My Luxury Travel Experience as a Cover Model in Exotic Bangladesh: Globetrotting with Emme Chatterton
MODEL FOR A FAMOUS MUSIC ALBUM IN EXOTIC BANGLADESH
Once upon a time long ago in an exotic faraway land, I served as the face of a love song.
Join me on my journey from travel photographer to first-time model posing on the cover of a famous Bangla music album, and come relive this luxurious trip of a lifetime with me. It’s a tale too good not to share, so keep reading for my surreal experience as a music industry model in the tropical country of Bangladesh.
It was almost summer in the hot Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, and much of the entertainment revolved around socializing in air conditioned spaces. After the cutting winds of British winter, I drank in the clinging humidity and warm sunshine. The weather was worth the sheen of sweat that drenched my entire body every time I stepped outside to get into a chauffeured car or walk a few steps to a building.
Nightlife in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh
When it came to nightlife, the public options were almost non-existent. Drinking alcohol, mind-altering substances, and even red meat are outlawed under the Muslim government, limiting the party scene. If you’re rich and in a private place, however, rules and laws don’t really apply.
The local custom of bribery is ubiquitous, and palms were greased from the time I applied for a travel visa in England, to airport customs, to the pizza shop owner putting contraband pepperoni on our order.
If you aren’t rich or with someone who is, you still have a few options as a tourist. Many hotels, resorts, and restaurants allow alcohol within their private property. For the even remotely elite though, members clubs exist for local ex-patriates, foreign workers, and diplomatic families. These clubs can take any form, from community center to restaurant to gentleman’s parlour.
Once through the elaborately detailed doors of this hidden aristocratic world in the heart of some of the most harrowing poverty on earth, life is very European. Ugly on the outside, glittering on the inside.
I was reminded of the British conquest of India and the reigning elite they left in a state of luxury, waited on by a nation of the nearly enslaved. I felt uncomfortable at first, but also in awe of the sheer lavishness of it all.
What was it REALLY like to live a life of royal luxury?
Sounds like the perfect life, right? Wrong. It became a nightmare.
Seeing the horrors and inhumanities the people of Bangladesh suffer was shocking. I can’t think of another word to describe the physical sensation of horror at seeing what people must survive and endure. To know that I contributed to that, that a luxury lifestyle for the rich entailed a life of misery for everyone else, made me sick.
I felt complicit but also extremely trapped. I sat at lavish feasts where my wealthy and gracious hosts spared no expense on the most luxurious delights from across the world, imported at great expense for their pleasure and the entertainment of their guests. The servants ate plain rice in a shack beside the dog kennel and garage.
Waited on Hand and Foot by Servants
My skin would crawl to have these ‘servants,’ with their kind yet terrified eyes, offering to do everything for me that I normally did myself. A private chef was hired to make ‘western food’ just for me, and was brutally fired on the spot after I had made an off-handed remark in private that the dinner didn’t taste fantastic.
It was mortifing and scary to hear my hosts scream demeaningly at their employees. I was not allowed to intervene then, or any other time, and so I learned to just smile and compliment everything. I didn’t feel luxurious, like I was being pampered at a spa or resort or by a loved one. I felt like a prisoner in golden chains, walking on eggshells, and I still had a month before I could fly home.
Trapped Like A Bird In a Gilded Cage
I felt unable to leave, but also completely unable to do anything. I realized that I was a very tightly controlled guest, and that there were countless secret rules I was expected to follow. To escape the revulsion and helplessness I felt, I tried to ignore the world and just emulate my wealthy hosts by getting wasted every night. This, of course, required going to social clubs and parties.
I was young and had been so excited to see the world – drinking took my mind off things and was fun. I could see my hosts as normal people again for a while, and not slave owning tyrants. In a social setting they were warm, extremely generous, and charming. When I arrived, for example, almost all of my clothing was lost, and they insisted on buying me an entire new summer wardrobe. Then, they continued to order me high-end items as surprise gifts.
So it was that I met the wealthy glitterati of Bangladesh, some local but most were foreign and native English speakers. As an outsider to the local gossip and drama, I personally found it boring at these parties of the rich and famous.
Jet Set Gentleman Was Trying To Catch My Eye
One of the locals that was quite popular in the jet-set scene was an older gentleman who dressed head to toe in ultra-trendy designer outfits absolutely glittering with jewelry. His style was so opulent and ridiculous I thought everything had to be fake, including his wild stories about celebrities and business moguls.
He turned out to be the top music producer of hits sung in Bangla, the language of the region.
One night I was left alone to my own devices at a club for the evening, my friends otherwise engaged in amorous pursuits. While I was innocently downing shots from the private bartender, the aforementioned music producer was talking about his latest hit song to a crowd.
His ‘talent’ was a famous male pop singer who was known for being quite modern and provocative. The jewel-laden producer caught my eye as he elaborated on what ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ songs his new hit was just like. These sophisticated musical acts included Justin Bieber. I politely avoided rolling my eyes while he was watching.
The music producer didn’t stop there, but kept staring at me as he talked about all the famous stars his singer hung out with. He was in England on a recent tour and met with many British-sounding people. Sadly for him, I’m American and didn’t know any of them, but it sounded impressive.
The producer waxed on about how the singer loved getting inspiration from American-style music, and movies… and girls. He let that little tidbit drop with an exaggerated wink in my direction. I was hooked.
WEALTHY MUSIC PRODUCER WAS MY PERSONAL PAPARAZZO
One thing led to another, further drinks were drunk, and much bragging from said producer ensued. He asked if he could take some pictures of me, that he loved my style. He let me wear his red, green, blue and white diamond-encrusted Rolex and a gold chain so heavy my shoulders were sore. Don’t worry, he still had enough bling on to outfit 4 other girls, easily.
I was only too happy to play pretend celebrity photo shoot after a few delicious drinks, especially by the absolutely gorgeous pool, drenched in gold. I’m surprised he wasn’t worried I’d take off on him.
My figure was svelte from a month of relentless e. coli poisoning and IV Fluids, draped in locally slave-crafted luxury garments, full of illegal booze, and I was ready to party!
After all, it isn’t every day you have a music producer lending you a watch more expensive than your car asking you to pose (not nude) for a potential modeling job while onlookers cheer. I felt like an old Hollywood movie star on location in the Pacific islands, and it was glorious.
My travel motto is to embrace every experience that isn’t life threatening, no matter now crazy. So, I had a few drinks… and I did!
Though I might not have agreed to model for anyone had I been sober, I had a fabulous time pretending like I was a famous Bollywood star for a night. The appeal of parading around like a royal princess in gorgeous jewels, gowns, and situations was undeniable.
It was just a silly fantasy though, and I never thought anything would come from it except for some cute Facebook photos. This was before Instagram and social media, so impressing my friends and family was about as far as I thought I’d get.
SINGER WANTED ME ON THE COVER OF HIS ALBUM
Fate however, had a little something more in mind.
The next night it was dark and stormy, with the thick torrential rains giving the city a dreary mood, reminding me of London. Rainsare frequent, and unfortunately the lights and the internet go down almost daily. This boredom compelled us to make plans out of the house where we could find warmth in free-flowing libations.
Once we finally ventured into the deluge, the wealthy music producer got in touch with me. It had been quite an ordeal for him, he explained breathlessly in his clipped accent, he had tried several numbers. At the time, I didn’t have an international cell phone and the land lines were jammed due to storms and power outages.
He finally called a friend of a friend who happened to be with me at that night’s party, and we talked on a borrowed phone.
Once he had me on the line, the music producer asked me for a favor. He told me that he had shown his star singer our silly snapshots and that he loved my look. He thought I was a perfect mix of American and local culture, and he especially liked my “incredibly heavy eye makeup”.
I decided to take that as a compliment, even as my friends snickered behind their pencil-thin eyebrows. (Years later, my eyebrows became famous on Instagram while theirs have to be microbladed on, I’ll just add.) The idea of being famous in an exotic city I hadn’t even heard of two months before was really amusing though, and I was a sucker for flattery.
THE CRAZIEST PART WAS THAT HE WANTED ME TO BE ON THE COVER OF HIS NEW CD!
I was extremely flattered and quite bewildered, since until then I thought the music producer might just be making it all up. I pretty much thought his entire lifestyle and career were just a lie to get young people to party with him. You know that type of guy.
The music producer proved me wrong, though! He was well-known in the area and my friends insisted I accept, so I was happy to go along with it. Secretly I was preening like a prized peacock, but the harrowing poverty all around us was a sobering counterweight to the heady rush of the luxury jetset lifestyle.
By then I had realized that my long dark hair and pale winter skin, coupled with the especially heavy-handed glamour makeup I was used to wearing daily in London, made me especially interesting to the locals. As in, actually stopping traffic and accumulating crowds whenever I went out in public, interesting. I felt like an alien, I felt like Angelina Jolie.
Having a swarm of dozens follow you at a semi-respectful, semi-terrifying distance in markets and at monuments is thrilling and confusing and lonely… and can be very dangerous if you’re not actually a celebrity and you do not have a security entourage with you at all times. At first I was flummoxed, and then I understood this was the cost of fame.
I was used to being behind the camera, to being the photographer of beautiful and interesting people. I had just spent a semester stalking real celebrities outside theater doors and at Wagamama’s for a bit of Friday night fun, and now there were strangers taking stealthy photos of me while I waited for my friends to use the bathroom. They didn’t even know who I was and I was famous!
It just so happened that I look the way regional Bangla movie stars did, and I was also often mistaken for Bollywood actresses. So, I just rolled with it. Since I already had droves of locals line up to stare at me in the shopping mall and markets, I thought being a model would make the whole thing feel a little less weird.
Now I could just smile and say ‘Why yes, I am a model’. Or rather, have our driver or bodyguard say it. And then I’d give a queenly wave.
CLEARLY I WAS CUT OUT FOR THE SUPERMODEL LIFE FROM THE START.
The photoshoot was very low-key, like most of the professional services in Bangladesh. The singer wasn’t involved, he was in India performing, and I actually never heard from him at all.
On a bright and glorious morning I donned my custom tailored sari. It was made by a master tailor that we had to personally visit in his shop, and not sewn by slaves. I was so happy to have something that was made with love for once, and not created to satisfy the sickening exploitation that is the Bengali garment industry.
The sari was a stunning bright teal with gorgeous molten gold accents, and I felt like a princess. We capped off the look with a pair of massive golden bejeweled earrings that sadly you can barely see from this angle.
Trying to figure out how to get into a sari for the first time with only men to help comprised the bulk of the shoot.
Modesty is a huge concern for locals, so at one point I had four men trying to wrap me in yards of cloth while making absolutely certain they didn’t touch a single inch of my exposed skin. Rather difficult, considering the top of the sari is the size of a sports bra!
I think in the end, someone made a call to their mother and dictated her instructions to me. Mother always knows best!
YOU ARE THE BHALOBASI, MY BELOVED ONE
The aesthetic of the photo shoot was unrequited love.
I was told to smile only with my eyes to show my beautiful mysteriousness. The title of the main song of the album was ‘Bhalobasi’ which translated to ‘My Love.’ It sounds romantic but actually it’s sad song about a love you can never catch.
I was supposed to portray a ghost or a dream, a lover you could only think about but never hold in your arms. I don’t remember how to say any of the other Bangla words in the album name, but I’ll never forget ‘Bhalobasi’.
After 15 minutes and several poses they were satisfied, and my first music industry shoot was over.
Though the editors chose to employ some heavy handed techniques that stripped away the beautiful blue and gold colors, it could have been much worse. They used this shot with an overlay of Bengali script and a black rectangle on the side that the text crossed over onto.
It looked really cheesy with the text, like a bootleg DVD, but sadly I can’t find an image of it. The sari is still in perfect condition, however, so might have to do a re-enactment one of these days… leave me a comment if you’d like to see that!
In the Mood For More?
If I’ve inspired you to take a trip of your own, Lacey has rounded up the most stylish luggage for your lifestyle and also the hottest swimwear for your body type… who knows when you might catch the interest of a music industry mogul by the pool!
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
So there you have it. That was the story of how I became a cover model for a famous musician’s album halfway across the world. A tiny bit glamorous, a little bit silly, and a lot of good fun memories made while traveling the world. Would you be up for a photoshoot abroad?
If you could be someone famous in another country, what would you like to be known for? And how would you feel if swarms of people in a foreign land thought you were a movie star? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to know!