Well, the festive season has landed and 2011 has simply flown by here at Virgin Balloon Flights. (New Year’s resolution: no more balloon puns!).
It’s been a fantastic 12 months with thousands of new airborne adventurers, fantastic personal achievements by staff and charity campaigns galore! Enjoy some of our highlights in pictures below.
Steve Dubois of SteveOnTheRun.co.uk, from Virgin Media in Cambridge, visited Virgin Balloon Flights HQ for a training run with our Eve (who ran a half marathon this year for Hope Hope) and Sue as part of his preparation for the Virgin London Marathon. Entrepreneur Mark Pearson, of MyVoucherCodes.co.uk fame, told us about his unforgettable balloon flight in Surrey the previous season.
Fundraiser and Handstand King Jon Smallwood surprised pilot Simon after a balloon flight in Dorset and two little first time balloonists climbed aboard in Yorkshire to raise money for Comic Relief.
Pilot Mark Simmons and his lucky passengers enjoyed a tea break at a 1,000ft on a balloon flight over Bristol and later in the month we caught up with Sir Richard Branson when our balloon was at the Virgin London Marathon.
We met two-year-old balloon fan Craig Laing from Perth in Scotland where we fly from and provided a prize for a fantastic Ladies Day at Perth Racecourse.
We announced our return to the International Bristol Balloon Fiesta and Lee Hall and Carly Jenkins from Hampshire became the first of several couples to get engaged in mid-air this year – congratulations again!
TV Illusionist Derren Brown joined pilot Mark Shemilt for a magical balloon flight over Oxfordshire and our head of customer service Lynsay delivered toys donated by staff to the Muxton After School Club in Telford as part of our Mandela Day efforts.
Pilot Neal Parry flew his 10,000th passenger called Bridget Jones on a balloon ride over Staffordshire and soul singing sensatio Beverley Knight did a fantastic performance in mid-air for Virgin Red Room when we appeared at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
The Virgin Summer of Love Virgil Van Scoop rolled in to see us bringing free ice cream and giving us the perfect opportunity to hand over the cheque for £7,811 to Hope House. Meanwhile, Kenneth our chief pilot won the skill flying challenge at the famous Lorraine Mondial Air Balloons event in France
Pilot Mark Shemilt was chosen as our company’s Star of the Year for his excellent customer service and met Sir Richard and Holly Branson at a glitzy awards night at Kensington Roof Gardens. Meanwhile, the team celebrated Halloween in scary style.
Head of marketing Alex completed 50 First Times for the Virgin Social Marthon in aid of Virgin Unite including a ten-mile run, ice bath, leg wax and driving a tractor and our new website ended its first month after launch with some great feedback which made us smile.
Marketing exec and business champion Kirsty won a trip to South Africa to visit Virgin Unite’s Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg and help Sir Richard with launch of his new book Screw Business as Usual. Sam Tolley won our photography competition with this beautiful picture on a balloon flight over Cambridgeshire.
Thanks to all of our pilots, crew, staff, customers, launch sites and partners for a great year.
Merry Christmas and here’s to brilliant 2012!
“As the Virgin Unite Insider for Virgin Balloon Flights, the opportunities to use ‘business as a force for good’ are endless. When the chance of going to South Africa with Sir Richard Branson and his connection trip guests came my way courtesy of Virgin Unite, of course I grabbed it by the (Buffalo) horns and got packing!
A jam packed schedule allowed me to meet some of the most inspiring, motivated and dedicated people I’ve met in my lifetime; The Branson Centre Entrepreneurs, Jean Oelwang (The CEO of Virgin Unite), Dr Taddy Blecher (a pioneer of the free education movement in South Africa) and of course Sir Richard himself alongside his business mogul guests.
After a long flight with the superb Virgin Atlantic, a hotel check in and a stimulating meet and greet, I accompanied Jean, the connection trip guests and the Virgin Unite team to Newtown arriving at the Sophiatown Restaurant where we were delighted by African cuisine and guest speaker Dr Taddy Blecher. Post lunch we marvelled at Inner City Craft Initiatives and met ‘Prince’ an up and coming South African jeweller who designed & created the most interesting pieces of ‘junk’ jewellery. Who can resist a bracelet made out of a fork?!
From here we crossed townships to Constitution Hill. By far one of Johannesburg’s most moving sights. Originally a fort during the Boer War it later became an infamous prison housing many of South Africa’s most well-known resistance leaders and is now home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa. After a quick change we headed off to the Orient Restaurant and chatted over exquisite Chinese food before listening to more inspiring guest speakers.
Early the next morning guests enjoyed breakfast with Sir Richard before we travelled to Mzansi Designers Studio to meet Lesego Malatsi (a previous Branson centre entrepreneur) and saw his fashion house in full swing. We were later treated to seeing his first boutique shop in Maponya Mall too. We also experienced another previous Branson Centre entrepreneurs thriving business in Diepkloof, Soweto. A recycling plant started by Tshepo Nawane.
Inspired once more by the sheer determination and drive to create employment for local communities and to start businesses from scratch, we chatted to both Lesego and Tshepo en route to the grand opening of the Virgin Active Gym in Maponya. Greeted with steel drums, stilt walkers and Sir Richard, this feast of colour and sound gave the gym opening the atmosphere it most definitely deserved.
Departing the swanky new gym we lunched at Velo and chatted with Marious Minnie, the CEO of Southpoint and a partner and investor of the Branson Centre (BC) before crossing over to the BC to offer mentoring to the current entrepreneurs.
The pièce de résistance of the day was of course the Screw Business As Usual booklaunch at ‘Randlords’ where Richard spoke about his book alongside African children’s choirs and pure cultured entertainment. You can see my video montage of the #SBAU book launch here on our YouTube page.
After supper and wine back at the hotel with Richard and guests, it was off to bed before an early start to wave off the guests, Richard and Jean to Ulusaba for the next step of their trip. You can see Richards Blog about their game drive here. I spent my last day in South Africa with some of the Virgin Media Pioneers sightseeing and taking in some of South Africa’s most beautiful animals.
THANK YOU to Virgin Unite, Sir Richard, Jean and the rest of the team for the most amazing experience of my life. A trip I will treasure in my heart forever.”
For just £89 you can give one of the most unforgettable and unique Christmas presents around – a hot air balloon ride from the largest passenger carrying balloon company in the world! We’ll even throw in a gorgeous box of chocs FREE with our national vouchers!
Watch their face light up when they realise that they’ve been given a Champagne balloon ride experience.
With over 100 launch sites to choose from all over England, Scotland and Wales they’ll be spoilt for choice as to where to start their airborne adventure.
Left it late? Doesn’t matter – you can get our balloon ride vouchers instantly with our Email Vouchers right up until the very last minute.
You can make this amazing gift even more spectacular by adding a bottle of Champers or a Champagne flute too from our gorgeous Gifts.
The number of hot air ballooning photos shared with us this season was higher than ever. Not only did we see lots and lots but the standard and quality of those images was fantastic too. So a huge thank you to everyone who shared their amazing images with us!
Receiving a massive 21.5% of overall votes to secure pole position in the Virgin Balloon Flights Annual Photo Competition 2011 was the breath-takingly atmospheric image taken over Longstanton in Cambridgeshire by Sam Tolley.
‘Misty Morning’ also won best in category securing a huge 29.4% of all the votes in Category 1 – Views from the Basket. Well done Sam; you’ve won a £125 Virgin Experience Days Gift Card for your category and overall win!
Sam shared ‘Misty Morning’ with us on the Virgin Balloon Flights Facebook page on 15th October 2011 and we thought it was pretty amazing back then – looks like we weren’t the only ones to think so.
The photo was taken on a morning flight departing from our Cambridge Golf Club (Longstanton) launch site as Sam was looking in an easterly direction whilst about a third of the way through his flight.
You can purchase a flight voucher to fly from Longstanton and appreciate these amazing views that Sam so spectacularly captured, from as little as £89! You can even receive 20% off a round of golf on us!
Runner Up Winners
Huge congratulations also go to our category winners who each win a £25 Virgin Experience Days Gift Card!
Category 1 – Views from the Basket Winner = Misty Morning by Sam Tolley
Category 2 – People and Balloons Winner = Inside the Balloon by John Wells
Category 3 – Images of Balloons Winner = In Essex by Danyelle Motley
Category 4 – The Mechanics of Ballooning Winner = Inflating the Balloon by Helen Lehan
Each flying season (March – November) we hold a Photo Competition so if you have any ballooning images (of Virgin balloons) that you would like to share, you can find out more here.
Well done to everyone who took part this season and we very much look forward to next year’s competition submissions.
To find out more about hot air ballooning with Virgin Balloon Flights including what to look forward to on the day of your flight visit our website virginballoonflights.co.uk.
A high-flying 25-year-old has won a once-in-a-lifetime trip to South Africa with Sir Richard Branson to visit an inspirational business-led charity.
Kirsty Mills, who works at our Virgin Balloon Flights HQ in Telford, will fly out to meet the famous adventurer and businessman at The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg tomorrow (December 8).
There she will spend time with Sir Richard and learn all about the charity which was founded in 2006 by Virgin Unite – Virgin’s not-for-profit foundation – to nurture promising entrepreneurs, grow businesses and create jobs in deprived areas.
Marketing executive Kirsty is also a volunteer Virgin ‘Insider’ – one of a select band of Virgin employees tasked with making businesses a force for good from within – and won the opportunity as recognition for her work on charity projects at Virgin Balloon Flights and across the wider group.
These included a campaign which raised almost £8,000 for Hope House Children’s Hospices, a series of community events for Mandela Day and a hit squad to help children’s charity Starlight. She was also nominated for a Virgin Star of the Year Award in 2010.
On Saturday (December 9) Kirsty will also assist at the South Africa launch of Sir Richard’s new book ‘Screw Business as Usual’ – all royalties for which will go to Virgin Unite – by becoming Virgin Unite’s representative on Twitter for the day. Follow her progress @virginunite
She said: “Since joining Virgin Balloon Flights in January 2010, I have had some amazing opportunities, but going to South Africa and working with Richard will take some beating. I just can’t wait.
“The Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship is an amazing charity which is using business to make a real difference for people in deprived areas of South Africa, so it will be fantastic to visit and see for myself how it works.”
More information about Virgin Balloon Flights in Staffordshire and around the UK is available at www.virginballoonflights.co.uk
We’ve had so many amazing, beautiful and inspirational images shared with us this year that the competition is really tough – so we need your help in deciding who the winners should be!
Below is a small selection of gorgeous images.
There are four categories, the winning entry in each category wins a runner-up prize and the overall winner wins a fantastic Virgin Experience Days Gift Card for £100!
Some of the fantastic entries…