It was the winter of 1985 and I had arrived in Kathmandu as a part of a Mount Everest expedition. Our group was invited to a party for the American team hosted by the Nepalese government. Back then, climbing Mount Everest required approval from the King of Nepal, and so, only a few expeditions were allowed each year. The commercial circus with hundreds of tourists at Base Camp came much later. When I arrived at the party, it was already full of people clinking glasses and telling lies. One of my expedition members, Rob Anderson, rattled off the names of a number of famous people that would be there although I didn’t recognize anyone he mentioned. This was no surprise because that was not the circles I ran in.
As I was wandering around this party with its diverse mix of food, colors, culture and languages, I felt completely out of place like I had landed next to Humphrey Bogart in the movie “Casablanca.”
As a rookie adventure traveler in search of food that might be safe to eat , I walked into one room where a large group of people were sitting against a wall behind a long table. I heard a feminine voice say, “Hey! Come sit here!” I turned and there was this attractive woman who had an entourage of people around her and it appeared she had their attention. When I didn’t recognize her at first, Rob whispered, “That’s Carrie Fisher, you know, Princess Leia.”
I was pointing to myself as if to say, “You mean me?” Carrie Fisher quickly replied, “Yes, come sit here.” I’m not a drinker and I’m much more comfortable outdoors by myself, and so, my first thought was “I don’t want to sit with all those people” as Carrie made room for me to sit down next to her. And so I sat and shyly observed this noisy mix of drinking and laughing. Ironically, it seemed much like the bar room scene in the first Star Wars movie … so many different cultures, languages, noise, music and food.
I was flattered that Carrie Fisher invited me to sit with her although I got the feeling she just wanted another person in her audience. As I was secretly plotting my exit from this buzz of people, she turns to me and the mood switched from entertaining the group of people to a conversation between Carrie and me. She was curious about the Everest expedition and how it came together. Before the energy of the group interrupted the conversation, she asked where we were staying and gave me a note with the name of her hotel in Kathmandu with a request that I should stop by. Again, I was flattered yet considered it what I call a California date, you know, the “We should do lunch sometime” comment without a real commitment to date or time.
I finally saw an opportunity to exit the group and wrote off my encounter with Princess Leia as a fun and interesting brush with fame.
The next morning, I got a message at the front desk of the guest house the team was staying at. It was from a Jean Copeland, Carrie’s assistant noting that 11:00 a.m. would be a good time to come visit at their hotel. It was a free day from team activities so I asked Rob Anderson if he wanted to go along. Rob and I survived another Kathmandu taxi ride to their hotel which could be another adventure story itself.
When we arrived, Jean met us at the front desk. As Jean and Rob were having a conversation, she suggested I go to Carrie’s room and let her know we had arrived. This was before there were phones in guest rooms in Kathmandu and communication was still handled by hand written notes or in person communication. So I went to Carrie’s room and she answered the door with a casual, “Oh, great to see you. Come on in. Where did you go last night?” I told her it was getting a little busy for me and, coming from a firefighter’s point of view, I thought it was best to get out of the building. You would know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever been to Kathmandu and observed the maze and chaos of wiring and building construction.
As I was standing in her room, she noticed the Everest “Take Us To The Top” team promotional shirts I was wearing and asked, “How do I get one of those T-shirts?” When I offered to get her one, Carrie commanded, “I want that one!” A little embarrassed, I told her “Well, you’re welcome to this one, but I don’t have anything else to wear.” “We can trade,” Carrie said as she took off her red pullover top and handed it to me with an outstretched arm. If you are thinking she was wearing some kind of undergarment that would have given this exchange a sense of modesty, you would be wrong. There in front of me was Princess Leia without even the famous gold metal bikini of so many fantasies. By now, I’m sure I was as red as her shirt. (Thirty years later, my face is totally flushed just writing about this.) Without skipping a beat, Carrie asked, “Well?” And our shirts were exchanged.
Adventures with Carrie Fisher to be continued …
Brian O’Malley, CSP
Adventurer, Motivational Speaker, Executive Coach