good.

NEIL: Yes, just the tiniest bit.

HARRY: Well, you heard that this new, the new Prince, the crown Prince Hamdan who goes by Fazza.


HARRY: Could hopefully be that guy. I mean, he’s wrote some really wonderful romantic poetry.

ANDRÉS: Like actually wonderful?


HARRY: Well, he writes romantic poetry. And also, I mean, we are recording this what, two days after there was a pretty historic UAE, Israel peace treaty, which, you know, in the Middle East is, for an Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel is,

ANDRÉS: It’s a big deal. I mean, what it definitely points to is we are at some sort of transition period. So, uh, well on our, to, to finish the episode, uh, Neil’s gonna do a little more of, um, a Sheikh-shake.

NEIL: My Sheikh-shake brings all the boys to the yard.

NEIL & ANDRÉS: And they’re like, it’s better than yours. Damn right. It’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge.

NEIL My Sheikh-shake brings all the boys to the –


[Song playing]

NEIL: This week on Passport, our saved pins highlight the opulence and insanity of Harry’s story and of Dubai.

ANDRÉS: Number one is the Lebanon Island. First stop on your trip to Dubai has to be the World Islands and to be more precise, the Lebanon Island. For $40, you can be a sheikh for the day, lounging at their beach club, enjoying Dubai’s spectacular skyline over dinner at their exclusive restaurant, Torro Blanco.

And if you’re heading there in 2021, the heart of Europe islands should be open too. So keep a look out to see if they’re up and running.

NEIL: Number two, the top of the Burj Khalifa.

Once you’ve seen the city skyline from afar, why not get a view of it from the very, very top. The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is 828 meters tall.

You can head up to one of the building’s two observation decks, and you’ll be able to spot all of Dubai islands and the Arabian desert for miles around. It’s not something to do when you’re afraid of heights.

ANDRÉS: Number three is the Dubai Mall.

Now it’s time for some shopping. Head just across the road from the Burj Khalifa and you’ll enter the Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest and undoubtedly Dubai’s best.

Feed your shopping addiction at one of the plethora of designer stores, then check out the world’s biggest aquarium, the colossal dancing fountain, the indoor ski slope, whatever you want, it’s all there.

And if you haven’t ruined your savings quite yet, indulge your sweet tooth with the golden phoenix cupcake from Bloomsburies. It’s rolled in on a 24-carat gold trolley, sat on a gold painted stand and is, you guessed it, covered in a 23 carat edible gold sheet. It’ll cost you $1,000.

NEIL: Number four, Carnival by Tresind.

Our influencer Sana’s pick of Dubai’s incredible restaurants was Carnival. A new take on Indian food by the world famous chain, Tresind.

This is more than your standard curry house. There’s an indoor forest, crazy decor and a menu that includes prawns in palm sugar and a banana leaf wrapped barramundi.

It looks seriously good. Thanks Sana.

ANDRÉS: And finally, number five, Dubai’s old town. Once you’ve enjoyed all the thrills of this thoroughly modern city state, head back in time to get a real taste of old Arabia.

Dubai’s old town, known as the Al Fahidi historical neighborhood, was recently restored to its former glory, with traditional tea shops, galleries filled with stunning Middle Eastern calligraphy and various cultural centers and museums that celebrate the history of this ancient part of the world.

Thanks so much for listening guys. Next week, we’re headed somewhere we can guarantee that none of you have been to before. It’s cold, it’s tough to breathe and the gravity is almost nothing. That’s right. We’re headed to space via a small town in Texas, which has become the world’s launchpad to Mars.

[Song playing]

NEIL: This episode of Passport was written and edited by Harry Stott.

Big thanks to Sana Chikahlia, Peter Kirechu, Maira Martini, Linton Besser, Jim Krane and Alastair Bonnet for all their insight – make sure you check out the last two guys’ books on Dubai and Artificial Islands, they’re fascinating reads. We’ve got links to it all in the show notes.

Our theme tune by Nick Turner, with additional tunes from Lt. Fitzgibbons’ Men, Auracle, Musicbox, Off the Menu, Pickle Juice, Jake the Dog, Hint of Mint, Riverdeep Mountaindue, Automated Acoustics, Klaatu Verada Necktie, Tender Horns, Lobo Loco, Pollux Troy, Turku Nomads of the Silk Road, Ehl-i Keyif and Jared Gutstadt.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski

Eliza Engel is our production assistant. Hi Eliza!

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are often spotted rolling through LA in their gold-plated hummers and they executive produce the show. Which is hosted by me, and Passport’s very own oil dealing, bling wearing, diamond encrusted Sheikh, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.


Episode 38: Australia – Part 2: Asteroids and the Outback

For every Celestial Emu there’s a planet-killing space rock on an inevitable path towards earth. In our season 1 finale, Passport producers Jennifer Carr and Andrés Bartos head back Down Under to talk about asteroids, the scars they leave, and the stories they’ve created.

read more

Episode 32: India: Love on the Rails

This week, Passport is taking a journey on the Indian Railway. These train cars are a moving microcosm of India, and the inspiration behind some of the country’s greatest love stories – on the Bollywood screen and in real life.

read more

Episode 29: Passport Goes to the Polls

As the US goes to the polls, Passport goes there too. But not to America. Take a break from the anxiety and divisiveness of the US election with two stories that show the true, positive, power of democracy across the globe.

read more


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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.