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Hello Dolly


by Jonathan van Bilsen


In the very early nineties, I had an opportunity to emcee an event in Orlando, Florida. I introduced the headlining act, who was none other than the famous country star, Dolly Parton.

Being quite nervous, my first task was to stand on a stage, in front of 2,000 people, all members of a large corporation, and welcome them. Surprisingly, it was easier than I expected. My days in radio prepared me somewhat for public speaking. I have learned, being very familiar with your subject always helps.

Although Dolly Parton was the headliner, a comedian, whose name has drifted from the annals of my memory banks, preceded her, and I was tasked with introducing him to the crowd.

I recall him being a bit arrogant, when he gave me his two line bio, prior to the start of the event, but I was young and quite honoured to be on stage. After my flawless introduction, I walked to the wings and waited patiently; hoping Ms. Parton would get there soon.

A moment later, while listening tentatively to the comedian’s repertoire, I did not notice the headliner step beside me. It was actually the strong fragrance of perfume which made me look over.

You can imagine how stunned I was, when standing less than a dozen centimetres beside me was one of country music’s most famous stars. I had rehearsed a short hello, and planned to tell her of my encounter with Kenny Rogers twenty years earlier, but none of that happened.

I uttered a sheepish ‘Hello’, and managed to blurt out my name. She smiled and introduced herself, which was funny, as it was quite obvious who she was. We listened to the ‘not so funny' comedian, who was wrapping up.

I watched him skim over the audience as he said, “I believe I see Dolly Parton out there.” He paused as people glanced around. He continued, “Oh, I'm sorry,” he said. “I'm looking at two bald headed men.”

People laughed, but Dolly Parton was not amused. I watched her shake her head and curse, louder than she intended.

I stepped onto the stage, said something nice about the comedian and introduced Dolly Parton. She came out, microphone in hand, a big smile on her face and said, ‘Thank you Jon.’

She remembered my name. All I can say is, ‘Wow’.


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 and YouTube.

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