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‘The warmth, the kindness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Over the years, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to celebrities and stars from around the world as the Kingdom made its presence known in the global entertainment space. Here are 10 superstars who visited Riyadh and were left impressed by the Saudi capital.

Sofia Vergara

The Colombian-American actress, famous for her role in ‘Modern Family’, is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and also brought her signature glamor to a promotional video for luxury destination VIA Riyadh in the Saudi capital more early this year.

She also dazzled on the red carpet at the Joy Awards 2023 in Riyadh in January. “I would like to dedicate this award to all the extraordinary women in the Kingdom and all the women in the Middle East who are building a better future for all women. Your dreams can come true, and they will if you use the two most important things: your mind and your culture,” Vergara said after accepting the Personality of the Year award.

Lionel Messi

While there has been an influx of international soccer stars joining the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation – who plays for Inter Miami – traveled to Riyadh this summer, with his wife and children, for a tourist trip.

“The best thing about vacation is spending quality time with our loved ones,” he wrote to his 480 million Instagram followers. “Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, where I played local games and did crafts with the warmest Saudi people.”

“If you are still planning your vacation, head to the cool mountains of (Asir) and relax at 17°C,” he advised his fans.

The photos show the footballer playing with his sons and his wife Antonella Roccuzzo.

He also shared a picture of the picturesque Asir Mountains.

Messi visited the Kingdom in May and visited At-Turaif, the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and also explored some of Riyadh’s more contemporary attractions.

He also took a guided tour in Diriyah and had dinner at Al-Bujairi Terrace.

Jason Momoa

In 2017, “Game of Thrones” and “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa visited Saudi Arabia as part of the Comic Con Arabia pop culture convention.

“The food in Saudi Arabia is good. I missed Thanksgiving at home, so it was a real substitute,” he told Arab News.

Mada Abdelhamid, WWE star and Momoa’s trainer, posted a photo of him and Momoa on Instagram, posing in front of a huge plate of traditional Saudi specialties, kabsa and mansaf.

“Before and after. Now that’s what I call a PARTY!!!!! Eat like kings here in Saudi Arabia. We literally couldn’t move afterward… but we also couldn’t stop eating. Very fitting that we are here during Thanksgiving. Our stomachs felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa also took to social media to write about his experience visiting the iconic Najd village in Riyadh: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia, you treated me like a king. Aloha to fans and new friends. I’ve had so many incredible experiences. I will come back very soon. Mahalo omar for making me fat, the food here is amazing @najdvillagesa aloha j,” he wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thank (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumamah National Park during the same visit.

Steve Aoki

Japanese-American DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the MDLBEAST music festival in Riyadh in 2019 with a special remix of tracks by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu.

“I love collaborating across cultures, it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Aoki told Arab News at the time.

Aoki, who also performed earlier that year at the Jeddah World Fest, said he “loves” the Saudi people and did not realize he had a huge fan base in the Kingdom.

“It’s surprising and amazing… to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia… everyone is so loving and so kind. They are just magnificent people,” he said, adding that he looked forward to returning to the country for future shows.

“People want it. You can feel the energy in the crowd, they want this kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki also recently performed in Riyadh for a Gamers8 concert and raved about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi public. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I’ve done Jeddah, I’ve done MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi public is full of life. It’s a burst of energy, passion and excitement. And that’s what an artist dreams of having… That the fans can really express themselves,” he said.

DJ Khaled

Renowned artist and producer DJ Khaled made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh in December 2022, ahead of his headlining performance at the region’s biggest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM.

Arriving in the area for the first time, his experience of the culture and people was unlike any other, he said. The quality of life and general enthusiasm appealed to the artist. “As we were driving here and I was looking around, I stuck my head out the window and someone shouted ‘Khaled!’ and I appreciate the love, and I said ‘Joe, man, people here are just happy,'” he told Arab News.

Katie Holmes

The popular American actress visited the Kingdom on a trip with British actor Idris Elba and retired French footballer Thierry Henry in 2018.

Holmes took to social media to share several snaps from her trip to Riyadh, waxing lyrical about the architecture in the caption of one photo and revealing in another image that she was “very grateful for this incredible and inspiring time.” During his visit, Holmes also had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, as well as Elba and Henry.

She also spoke about her trip, saying the country was “so beautiful.” “It was a long journey, but I really enjoyed it. I love the women I’ve met.

“It was really inspiring to see these women taking advantage of the new freedoms they now have and there is a sense of creativity coming through,” she added.

John Travolta

American actor John Travolta, best known for his starring roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” made his first-ever appearance in Saudi Arabia in 2017 to discuss his career, during a two-day gala.

Travolta answered questions from fans in the Saudi capital. “I have been completely touched by everyone’s warmth and welcoming nature since I arrived,” the actor said at the event titled “A Night with Travolta,” organized by the Saudi Entertainment Authority.

Jackie Chan

Famous actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award and said he was looking forward to shooting films in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s my first time in Saudi Arabia and I know it’s a big country. After just a few hours (traveling) here and looking at locations, I know there’s a good place for car chases, explosions, action; so next time I hope to come back with my team,” Chan said.

The cinema legend – who also visited Jeddah for the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022 – thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country and expressed hope that the Kingdom would become one of the main regional centers of film and television production.

Shah Rukh Khan

The Bollywood superstar – who recently filmed her upcoming film “Dunki” in Saudi Arabia – visited the Kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award.

“We talked about the hospitality, the warmth, the kindness and the love that was extended to us… and for most of us, this is our first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Khan said at the event.

“Inshallah, we are all waiting with bated breath as the cinema has opened here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we, as a world, can’t wait to help you in any way we can.

Idris Elbe

The British actor – known for his roles in ‘Luther’ and ‘The Wire’ – first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018 to speak at the launch of the 35 billion ‘Quality of Life’ programme. dollars for cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives.

“Saudi Arabia gave me the opportunity to shoot my film here. It made sense on a business model,” Elba said at the event. “I’ll definitely be there, why not?”

“Saudi Arabia has a tremendous opportunity to spread its culture through cinema,” he added.

The actor also spoke about his time in Saudi Arabia later in a podcast.

“I found Saudi Arabia to be warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest,” the actor said during the inaugural episode of a talk show produced by the Center King Abdul Aziz for World Culture, or Ithra.

He went on to explain that it was “surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi Arabia.”

Naomi Campbell

British model Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, attending several events, including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” at Riyadh.

“I had to pinch myself and say I was in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, the first ever, this historic event,” Campbell said at the time.

“It’s really about the change that’s happening in the world. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’m truly honored and happy to still be here in the business…and to see the change.

At the fashion panel in Riyadh, the model spoke about her love of humanitarian work, which began in 1993 in Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the cultural influences she has experienced.

“There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” she said. “There are so many similarities and I really believe that Africa can teach the Middle East about textiles and the Middle East can teach Africa about craftsmanship.”

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