One of our top hot air balloon pilots is walking on air after winning an award for his airborne achievements and being personally congratulated by Sir Richard Branson.

Mark Shemilt, from Henley-on-Thames, was named as our Virgin Balloon Flights Star of the Year for providing exceptional customer service for passengers on his balloon rides and breaking two world records for ballooning.

The 46-year-old received the award and met Richard at a glitzy party at Kensington Roof Gardens in London last month where Stars from across the Virgin Group were rewarded for their fantastic efforts.

Mark swapped stories with Richard who became synonymous with hot air ballooning in 1987 when he was the first to fly across the Atlantic.

Mark has been ballooning since 1988 and takes people on Champagne balloon rides in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

He broke his first world record for duration by hovering over the French Alps in a special small balloon for over eight hours and another for distance when he flew 120 miles from Leicestershire to the Suffolk coast.

Mark said: “It was an honour to meet Sir Richard and talk about my ballooning world records with him as he knows more than anyone what’s involved and how challenging endurance flying is. “He gave me a lot of praise and really encouraged me. He also said how much he loved hot air ballooning and that he wished he had time to do more.”

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