Dr. Zahi el Helou «Murex d’Or reflects a beautiful image of Lebanon»
Nineteen years after the kickoff in 2000, Murex d’Or is still as successful as ever. It is getting more and more radiant over the years, offering joy and happiness to the Lebanese and the world. Today, faced with many challenges, the event continues to illuminate the gloomy Lebanese scene. Murex d’Or, founded and chaired by the brothers Dr. Zahi and Dr. Fady el Helou, presents this year its 19th edition. A success story, told by Dr. Zahi el Helou to Prestige.
You founded with your brother Dr. Fady el Helou, Murex d’Or. How did you come up with the idea of creating this event? The love of art and artistic events goes back to our childhood, Fady and me. A passion we share. Later, we studied medicine in France and had the opportunity to attend the famous Cannes Film Festival. We both made the decision to create a similar event in Lebanon. This was the trigger.
Why did you specifically call it Murex d’Or? We were looking for an easy-to-pronounce title, Fady and me. Murex d’Or is a tribute to the Phoenician murex from which they drew the purple, a bright red color, symbol of wealth and dignity. As for gold, it is obviously a sign of value and success.
You are both doctors. How did you manage to combine two different worlds like medicine and art? The good organization allows combining two or more different worlds. I love both my profession as a doctor and that of a president of the Murex d’Or. Love and organization promote success in different fields.
Between 2000 and 2019, Murex d’Or changed. How would you describe its evolution? The positive echoes of the Murex d’Or have largely contributed to its evolution. It is the result of our experience and our dedication to the event. The first edition, in 2000, was a real success. Focused on Lebanese artists only, it honored big names, like Melhem Barakat, Gibran Tueni, Carole Samaha, Mansour Rahbani and many others. Over the years, the event has gained importance, honoring alongside Lebanese artists, stars from the Arab world and internationally.
What is new in this year’s edition? Each year we try to find new ideas, new techniques, and designs…We also proceed to choose new jury members and new stars to honor.
Which edition is the closest to your heart? All editions are dear to us. They are like our children. They are the apple of our eyes. However, as an example, I will quote the first edition, which was very important; that of 2006 too, when Lebanon was in the middle of the war; the tenth edition was also special, a retrospective of the Best of the Best of the previous ones; that of 2016 offered a magical scene, an opulent decor that had costed a small fortune … Every year, we present new decor and content, taking care of all the details, accordingly with our means obviously. We are looking for sponsors who are unfortunately very rare, while expenses increase more than expected.
In 2018, you chose for the theme the blue color. What about this year? Color is not the theme of the main event. It is rather that of the introductory dinner to the season. Every year, the theme has a specific symbol. For this 19th edition, the theme was the Golden Night.
Since 2000, and despite the events in Lebanon, you have regularly organized the Murex d’Or … What are the difficulties that you have encountered and that you currently experience? Yes, we have met and we still encounter many economic, political and other difficult problems to manage … Murex d’Or is a private investment, the fruit of purely personal efforts. And when an event succeeds, obstacles arise immediately. Until now we showed resistance, regularly organizing this major event. Whenever we think of putting an end to the Murex d’Or, we change our mind in front of the tremendous success and good feedback we receive.
In your opinion, what are the keys to success for such an event? Love, sincerity and the credibility of our work.
You are in a regular relationship with the stars. Which one was easy, and which was difficult to manage? The relation was sublime with all the stars, who honored us by their presence on the stage of the Murex d’Or. However, I would like to point out that the big stars who have gained a good reputation are paradoxically the most modest. In the image of the late Sabah, with whom it was very pleasant to collaborate, the international star Claudia Cardinale who was adorable by her humility, the famous director friend Youssef Chahine, stars Yousra, Naglaa Fathi and others who have marked the scene by their modesty. On the other hand, we are currently meeting young people without an artistic background and who are demanding and difficult to manage. However, we must not generalize, because we also have excellent relationships with young talented and modest artists.
Do you have any friendships in the artistic field? We have a lot of friendships in this field, but we want to keep our distance, especially since we are awarding prizes and trophies.
Which memory is most important to you and that you would like to mention? Numerous memories punctuate the nineteen years of the Murex d’Or. Some are very pleasant, while others are disturbing, especially when we lose the people who shared them with us. I would like to mention the memory of the actress, the late Noha el Khatib Saadé. Although she suffered a serious accident that prevented her from moving, she wanted to personally receive her prize on stage. Embracing her trophy, she pronounced some very touching words that I will never forget: «Murex d’Or is a candle lit in the midst of Lebanese darkness».
Could you evoke a memorable funny situation? Murex d’Or abounds in comic situations, including the talented Bassem Feghali who imitated the stars in their presence. Other funny situations came up live, at times when we least expected. During one edition, the director Toni Kahwaji was supposed to give a trophy to the star Melhem Barakat. As he was late coming, my brother Fady was pushed on stage to improvise the word and present the trophy in the place of Toni Kahwaji.
What do you think of the new talents who enter the world of the show business every year? Is there a prize for them? Murex d’Or has always been a «passport» issued to beginners. Most current stars have made their first appearance on this stage. Like Cyrine Abdel Nour, Nadine Rassi, Nadine Noujeim, Nancy Ajram, Elissa … Filmmaker Nadine Labaki received her first trophy at the Murex d’Or, as well as some Arab artists, Moroccan Saad el Mejarrad and Egyptian Abu. Every year, we present new hopes.
What is the great love of your life? My wife and my sons: Ricardo, Matteo, and Angelo; my parents and my brother Fady. I am happy to live in a united family. This is the best gift of my life.
We saw your wife and children by your side at the Murex d’Or … Would you like your children to be like you in the world of medicine and art? My children love to attend this festival. Moreover, they enjoy music, songs, and movies, but I give them the freedom to choose their path, artistic, medical, or both. My Elder son Ricardo is very good at the piano and singing.
What is the best compliment you have received so far? Every year, we receive a lot of beautiful messages from all over the world. Even the patients we examine at the hospital question us about the event. I admit that the echoes of the Murex d’Or have far exceeded the Lebanese and Arab borders to reach the United States, Brazil, and Australia … To our delight. The compliments we receive stimulate us to continue to offer the best.
Why do you regularly honor politicians? Politicians like to attend the event and to present the awards. We have honored a few, especially those who have greatly encouraged and contributed to the success of the Murex d’Or, like Ministers Elias Bou Saab, Leila Solh Hamade, Ziad Baroud, Tarek Mitri …
What is missing in Lebanon to compete with other countries for such events? Funds. The problem is of an economic nature. Murex d’Or is an excessively expensive event. We need a greater contribution from the state. If funding were secured, we would have produced more. The event offers a very beautiful image of Lebanon. If the state gave it more attention, we would have solved a lot of economic problems.
Which personality would you like to honor and you have not been able to do yet? Several people still deserve this honor, but the one I would like to honor is a myth, a symbol of Lebanon. I’m talking about our Lebanese diva Fayrouz who is still far from the media. I would like to meet her because she deserves all the honors we owe her.
One last word? I would like to thank Prestige and especially the editor in chief, Marcelle Nadim, for her valuable contribution to encouraging art and talented artists. And this, despite all the difficulties encountered by the press at the moment. Interview Conducted by Marcelle Nadim.