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Warmth, goodness: From Shah Rukh 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 it has made its presence felt in the global entertainment space. 10 superstars who visited Riyadh left the Saudi capital in awe.

Sofia Vergara

The American-Colombian actress, best known for her role in „Modern Family,” is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and brought her trademark charm to a promotional video for the VIA Riyadh luxury resort in the Saudi capital earlier this year.

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

Lionel Messi

With international football stars flocking to the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation – who plays for Inter Miami – visited Riyadh this summer with his wife and children for a sightseeing trip.

„The best thing about the holidays is spending quality time with our loved ones,” she wrote to her 480 million followers on Instagram. „Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, playing local games and doing crafts with warm Saudi people.”

„If you are still planning your holidays, (Aasir) go to the cool mountains and chill at 17 degrees Celsius,” he advised his fans.

The pictures show the footballer playing with his sons and wife Antonella Roguso.

He also shared a picture of Asir’s beautiful mountains.

Messi visited the kingdom in May and visited At-Duraif, a 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Daria, and also explored some of Riyadh’s contemporary attractions.

He went on a guided tour of Diriya and dined 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 this was a real alternative,” he told Arab News.

WWE star and Momoa’s trainer Mada Abdelhamid posted a photo on Instagram of himself and Momoa posing in front of the traditional Saudi dishes of kabsa and mansaf.

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“Before and after. Now this is what I call a party!!!!! Here in Saudi Arabia they eat like kings. We couldn’t really move afterwards…but we couldn’t stop eating. It was fitting that we came here during Thanksgiving. Our bellies felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa wrote on social media about her experience visiting Riyadh’s iconic Najd Village: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia you treated me like royalty. Aloha to fans and new friends. I had many wonderful experiences. I will be back very soon. Mahalo Omar for fattening me up, the food here is great @najdvillagesa aloha j,” she wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thanks (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumama National Park during the same trip.

Steve Aggie

American-Japanese DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the 2019 MDLBEAST Music Festival in Riyadh with a special remix of 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 performed at the Jeddah World Fest earlier that year, said he „loved” the people in Saudi Arabia and didn’t realize he had a huge fan base.

“It’s amazing and incredible to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia… everyone is so kind and so loving. They are lovely people,” she said, adding that she is keen to return to the country for future performances.

„People love it. You feel the energy in the crowd, they love that kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki recently performed the Gamers8 concert in Riyadh and spoke about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi crowd. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I’ve done Jetta and MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi crowd, they are full of life. They are bursts of energy and passion and excitement. This is what an artiste dreams of…fans really want to express themselves,” he said.

DJ Khaled

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

Coming to the region for the first time, he said his experience of the culture and people was like no other. The quality of life and great enthusiasm attracted the artist. „As we were driving here and I was looking around, I put my head out the window and someone yelled, 'Khaled!’ And I appreciate the love, and I said, 'Joe, man, the people here are happy,'” he told Arab News.

Katie Holmes

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

Holmes shared several photos of her trip to Riyadh on social media, waxing lyrical about the architecture in the caption for one photo, and expressing, „So grateful for this amazing and inspiring time” for another. During his visit, Holmes had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, Elba and Henry.

She opened up about her trip and said the country was „so beautiful”. „It’s been a long journey, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I love the girls I’ve met.”

„It was truly inspiring to see these women enjoying the newfound freedom they now have and the sense of creativity happening,” she added.

John Travolta

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

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

Jackie Chan

Popular actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh to accept the Joy Excellence Award in 2019 and said he is looking forward to shooting movies in Saudi Arabia.

“This is my first time in Saudi and I know it is a big country. After a few hours (of travel) here and seeing the locations, I knew there was a good place for car chases, explosions, action; So, next time, I hope to come back with my team,” Chan said.

The film legend – who visited Jeddah for the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival – thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country and hoped the kingdom would become a leading center for regional film and television production.

Sharu Khan

The Bollywood superstar – who recently shot for his upcoming film „Dungi” in Saudi Arabia – visited the kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept the Joy Excellence Award.

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„We speak of the hospitality, warmth, goodness and love that have been showered upon us … and for most of us, this is our first visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Khan said at the event.

“InshaAllah, we are all waiting with bated breath as the cinema opens in Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we, the world, look forward to helping in any way we can.

Idris Elba

The British actor — known for his roles in „Luthor” and „The Wire” — addressed the launch of a $35 billion „quality of life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives for Saudi Arabia in 2018.

“Saudi Arabia gave me an opportunity to make my film here. It made sense in an economic model,” Elba said at the event. „I’ll certainly be here—why not?”

„Saudi Arabia has a wonderful opportunity to spread its culture through film,” he added.

The actor later reflected on his time in Saudi Arabia on the podcast.

„If I’m honest, surprisingly, I’ve found Saudis to embrace and welcome me,” the actor said during the inaugural event of a talk show produced by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Idra.

„It’s surprising because I don’t know if my work has ever resonated in Saudi,” he explained.

Naomi Campbell

British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, appearing at several events including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion on „Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” in Riyadh.

„I had to pinch myself that I was actually in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, a historic first,” Campbell said at the time.

„It’s really about change happening all over the world. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’m very proud and happy to still be here in business and to see change.

During a fashion panel in Riyadh, the model discussed her love of humanitarian work, which began with Nelson Mandela in Africa in 1993, and the cultural influences she experienced as a result.

„There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” he said. „There are many similarities and I believe that Africa can teach the Middle East (about) textiles and the Middle East can teach Africa artisanal work.”

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