With the 40th anniversary event taking place this August, we’re taking a trip down memory lane, right back to when Virgin Balloon Flights went to our very first Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

It was all the way back in 1995, less than a year after Virgin Balloon Flights launched as a company, when four of our brand-new balloons made their debut at Europe’s biggest hot air balloon event.

Photographer Richard Cardy was at the event and was awestruck when he spotted four enormous, gleaming red hot air balloons emblazoned with the iconic Virgin logo, inflating in perfect formation.

He quickly snapped a picture of the four as they began to launch, followed by another of three of them - capturing our Virgin balloons taking flight at their first Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

With the moment immortalised on 33mm film, the incredible first image went on to become known as ‘Four Virgins’ and was used in many of our early marketing campaigns.

Its sister photograph, 'Three Virgins', also found itself starring on several posters and leaflets.

Special Guests

This is why, 23 years on, we have invited Richard to once again hop on board our big red balloon and take to the Bristol skies as part of our 40th-anniversary #virginfiesta celebrations.

This year's Bristol International Balloon Fiesta runs from Thursday, 9th August to Sunday, 12th August, at the beautiful Ashton Court Estate.

"I was standing beside the arena during the Sunday morning launch looking for my next shot," said Richard.

"I could see what looked at the time like a billowing carpet of red shiny fabric, which were these four huge, newly built Virgin hot air balloons.

Slowly, each one of the balloons was standing upright, including Virgin Juliet which I had flown in on the Friday morning with then pilot Pete Wilson - I still somewhere have the certificate!

"Then it seemed to become a photography moment. All four started to lift, and the 'Four Virgins' was born."

Before The Days Of Smartphones

"Of course, in those days, everything was done on 35mm roll film, as digital imaging was yet to be born big time."

"When the then managing director of Virgin Balloon Flights asked if she could purchase the images, I had the original negatives transferred into a transparency slide, and it went on to be used in many different marketing and promotional campaigns during the next few years.

"I even spotted it in Boots, on the cover of a balloon ride experience box back when Virgin Balloons sold their flights in-store."

Our famous red Virgin balloons have taken many equally famous faces up, up, and away from the event over the years.

Famous Faces Enjoy Their First Bristol Balloon Fiesta

In 1996, celebrity TV chef Gary Rhodes flew with us, while British soul singer Beverley Knight joined us for a sensational sky high performance in 2011.

Just last year (2017), we welcomed former JLS star turned TV presenter JB Gill and his wife Chloe to fly during their first visit to Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

We even held the world’s highest ever open air tea party in 2012, serving up scones, sandwiches, and proper tea in the pot to competition winners at 1,300 feet.

Returning for its biggest and best event yet in less than a month, we can’t wait to see what this year's Fiesta has in store for us this time.

Three more special guest flyers will be joining us and photographer Richard for the 40th anniversary Bristol International Balloon Fiesta - keep an eye out for our post-fiesta round-up blog to find out who they were!

Bristol Balloon Fiesta Flights

We only have a few spaces remaining on a couple of our Bristol Balloon Fiesta flights this year, so if you're hoping to fly, then you will need to be quick before they sell out completely.

Don't miss out - call our team on 01952 212750 to book ASAP.

Once again, we will be running our #virginfiesta Virgin Balloon Flights photo competition throughout the weekend for the chance to win an unforgettable balloon ride for two people.

To enter, simply snap a photograph of our beautiful big red Virgin balloon and post it on social media, tagging us in it and using the hashtag #virginfiesta.

We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and you can enter on any of them (or all!) as often as you wish.