When Don King boarded a flight to Bahrain in the sixties he had no idea that he was embarking on an adventure that would still resonate 50 years later. Tricked into coming here to work on an offshore oil rig, the 82-year-old ended up falling in love with the country that he called home for over 10 years. SANDEEP SINGH GREWAL reports...
DON King thought he was joining the catering team of a guest house when he boarded a fateful flight to Bahrain on April 1, 1962.
The 32-year-old was dressed in a grey suit and stiff-collared white shirt when he left his home in Surrey, UK, carrying two suitcases packed with warm woollen clothes - after his recruitment agency told him it was winter in Bahrain.
Little did he realise as he stepped out on that April Fool's Day that he was actually being lured to the Arabian Peninsula to wash dishes on an offshore oil rig.
"When they opened the aircraft door on arrival in Bahrain it was like entering a baker's oven," recalled Mr King, who was made to wait two hours before anyone showed up to meet him upon arrival.
"It was hot. I thought someone had played an April Fool's prank on me as no-one came to receive me.
"Finally , a short Lebanese man called Sameer came looking for me and we drove in his big Chevrolet to Bab Al Bahrain."
Mr King had been promised that he would be rolling in Gulf rupees, Bahrain's currency at the time, through working at a guest house.
However, he got an idea of what awaited him when he finally arrived at his accommodation in Manama.
"I still remember Sameer took me to the East Hotel in Manama that was half built and we entered a room on the first floor," he said.
"There were two Bedouins in traditional attire with long beards.
"Being a typical Brit I greeted them good evening, but their expression was like a stone. No response."
Having no other option he perched himself on a bed and tried to make himself comfortable, but barely a week passed before he was being bundled onto another plane - this time heading out to sea.
Sameer contacted him five days after his arrival in Bahrain and told him to get ready for a "dance party", but he had no idea he was about to spend almost three months on an oil rig in the Arabian Gulf.
"All kinds of fruits were piled up when the plane took off," he said.
"I saw a small island at a distance and when the plane was landing, Arabs were shoving sand off the runway."
He was then directed into a boat and it was only then that he realised where he was being taken.
"The sea was smooth and I remember there were sharks going past us," he said.
"Then we had to climb all these stairs to get up the rig."
After boarding the oil rig Mr King was told he had been hired to work in the kitchen.
"So basically I was duped by the recruitment agency in London, which promised me a job as catering staff in Bahrain, and here I was washing utensils and keeping the oil rig kitchen clean," he said.
Life on the rig was tedious and after several weeks in the middle of nowhere, taking orders round the clock from the chief steward, Mr King asked to be shipped back to Manama - and never looked back.
His arrival back on the mainland marked the start of a glorious period as he put his stamp on Bahrain's nightlife in the sixties and seventies.
He first got a job at the Speedboat Hotel, which used to be located near the British Embassy in Manama, and later landed a role as manager of the Bahrain Airport Restaurant - where he was responsible for hiring its first live band.
It became one of the country's most happening locations, but not without some difficulties.
"Oh, It was horrible!" he remembered.
"I had to teach the staff to dance with the choir, but in a few weeks things changed as the band and menu was good and the place became the most happening for all age groups - including visitors from Saudi Arabia, Doha and Ras Al Khaima."
He was rewarded for his efforts by Late Amir HH Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who invited him to his palace in Riffa and presented him with a gold Omega watch.
"Shaikh Isa's English was absolutely perfect," recalled Mr King.
"He told me that he knew everything that went on in the island and congratulated me for the good job I was doing at the airport restaurant."
Things were going well and days would start with a breakfast of fresh yoghurt, bread and milk that cost less than one rupee, followed by strolls in the Manama suq where shops sold Iranian carpets and goods from India, Japan and Turkey.
"'Tebi chai? Tebi gahwa?' (Would you like some tea or coffee?) - that was all you heard from shopkeepers inviting customers in," he said.
"Things were quite simple back then. There was no furniture in Bahraini households - only embroidered cushion seats and a mattress near the wall."
Weekends would be spent swimming in the natural spring at Adhari, or at the beach in Zallaq.
But life wasn't always so easy and Mr King got a taste of how regional politics can influence the local atmosphere in 1968, when former Egyptain President Gamal Abdel Nasser went on the radio and called on Arabs to target British and American citizens during the War of Attrition with Israel.
"It was just like any day, I stepped out of my house to purchase lentils from the nearby Iranian shop and was pelted with stones by an angry mob," he recalled.
"I rushed back to my hotel and the security staff told me about Gamal Abdel Nasser's call to target the Americans and British."
Mr King escaped unhurt, but stayed indoors for over a week until a friend called to tell him that it was safe to step outside.
"Life was back to normal," he said. "The customary 'salaams' to foreigners were being heard again."
However, Mr King called time on his stay in Bahrain in the early seventies to embark on a global adventure that has seen him manage restaurants in Bermuda, Greece, Hawaii, Dubai and New Zealand.
It was at the restaurant in Bermuda where he witnessed celebrity actress Zsa Zsa Gabor being proposed to by George Sanders, who she later married.
However, despite his extensive travels Bahrain remains close to Mr King's heart and he has just returned for the first time in 21 years.
He flew in exactly 50 years after he first arrived here to stay with a Bahraini family, who he established a close bond with during his first stint here.
"I am like an elder in their house and they treat me like their father, as I have seen these kids grow in front of me," he said.
The country has changed dramatically since he was last here in 1992 and he can no longer recognise the old beaches, gardens and buildings.
However, he said the most glaring change is the warmth of Bahrainis, which he blamed on a more materialistic way of life.
"The simple, no nonsense life in Bahrain that I experienced is missing," he said.
"People were much happier then, despite not having all these facilities we have in modern times."
But having travelled the world so extensively that he now considers himself a "stranger at home in Surrey", he said there was no doubt about the place he missed the most.
"The old Bahrain is what I remember and miss the most," he said.