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You've Got to be Kidding...

Madeleine and Me


Jonathan van Bilsen

April 7, 2022

Madeleine and Me

Over the years, my travels have taken me to many destinations. I have had the pleasure of meeting numerous people, many of which will stay in my memory forever. One such person was Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration.

I had just returned from Honolulu on a job, and learned I had to return for another week to the same location. I knew Madeleine Albright was doing a talk there at the same time, and decided to offer my services to photograph her. To my surprise, her team was in search of a new series of photos, and arrangements were made to meet me.

I contacted the Hilton Village in Waikiki (where we were both staying), and explained I needed to borrow a room for my new project. They were very obliging, and after securing photography equipment locally, I headed to the airport for what I hoped would be a great adventure.

There was a note for me in the lobby when I checked in, asking to meet Ms. Albright the next morning at 4:30 am. Her schedule was hectic, and I suggested we meet in the hotel restaurant before doing the shoot. They agreed, and I was amazed how forthcoming the hotel was by opening the restaurant early.

I set up all the camera gear and tried to sleep, but at three am, overcome by jetlag and excitement, I decided to get up and get ready. I had brought my new suit and was nervous as could be, but made my way to the restaurant and chatted with the staff and chef.

At 4:15 two men, who looked like linebackers for Notre Dame, entered and introduced themselves as Ms. Albright’s security team. I greeted them and expected to be frisked, but they just smiled and walked around the restaurant. Ten minutes later, Ms. Albright, accompanied by another security person, walked in and came to where I was sitting.

After five minutes of nervous banter, I started to feel at ease. She talked about her grandchildren, who lived in San Francisco, and explained it was the main reason for her taking this ‘gig’ (she had arranged a layover in the Bay area). To my surprise, she was very candid about her life, and we chatted over breakfast for about 45 minutes. I must admit, it was probably the best service I have ever received in an eatery.

One of the security staff came over, spoke to my guest and we headed upstairs for the shoot. It was an unbelievable experience, and every time I look at the photo of her, the event replays itself in my mind. No doubt, Madeleine Albright is probably thinking the same thing about me, right now.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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