A high-flying Kent hot air balloon pilot is celebrating another happy landing – but this time it’s the arrival of a cuddly four-legged newborn with a famous name.

When Damon Bridger, from Gillingham, isn’t taking people on champagne balloon rides over Kent for Virgin Balloon Flight, he’s busy with his other unusual occupation; breeding and rearing alpacas. Damon, 50, and partner Clare West bought their first two alpacas two years ago with plans to breed more and sell them or to use their soft fleeces for wool products.

They set up Great Oak Farm Alpacas near Maidstone and now have six of the animals including the recent new addition, a black-coloured baby or ‘cria’ which they’ve called Richard, after famous entrepreneur and adventurer Sir Richard Branson.

Damon said: “We’ve decided to call the new ones after famous airborne adventurers and, having been a pilot with Virgin Balloon Flights in Kent for 15 years, Sir Richard was obviously top of the list. “The new cria was quick to explore his surroundings and seemed naturally inquisitive, so the name was perfect. Two more cria are due soon and we plan to name a girl after American pilot Amelia Earhart.”

Damon, who has flown balloons all over the world and now takes passengers up from Maidstone’s Mote Park, Wadhurst, Headcorn and Sutton Valence, said balancing both jobs was hard work, but meant every day was exciting.

“Nothing can beat the feeling of flying in a hot air balloon, but alpacas are amazing animals and seeing one being born is always a special experience,” Damon said.

A duck, a sheep and a cockerel were on board the first recorded hot air balloon flight in France in 1783, but despite the adventurous alpaca’s name, Damon has no plans to take Richard skywards.

“It’s a funny idea, but I’m not sure what the other passengers would think!” he added.

Visit the Virgin Balloon Flights website for more information or to book a balloon ride in Kent with Damon.