A Light in Oslo

As I arrived in Norway for a seventh year of handling global media relations for the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, I saw the light in more ways than I ever could have imagined.

Moments after landing in Oslo, a spiral glow illuminated the skies just a day before our President was to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. The “mysterious light” story captivated the country and even momentarily upstaged the man poised to become laureate. The astronomy and extra terrestrial communities were abuzz with wild theories, although a few days later it was determined that a failed Russian missile test caused all of the commotion. It was an eventful start to my trip, albeit an ironic and sobering reminder that even as we all gathered to celebrate peace, the reality of war was ever present.

Enlightenment of a different kind followed as I focused on my task at hand, managing the media, hosts and artists for the peace concert, this year honoring our own commander-in-chief.

I’d never seen the streets of Oslo, or any city, so alive.

Giant murals of Obama greeted me at Central Station, thousands braved the Arctic chill for a glimpse of the First Couple waving from a balcony at the Grand Hotel and Scandinavian children with “hope” candles and American flags were everywhere. It was a sight to see and illustrated how much the perception of our country had changed from my previous visits.

I started working on the Nobel Peace Prize concert my first year at DKC and still remember the skeptical Nords wondering who this brash New Yorker was on their hallowed turf. As years passed, it began to feel more like old home week and I’m now hugging it out with guys named Knut and Geir, butchering a bit of the native tongue and wondering why more people haven’t heard of Vigeland Park.

Despite their reputation as provincial, the Norwegians decided fifteen years ago that inviting American celebrities to host the annual Nobel Concert would serve as a powerful way to spread the message of peace to a wider audience and more youthful demographic. It also morphed from a local classical show into a globally televised “happening” which attracts music’s biggest stars, from Alicia Keys and Diana Ross to Elton John and Paul McCartney. DKC was brought in to secure talent, land media coverage and manage all communications.

Will Smith and his wife Jada were gracious hosts this year. We arranged for them to chat with President Obama for a segment to air within the concert broadcast. An exclusive, no less, chosen by the White House as the only sit-down interview by the President during his Oslo visit.

My favorite quip involved the planet’s biggest movie star admitting to the planet’s most powerful man that he was actually nervous on camera for the first time since Jazzy Jeff was his sidekick. Obama paused, and as Will waited for a sage piece of presidential wisdom, Obama smiled broadly and instead told him to “just channel the Fresh Prince.”

Of course, more substantive dialogue followed, including talk of the President’s prize acceptance speech earlier in the day at City Hall and his overarching theme of “just wars.” The conversation turned out to be a centerpiece of the final show, which also featured Will and Jada’s supremely talented kids, Jaden and Willow, joining them on stage for surprise co-hosting duties. Wyclef Jean, Lang Lang, Donna Summer and Toby Keith had the traditionally reserved crowd on its feet, throwing Obama a celebration fit for a newly-minted laureate. Often stoic Nobel Committee members were dancing in the aisles. Alfred Nobel’s presence was felt in the house.

Throughout the evening, I found myself struggling to truly understand the historic magnitude of what I’d experienced over the past few days.

Backstage after the show, I spoke at length with Harvard professor Dr. Allen Counter, who so eloquently crystallized what we all witnessed here in Oslo. “Do you realize 20 years ago Barack Obama was a young law student with me in Cambridge and at that same time my friend Nelson Mandela was a prisoner serving a life sentence in South Africa. Could anyone in their wildest dreams have predicted that both of these men would each become Presidents and more improbably Nobel Peace Prize winners? Hope is truly alive.”

At that moment, I realized the light in the Norwegian sky a few days earlier had never left.

Posted by: Dave Donovan, Senior Vice President