How does it feel to be on the cover of Enigma’s first ‘Women on Top’ issue?
It’s so nice to labelled a woman on top, that’s a great way to be perceived. I work hard and I am very meticulous. I don’t accept anything average or ‘normal’. ‘Middle of the road’ does not satisfy me. I always want to add value to the market with new ideas. I’m a real perfectionist, but at the same time I’m a very spontaneous person. I don’t plan things ahead; I live on the spur of the moment and follow my instincts. My mum says I’m like a mushroom that sprouts spontaneously without being cultivated. So occasionally my actions might be misunderstood. Of course I make mistakes, but I learn from them. So I’m very happy you think I’m a woman on top!
Of course, there’s a lot of responsibility attached to that. It means you always have to maintain that standard and constantly live up to people’s expectations. The music video for your latest single ‘Ibn El Helal’ (A Good Guy) was fabulous, tell us about your experiences with that…
I was so happy with its success. The character is strong and has a great sense of humour, which is very much like me. In fact the whole album – Habibi Ana – was fantastic to work on, especially as I was very involved in every stage of its production. I was truly emotionally invested in it and it was my biggest artistic challenge so far. It was a very innovative process and thankfully, we had a lot of time to work on it. The album is a musical gem and I wanted to take my fans on a very interesting journey of my own personal self-exploration. It’s very different from my previous albums as I worked with the finest songwriters and composers to create new musical styles and incorporate cutting edge beats with powerful lyrics. I really wanted to show how much I’ve grown as an artist.
Tell us about ‘Dokan Shehata’, the hot new movie you’re working on!
This is my first cinematic experience and I’m so lucky to be working with the brilliant director Khaled Youssef. It’s all very challenging, and I’m working hard to prove myself. My character is a girl from a very poor background, and she’s completely different from Haifa, the singer; the very opposite of my glamorous and feminine persona. I love the character and the evolution she goes through and I’ve tried my best to do her justice. I was actually really sad when filming wrapped up! With this movie, I’ve really started big, especially considering the calibre of my co-stars – Mahmoud Hemeida, Amr Saad, Ghada Abdel Razek and Amr Abdel Galil. But I love a challenge and like to push myself to extremes. Khaled has faith in my abilities as an actress and he held my hand every step of the way. There’s a lot riding on me and I really hope I don’t disappoint anyone!
So professionally, you’ve gone from singing siren to silver screen star. But how has Haifa Wehbe, the person, evolved?
I am what I am. I never change. During the last two years, the spotlight has been really focused on me and that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I can no longer go shopping with my mum or hang out in public with my friends. I need to keep a low profile to make the lives of the people around me bearable. But on a business level, I’m always developing and always working on new ideas.
Haifa, the ‘star’, has always got to seem new and fresh. Rumour is, you’re planning on releasing your own brand of clothing. Is that true?
Yes, I’m thinking about it. I want to do it for my fans so they can have a little piece of Haifa style!
You’ve travelled the world, survived scandals and enjoyed stellar success. Throughout it all, what’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Everyday life teaches me something new, it’s hard to choose just one thing. But the experience that had the greatest impact on my life was being betrayed by someone really close to me. It’s one of those things that is difficult to forget or simply get over. Every one knows Haifa, the superstar. But what were you like as a child? My family always knew I was destined for something big. I’ve always had my looks and charisma, which made me stand out from early on. People used to say I looked like Sherihan, the Egyptian actress, because of my thick, long hair, which was very flattering. The way I look has always been important to me, that’s why I’m really into fashion and makeup and I constantly change my image.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Complete this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today without…
My determination and will power.
You’ve been spotted at some of the most glamorous events in the world, tell us about that…
I get invited to many international events and I always try to make an appearance. It’s great that they have me on their guest list; knowing you are being recognised overseas for your work and your star quality is important. I enjoy those glamorous events and I take pride in representing my culture at them.
If you won a major award, who would you thank?
I would leave it till the last minute because I’ve always felt that prepared speeches are boring. That’s why I would leave it to the spur of the moment, when I’m up there living it. Words tend to be more sincere and heartfelt when they are unrehearsed.
What is your biggest ambition?
My ambition knows no limits so I can’t choose just one thing.
You are perhaps the most ‘controversial’ Arab star and the media loves to unearth stories about you and turn them into ‘scandals’. How do you deal with that?
I might look strong from the outside, but I am fragile on the inside. Any negative news about me really affects me. So I usually just look at the pictures and avoid the words. I try not to listen to or read any hurtful criticism that’s written about me. I only believe in constructive criticism because it helps an artist progress and develop. So I totally ignore any other sort of offensive opinion and I don’t allow negative energy to get to me. I guess I’m just misunderstood! At the same time I have established a huge fan base that understands who I am as an artist. They know I’m creating an innovative and modern form of art so I don’t worry as much anymore. The fans are smart and they can tell if what they are reading is the truth or just gossip. Yet you can’t please everyone because someone will always have a negative opinion, which is their right; just like it’s my right to express who I am. All the rumours I hear about myself make me wonder how one person can be doing all those things and be at all these places at the same time. It’s insane! Maybe there are five other Haifa Wehbes out there that I’m just not aware of!
You are the only Arab woman consistently ranked in international polls as one of the most desirable women in the world. Why do you think that is?
You should probably ask whoever put me on those lists! It might be because the way I look fits in with international ideals of beauty. My music always gets attention from international music television stations and my singles appear on international compilations, like the Ministry of Sound. The foreign public is fully aware of me and it’s really encouraging to know my work gets the recognition it deserves beyond our local boundaries.
Being as famous as you are, men must be incredibly intimidated to come up and talk to you! What is the funniest chat up line you’ve ever heard?
A man who is confident and bold would not get intimidated by fame and would just step forward and express his feelings. And that’s the only kind of man I’d be interested in! All that matters is that they are honest. The funniest chat up line I’ve ever heard would have to be from the man who just came up to me and introduced himself by saying, “Hi. I’m your future lover, pleased to meet you!” I thought it was cute and funny because it felt genuine and spontaneous.
What do you find attractive in a man?
A character that’s deep and impressive and above all a great sense of humour. He has to be good looking and smell good too… oh, and have a nice smile!
What makes you cry?
Injustice in life generally. I’m a softie at heart who gets emotional easily. I always feel like crying when I see someone who needs something, like old people in pain or children crying and in need.
What are the qualities you most admire in people?
Dignity, self respect, honesty, modesty, humour and loyalty.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being satisfied and genuinely content with life.
What is your greatest fear?
Which words or phrases do you overuse?
I say “Hayati” (My life) quite a lot when talking to my family or best friends.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I trust people too quickly so I’d like to become more cautious with people. I’m also very hot-tempered; the slightest thing can get me raging, but I cool down just as fast!
Where and when were you happiest?
What is your motto?
Follow your instinct. Your heart will never mislead you if you truly listen to it and believe in it.