Every act requires a supporting cast - this project was no different.
When we counted heads at the end of the day, the team - the supporting cast if you like - turned out to be vast. Like all great enterprises, a vast pyramid supports those adventurers at the very top.
Without that pyramid, Bear Grylls, Lt Cdr Alan Veal and Sir David Hempleman-Adams would never have achieved their success. Oddly, very little has ever appeared in print about the adventure since the initial euphoria of the day subsided. Subsequently everybody seemed to want to play down what was, on one hand, a wonderfully eccentric enterprise, whilst on the other a potentially dangerous, fatal even, undertaking.
Nonetheless, without Alex Rayner and Marcus Chidgey, the masterminds behind the all-important press and PR coverage of the challenge, very little would have happened. Alex is wildly eccentric whilst Marcus is more of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ sort of guy. Running Captive Minds Ltd, they pulled all the loose ends together and organised the sponsorship, with GH Mumm being the chief supporter.
Flight Sergeant Chris Thorn - CT to all - entering his final few months of a 35 year career in the RAF, where he excelled as a Physical Training Instructor (PTI) before becoming a Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI), had an ordered mind and a wild streak - perfect for this adventure! He spent long hours planning and running the logistics support side of the event, liaising with the RAF and other organisations and generally keeping the team heading in the right direction.
Phill Elston, who formerly served with the Royal Navy, was an expert skydiver, the chief rigger with the RN Raiders Freefall Display Team and stickler for safety, and was responsible for all aspects of parachuting and parachute safety.
Gilo Cardozo MBE, the young director of ParaJet, first described to me before meeting him by Phill, as “the kid in the car”, is as eccentric as the day is long. A passionate and entirely self-taught engineer, he made it his job to design and build the underslung table that would hang below the balloon basket. This was between teaching Bear how to fly his Paramotors and performing some risky skydiving. Rules and regulations were never too close to Gilo’s heart! He and Bear later went on to fly over Everest in his creations.
Belinda ‘Bil’ Thorn, CT’s wife, was instrumental in organising the menu for the duo during their high altitude dinner and maintaining control over CT!
Clive Bailey, of Bailey Balloons, ‘Mr Balloon’ as he quickly became known, ran the ballooning logistics side of the operation in a highly professional manner.
Matthew Waterman, who ran Expedition Kit Ltd, advised on and supplied all the specialist high altitude thermal clothing that was all there was between life and death at 25,000 feet. He is currently a director of S&P Equipment.
Matthew Litten, from BCT Aviation based at Kemble, piloted the diesel-powered Cessna on the Big Day. Until I climbed aboard I had no idea that diesel aircraft existed! Sadly, it proved incapable of out-climbing the balloon! BCT Aviation has also disappeared in the intervening years!
Award-winning photographers John Robert Young, Jeremy Clifton-Gould and the late Russel West, all great friends of mine (and far more accomplished photographers than I), provided the essential wide ranging coverage on the rehearsal day, press day and the Big Day that made my job much easier. Without their help and good humour far, far less would have been accomplished. In addition, Jeremy ran the Mac News Desk on the celebration day whilst Richard Belson from Western Computer (Apple Centre) in Bristol provided all the networking and technical support that was so essential to actually getting the images out to the world’s press.
In addition there were many many people whose names I have, sadly, forgotten or never known, who all provided outstanding support for this adventure. If I have omitted your name or organisation I apologise. Perhaps, if you read this, you can drop me a line so that I can update this to reflect your involvement?
To Pernod-Ricard, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, iCom UK, Cameron Balloons, Ston Easton Park, Normandy Company, Somerset Cadet Bn (The Light Infantry) ACF, Captive Minds Ltd, BBC TV, Western Computers (Apple Centre) Bristol and many more - thank you!
20 September 2017