It was Bunyamin “Benjo” Ahmed’s tenth day at work at the airport when he met Italian footballer Gianluca Zambrotta and snapped a picture together.
“I felt hesitant at first. But later I found myself asking for a picture. It was not the best photo, but it was the first and it was fine,” said Benjo.
Ever since this precise moment in 2006, the lively young man is on a quest to take pictures with every well-known face he meets at his workplace.
Throughout the last eleven years in working for two companies at Velana International Airport, Benjo has met a countless number of miscellaneous celebrities, including actors, models, artists and sportspeople. Among them, Benjo has a special place in his heart for the people who play his favorite sport: football.
The most magical element of Benjo is that he can recognize even the lesser-known stars.
“You would not know most of these people even if they are in front of you. But recognizing many of these celebrities and their lines of work is a vast knowledge. I would say, 90 percent of the stars I take pictures with, I know who they are,
“Especially footballers are easy to distinguish. Some have special characteristics. For Maldivians, players from east-European leagues are unfamiliar. Sometimes I have to search for them on the web too,” said Benjo.
Benjo has taken pictures with more than a hundred international celebrities, including Brazilian football legend Ronaldo, Spanish now-retired footballer Carles Puyol, Manchester United’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, Manchester City’s current manager Josep Guardiola, Sri Lankan Cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya, Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, Britain’s “most successful-ever” distance runner Sir Mo Farah, Pretty Little Liars’ star Shay Mitchell, and Bollywood stars Priyanka Chopra, Rani Mukherjee and Salman Khan.
But being a hardcore fan of English football club Manchester United, Benjo’s most memorable photo was taken on 29th June 2016, with the club’s current boss Jose Mourinho. At the time, Mourinho was enjoying one final holiday before officially taking over the club.
“There were around five of us. I was the lucky one: I got to snap a picture with Mourinho before he entered the VIP Lounge. But my friends were sulky because they could not pose with him. I did not want to have them disappointed, so I talked to his agent who [with Mourinho’s consent] let my friends and I enter the VIP lounge and pose with Mourinho,”
Benjo also cherishes the moment he met Norwegian-born Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solksjær.
“[Meeting Solsksjær] was also memorable. I even gave him a little token, a miniature statue of him that says ‘No.1 Fan’,”
Before requesting to pose together with any famous personality, Benjo says he makes sure to consider the most appropriate moment, and to be respectful.
“Not every person gets checked-in to flights straightaway. Booking and reservation issues are also arise. Distressing moments like these are not ideal to approach for pictures,”
It is very important to respect the privacy of famous personalities too, Benjo says. He recounted coming across English actor Jason Statham, who was in Maldives last February, for a photo-shoot with his then-pregnant fiancée Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
“It was a very private affair for his family. I saw them at the airport. But I knew it was not an ideal moment so I did not approach them,”
But according to him, most big-names, and even lesser-known stars are excited to see him and his star-struck friends.
“They get very thrilled when they realize they have fans even here in Maldives. Like, some days ago I met a model. She was very delighted when I recognized her. People get more excited when you approach them with their photo for autographs. Then they know we are not random, and that we really follow them,” Benjo said.
Surprisingly, Benjo—whose enthusiasm to meet famous faces cause him to visit the airport even on his days off—believes his celebrity photo-stream can have a really good impact on tourism too.
“I have had people from around the world direct-message me on my social media, expressing fascination to visit Maldives just because their idols were holidaying here. So I guess it is safe to say this is also a boost on Maldives’ tourism,” said Benjo.
While he has met hundreds of world-famous faces, Benjo’s dream is to meet Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who led his favorite football squad Manchester United for almost 27 years. Benjo also wishes to meet retired English footballer David Beckham and Real Madrid’s Portuguese champ Cristiano Ronaldo—two major stars whom he met before, but could not take a picture with.