I can’t say I ever imagined I’d find myself decked out in a red romper suit and Smurf-like shoes flying down a plane’s emergency slide, but that’s exactly how I spent an afternoon thanks to ITV’s new show Virgin Atlantic: Up in the Air.
This was actually my second Virgin-approved outfit of the day, as I set about getting a peek behind-the-scenes of this new ob-doc, which delves into everything from the daily lives of the ground crew to the training of new cabin recruits. I’d already been kitted out in the fancy new Vivienne Westwood-designed cabin crew gear, with everything from the ‘Dorothy’ shoes to the red lippy in place.
My hair was artfully pinned up, my makeup properly applied by the team’s expert Mim Allgood – for the official red lipstick it’s Illamasqua’s ‘Virgin’, which exactly matches the uniform – and my earrings were swapped for the correct small studs. “I always say go to work as if you’re going on a date,” hair stylist Helen Kavanagh said as she got to work, and I nodded along as if my usual uniform weren’t jeans and tee.
Maverick, rock ‘n’ roll, sexy… these are all words that fit naturally with the Virgin brand and you do feel very Catch Me If You Can once you’re in full gear. It was with a heavy heart that I gave it all back without serving champagne to Sir Richard Branson. Not that I was ready for that. I spilt the orange juice into the ice tray, laddered my tights (sheesh!) and couldn’t quite get my head around “gliding” while manoeuvring a trolley that quite frankly had a mind of its own. Don’t even ask me what the various meals of the day were. A natural, I was not.
Branson himself will of course appear in the documentary as – 30 years after launch – the business welcomes the brand new 787 Dreamliner aircraft to its fleet. There’s a lot of talk about the fancy toilet, how minor changes to the economy chairs has increased leg room and the introduction of interactive components, including the ‘wander wall’ – a help yourself area that allows you to interact with roaming staff.
There have been some hiccups along the way. It turned out that the fancy new lighting system turned the staff’s blouses see-through when set to lilac, which designer manager Nik Lusardi was quick to tone down, he assured us: “There were bright white bras, it was quite funny!” A late delivery also meant phones weren’t installed on time to allow customers to make calls from the aircraft. Even the uniform proved an obstacle: Westwood had wanted to make the red shoes patent, but they kept sticking together and air hostesses were falling over.
But back to that emergency slide. Just like the new recruits who embark on an intense six-week training course, I had to have a bash at getting down the slide, and off again, without smashing my face into the wall opposite. This was all while a group of real crew members watched, alongside training manager Matt Whipp and a photographer who was there to catch every grimace. No pressure, eh?
This followed an emergency landing simulation, which was quite frankly terrifying. “FEET BACK, HEAD DOWN” bellowed the real crew as we all adopted the brace position. After all, as Whipp pointed out, “We cannot stand here and go ‘Please could you evacuate the aircraft? Thank you for flying Virgin Atlantic’ because they wouldn’t go.” Crew must go from “gliding to grrrr,” Whipp explained, “with red lipstick…”
And I thought we were just going to have a good gossip about the Mile High Club…