I used to work in Boots in Nottingham – now I earn £200000 in Dubai – Daily Mail

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Buy/sell, rent/lease residential &
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When Catherine Earl left university in Sheffield, she landed a low-paid job in recruitment at Boots in Nottingham. Every day, she walked to and from work in the unpredictable, often blustery, British weather to spend the next eight hours sitting in a vast glass office block with thousands of others.

Eleven years later, she earns more than £200,000 a year, jetting around Dubai harbour in a speedboat and sipping cocktails in exclusive bars.

Cat, as she likes to be known, is one of an estimated quarter of a million Brits who have moved to Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over the past decade, lured by the blue skies, designer lifestyle and, above all, fat salaries.

Starting out as cabin crew for UAE’s airline Emirates, 33-year-old Cat switched career and became an estate agent, for it’s in Dubai’s booming property market, where values rose by almost 40 per cent last year, that the biggest bucks are made.

It’s a glossy, high-maintenance life that is not for a shrinking violet.

Cat Earl's devotion to her job includes an eye-watering £10,000 a year beauty and grooming bill to ensure she looks the part

Cat’s devotion to the job includes an eye-watering £10,000 a year beauty and grooming bill to ensure she looks the part, including £80 mani and pedicures, £70 eyelash extensions, £500 hair extensions, £200 Botox sessions, £300 lip fillers, a hairdressing bill of almost £400 every 12 weeks, and £396 a month gym membership.

Her Instagram has picture after picture of her showing off her tan in a variety of thigh-skimming designer dresses and vertiginous heels.

‘My friends at home always said I was overdressed for everything,’ she says. ‘It’s always been my personality — dressing up, getting my hair, nails and make-up done. I was always glamorous, but it’s gone up 100 per cent since I’ve been here because of my way of life.

‘I moved to Dubai for the sun. I was literally getting out of bed in the dark and walking 20 minutes to work in the cold. Now it’s sunny every day and I feel motivated because Dubai is such a nice place to live.’

Some would call that naive, of course. Dubai is regularly singled out for ‘significant issues’ surrounding its human rights record and for poor pay and conditions suffered by many migrant workers, especially those, like builders and domestic staff, upon whom its luxury property market relies.

Now we are invited to judge for ourselves. A new six-part TV series, in production by Channel 4, will follow Cat and 18 colleagues at the British agency Betterhomes as they compete to close deals with super-rich clients on a portfolio of stunning properties.

A six-part Channel 4 series will follow Cat and 18 colleagues at property firm Betterhomes as they compete to close deals with super-rich clients

Just like the hit Netflix reality show Selling Sunset, which features the lives and loves of a group of Los Angeles estate agents, Dubai: Buying The Dream reveals a world that revolves almost exclusively around the exchange of very large sums of money. Some will envy it; others despise it.

Yet the truth is more complicated than sun, sand, and the copious quantities of Champagne many of the agents drink. In fact, it’s a life that requires hard grind, ruthless focus and an awareness — amid the clinking of glasses — that Western lifestyles often clash with Emirati laws.

Cat lives in the Dubai Marina with her husband Michael, 38, a talent booker, and their Egyptian Mau cat Princess. Unlike in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, there is no restriction in the UAE on Westerners co-habiting, which the couple did before they wed earlier this year.

Similarly, drinking alcohol was decriminalised three years ago.

Yet it is still a country that comes down hard on so-called Western immorality. Public displays of affection — kissing or even holding hands — can lead to arrest, for example.

Cat's Instagram profile is filled with photographs showing off her luxurious lifestyle in the city, wearing a variety of thigh-skimming designer dresses and vertiginous heels

‘I’m always aware of what’s going on around me, wherever I am in the world,’ says Cat, who grew up in a ‘working-class family’ in a small village in Nottinghamshire, with mother Vivien, 61, a nurse, and father Terry, 64, a retired maintenance engineer.

‘Obviously, you have to respect every culture. When I go to the malls or the old town, I’m a little more covered up but in the marina area, it’s very touristy and the beach is just there,’ she adds, pointing at the area where people walk around in skimpy swimsuits.

‘I would never kiss my husband in public, even in the UK. I’m not that kind of person. I’m 100 per cent discreet. Everyone who lives here appreciates that in Dubai you have a really good life, so you obey the rules.’

Over the past year, she has earned more than £215,000 selling properties, and neither foreigners nor UAE nationals pay income tax in Dubai — unless you transfer your earnings back to the UK.

But Cat insists: ‘Don’t expect it to be like anything you see on Selling Sunset because it’s not. You have to work really hard. When I first got my job in real estate, I used to come into the office every weekend without fail.

‘I am always working. It’s not like my phone’s ever off. We want to live the life we live, so we have to work hard for it.’

At the time of filming, Betterhomes had £2 billion worth of property on its books, including an astonishingly priced £162 million penthouse in an apartment block called Bugatti Residences, created by the renowned French luxury car company.

Run by former Foxtons agent Rick Waind, a third of Betterhomes’ employees are Britons. Waind himself, who is married to Laura and has three daughters — Ella, seven, Cat, four, and Zara, two — is fully on board with the lavish Dubai lifestyle.

He incentivises brokers with monthly lunches at Michelin-starred restaurants, quarterly boat trips, Bedouin dinners in the desert and even three-day jaunts to places such as Phuket in Thailand.

A former Stockport Grammar schoolboy and a graduate of Sheffield University, Waind, 42, drives a blue BMW 8 series coupe and loaned one of his brokers an emerald-green Lamborghini to drive to a Christmas party. ‘We’re running a competition right now to go skiing in Georgia,’ he says.

Marcia Jackson-Smith, 43, is one of Waind’s top agents. A former investment banker whose mother Kathy is an NHS nurse, Marcia loves the lifestyle of spas, beach clubs and yachts.

In the past two years, she has sold more than £22 million worth of real estate — her biggest sale so far is a £5.18 million villa in Al Barari, known as the green heart of Dubai, which netted her commission of £118,000.

‘Whenever I close a deal, I go to a beach club, buy myself a piece of jewellery and book a flight somewhere,’ laughs Marcia, whose favourite designer is Ralph Lauren. ‘That’s what keeps me going. I’ve bought myself a Cartier bracelet and a Tiffany pearl set. I love fashion, food and travel. That’s where I spend my money.

Cat is one of an estimated quarter of a million Britons who have moved to Dubai over the past decade, lured by the blue skies, designer lifestyle and, above all, fat salaries

‘My flights are normally more expensive than my jewellery. So far, over the past 12 months, I’ve been to the south of France, Monaco, the Maldives and Singapore and I went to London and Paris for Christmas.’

Originally from Trinidad, Marcia moved to Birmingham with her family at 18, then studied at the London School of Business and Finance and worked for Harrods Financial Services.

She moved to Dubai two years ago and lives in a studio flat on the 30th floor of a block in a gated community called Jumeirah Village Circle, 20 minutes from Dubai Marina. Despite the eye-popping price of properties she sells, most rentals are cheaper than in many British cities — a studio in the JVC can cost as little as £7,000 a year.

Marcia puts fitness above beauty treatments. She enjoys surfing, wakeboarding and yoga, is a member of the Jumeirah Islands Clubhouse Gym and also enjoys Michelin-starred restaurants.

But making enough to pay for that lifestyle as an expat Brit in the property business is by no means a given. Brokers are paid solely on commission, which means the stakes and the stress pile up as deals inch to a close.

Marcia Jackson-Smith (pictured) is one of Cat's glamorous colleagues and soon-to-be co-star

Unlike Marcia, Michelle Billing, 25, was not a jetsetter before she moved to Dubai. The youngest of three children, she grew up on the Wirral and worked in human resources for the B&M chain of home stores before moving to UAE in 2021, where she now lives with boyfriend Levi, 27 — who runs gym classes — and their Pomeranian rescue dog Buster.

‘I’d never travelled far, so Dubai was a big move for me,’ says Michelle, who has exchanged the Volkswagen Polo she drove in the UK for a white BMW 3 series.

‘After six months I wanted to give up and go home — it took a lot longer than I expected to hit my targets.’ Though she calls her decision to stick it out ‘the best I’ve ever made’, life has been far from a glossy round of parties.

After working in leasing for 18 months, Michelle moved to sales last January — yet didn’t get a big hit until November, when she sold a two-bed flat in Jumeirah Lake Towers for £600,000 and earned £21,000 commission. ‘I moved to Dubai with around £10,000 and was fortunate enough to have Levi to look after me until I found my feet. If I’d have moved alone, I would have needed much more.

‘People think it’s an easy job with easy money but that’s not the case. It can take up to six months to get your foot in the door and build from that. So, you need to save. I’ve always been obsessed with saving money. I don’t like living life on the edge.’

Back in England, her colleague Marcia had a steady wage but ‘here I have an inconsistent income, as the properties I sell are at the top end of the luxury market and it can take ages to close a deal,’ she admits. ‘It’s ultimate highs and ultimate lows, but I do love it.

‘It’s very volatile but when I close a deal, it’s a big deal and it’s worth it. I don’t have any commitments at all, so I can take this risk.’

Whether the C4 series will tackle the issue of human rights in Dubai remains to be seen.

Also starring in Channel 4's upcoming show is fellow British expat Michelle Sarah Billing

UAE is an authoritarian state — there are no democratically elected institutions and no commitment to the right to free speech.

Gay relationships are outlawed and there is no free Press. Amnesty International has catalogued many examples of the UAE’s ‘media regulatory office’ suppressing so-called ‘immoral’ material — last year they banned the children’s film Lightyear because it depicted a same-sex kiss and threatened Netflix with prosecution unless it removed the content from the Emirates.

All this has escaped Marcia’s notice, and not only because Dubai media will not have reported it. ‘I try not to look at the news,’ she says. ‘I probably am naive to it because I’m in a different environment.

‘Of course, I want to know what’s going on,’ says Michelle, ‘but there’s nowhere to keep you updated.’

In the UK, meanwhile, it seems likely the new C4 series will make reality TV stars of them when it airs. What kept us hooked on Selling Sunset was the drama between the brokers, the spats and fights and sometimes explosive rows.

Among the Dubai agents ‘it’s less catty’, says Michelle. ‘We’re more professional. We compete with other offices, so we want our team to win. Everybody is here to do a job… and make as much money as possible.’

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