WASHINGTON, D.C. – Georgetown hair salon owner Eivind Bjerke just published his memoir recently, called Hair Force One, which describes his journey from a cow-milking stool on his family’s farm to a stylist’s chair to a regular seat on Air Force One.
“Never in my wildest dreams…growing up on that small farm in Norway, milking cows before I went to school in the morning…that one day I would have the honor to accompany the president of the United States and his wonderful wife and my good friend, Rosalynn Carter, onboard Air Force One as the official White House hairdresser.”
In his new book, Bjerke writes about many of his clients whom readers will recognize. He builds vivid pictures around them, bringing the experiences and conversations to life. For example, Pamela Churchill Harriman, practically leaps off the page as he describes working with her. An English-born American aristocrat who served as the U.S. Ambassador to France and was heralded as a philanthropic celebrity, Harriman told him many things including about hiding in a bunker at 10 Downing Street during some of the bombings during World War 2.
But she also made his knees buckle. “I did her hair almost every day for 30 years when she was in Washington,” he shares, but he would be buckling “because she had such sex appeal,” like no one he had ever known. Another author, Stuart Husband, echoed those feelings in his book, “Pamela Harriman: Of Vice and Men” describing Harriman as a woman who “blazed a trail through the international scene of her era, enticing powerful men like moths to a particularly feisty flame.”
Bjerke writes lovingly about Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut John Glenn, who drove into Georgetown from Potomac, Maryland every Thursday to get her hair done, well into her nineties. He tells a memorable and humorous story about her surprise 80th birthday party at Congressional Country Club, and what dear friends they became to each other.
But the real lofty turning point for the rising Norwegian hairdresser came on an icy, sloppy weather day in January, 1977 when he received a phone call from his wife while at the home of a client, who had broken a hip and who couldn’t drive in to see him. “With shampoo, hair conditioning, a blow-dryer and curlers and hairpins all over the place,” he writes, “I dropped what I was doing and took the telephone call. MaryAnn, almost out of breath and very excited, said, ‘Eivind, the White House called and they want you to come over right away and do Mrs. Carter’s hair.”
Bjerke has the reader laughing out loud as he describes how he practically flew to the White House gathering his supplies and grabbing window cleaner on the way so he could jump out of his car at every red light to clean the windows and spiff up his vehicle, before arriving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “I did that enough so that when I got to the security gate,” he says, they saw a sharp, clean Mr. Cool from Norway ready to work.
That appointment at the Carter White House turned into several times a week, and Bjerke almost gushes when he describes what a “special person Mrs. Carter” became to him and his family. In June of 1977 he traveled with the First Lady on the first of many diplomatic trips when they flew out of Andrews Air Force Based to visit seven countries in Latin America. “Mrs. Carter always had to be camera-ready and that was my responsibility,” writes Bjerke.
Fast forward through many trips and family get togethers, and their children playing together in the White House, and the years and the friendship with the Carters has always been steady and strong. He was a special guest at their 75th wedding anniversary in July 2021, when his grandchildren drove him to Plains, Georgia, almost 800 miles away from his Georgetown home He describes the days before the party, time with the president and of coloring Rosalynn’s hair and how well she got along at 93. “Nothing would have kept me away,” says Bjerke.
In addition to letting us in on some of the amusing Carter family stories, he tells many funny, quippy and heart-warming anecdotes about other recognizable names including Lady Bird Johnson and her two daughters. In fact, he thanks Luci and Lynda Johnson in the acknowledgments section for helping “kick off his career” just a few months after arriving in the United States in 1964.
Inside the pages of “Hair Force One” there are so many stories that will touch you and make you laugh. Bjerke has also coiffed the heads of Julia Child, Sharon and Senator Jay Rockefeller and their family, Senator Dianne Feinstein and daughter, Nancy Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Joan Rivers, Katherine Graham, and countless others including Queen Sonja of Norway, Queen Sylvia of Sweden and Princess Margaret of England.
“Not all my work is glamourous, however,” Bjerke says, who still often spends 12-14 hour days on his feet at his Salon and Spa called Eivind and Hans of Georgetown, 2233 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, D.C. working on everyday people too. His work with cancer patients and specialty wigs is worth a book of its own, but he dedicates a bit of space in the book to tell that story too.
In short, the author’s heart, enthusiasm, optimism and transparency show up in every paragraph and are clearly why he has been the inside confidante and dear friend to so many people, well known and otherwise.
But make no mistake, there is one person who radiates from the author’s pen and heart through this memoir, and that is the love of his life, MaryAnn, who made his heart “flutter for 50 years.”
It is that love affair and the connection to his children and grandchildren that will also ingratiate him to you, probably more than the celebrity stories. By the time you reach the last page, you’ll feel you know them all.
Hair Force One: From Norwegian Immigrant to Official Hairdresser for the White House is available on Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle.