Up, up and away
This week Meriddian left a comment on my Twitter page referring to my previous blog as surreal. Well let me tell you now that surreal doesn't even begin to describe the past couple of days - leading up to the most amazing Thursday morning of my life (and I'm safe from my wife arguing with me because we didn't get married on a Thursday!)
Anyway, the week started to get slightly weird on Tuesday...I ended up somewhere I never expected to be, at the St Johns College May Ball at Cambridge University.
I won't reveal my A-level grades on here, suffice to say I was close to not making any establishment, let alone Cambridge. Therefore I'm delighted and very proud that my cousin Simon has ended up as a Fellow at St Johns, the fact he is chairman of the May Ball is also rather handy when it comes to getting an invite!
Time Magazine described the night as the 'sixth best party on the planet' - and I wouldn't disagree. It was an incredible setting and a fantastic night, if a little odd when I ended up as 'security' for chart topper Calvin Harris.
My uncle Michael was there too along with Harriet. In the wee small hours when the 'main act' was due to entertain the masses in the university's famous grounds, Simon announced that as chairman he could get the three of us to the very front. Little did we know that he meant it would be as impromptu security guards, charged with preventing the barriers from toppling over. Just try and imagine my wife with ball gown and high heels, acting like Mr T - priceless!
I quite enjoyed it too, despite people remarking "doesn't that security guy look just like Jake Humphrey from the F1."
On Wednesday I was at the official F1 launch party in central London along with Lewis, Rory Bremner and all the Ecclestone clan. It was a moving night actually as it was to raise much needed funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Bernie has also invited a few of the patients to the race this weekend and I look forward to meeting them all in the Paddock.
I had to leave the launch earlier than I would have liked though as the alarm was primed for a rather painful 4am. I made sure I packed the car and got the shirts ironed before hitting the sack.
Alarm wasn't too bad, shower was a little cold, drive along the M40 in the mist was cracking - and then I arrived in a field opposite Silverstone to be greeted by this sight...
We were thinking of ways to open the qualifying show on Saturday, something that would give people a re-introduction to this famous circuit in a way they haven't seen before. Well, credit has to go to Roger Bines my faithful monitor man for coming up with the idea of a hot air balloon at dawn over the track.
Thankfully I had already got a taste of a hot air balloon on Sunday when I went on a trip above Leeds Castle that Harriet had bought me for my 30th. Mind you, that was a big balloon with 13 people in a large, sturdy basket. By comparison, this morning it felt like we were climbing into a picnic basket!
The nerves were soon forgotten however as we soared (well, drifted) up into the dawn sun. Silverstone's huge, wide runways that date from 1943 when this place was an RAF airfield, soon became clear, dwarfing the track that looks impossibly thin and narrow by comparison.
Matt the producer didn't get to enjoy the mist rolling over Northamptonshire, the campsites already starting to fill up with keen fans, or even the famous signature curves of Becketts, Stowe, Bridge and Priory, as he had to sit on the floor of the basket for logistical reasons. Unlucky Matt!
We had a great chat with EJ about everything from him coming to watch the races in the '70s to his memories of Mansell's heroics in 1992 while Andy the cameraman dealt with a rather cramped and unconventional working environment.
It was soon time to think about a landing, before we ended up over Milton Keynes with a tricky touchdown and a long trip back to our cars.
Our consummately calm and professional pilot Clive landed us in what looked like an impossibly small field from the sky but turned out to be fine. In typical EJ style, and despite Matt's begging, Eddie refused to adopt the obligatory 'landing position'. Instead he was stood up, facing the direction of travel, announcing: "I don't want to miss the landing!"
We touched down perfectly, ending up at 45-degree tilt that still didn't stop Eddie from leaping out of the balloon like an excited kid and announcing it was "way past breakfast time". It was 6.20am.
The next thing we know he's run off, accosted some poor guy out for a morning run, and then stalked off out of the field, beckoning us to follow him. He was going in search of The Cock Hotel, which we were assured would be serving breakfast at such a time.
Picture the scene. Four guys from the BBC including the former boss of Jordan Grand Prix sauntering into the tiny, fast asleep and unbelievably quiet market town of Stony Stratford (scenes from Withnail and I were shot there in 1987) as it's waking up. All of us looking for The Cock Hotel and a well earned cooked breakfast. It was like a scene out of Reservoir Dogs. EJ was Mr Hungry...
Eddie got final directions from an unsuspecting commuter who was a little shocked to see him at such an hour in such a place. The guy must have thought it was the final chapter of a particularly impressive night out that probably started somewhere in London!
Eventually we found the hotel and Eddie marched in, saying to the waitress: "I need breakfast, I've just been up in a balloon." We were all chuckling about what an odd situation we'd ended up in, in this tiny town in Buckinghamshire - but the breakfast was cracking and as you can see, plates were all cleared!!
It really was a great morning, and the perfect introduction to my first British Grand Prix. I hope Donington provides such entertainment in 2010.
So, Matt is now back in London editing our Phileas Fogg style opening together, EJ is off having meetings somewhere and I'm typing away in the BBC production office in the shadow of the pit straight grandstand, anticipation and excitement building by the minute.
Today will consist of getting my bearings, I'm meant to be meeting Nelsinho Piquet for lunch to get to know him, and we'll be discussing how we can make this weekend the best of the season so far.
I hope you'll be joining us at 12.10pm on both days this weekend. Here's hoping it's another British Grand Prix to remember!