Balloon Fiesta 2008
Balloon Fiesta: Don Cameron
by Louise Porter
In the build-up to this year's Bristol Balloon Fiesta we've been talking to the people behind the event. This week we talk to the man who put Bristol on the ballooning map, Don Cameron.
An interest in hot air balloons has led one Bristol man to navigate and change the history of ballooning, not only locally, but on an international scale.
Cameron Balloons founder and director Don Cameron turned his hobby in to a multi-million dollar business, creating the largest balloon fiesta in Europe and the second largest ballooning event in the world.
Mr Cameron began his career as an aeronautical engineer and says the building of the first modern hot air balloon in Western Europe was discussed over a few drinks at the local gliding club.
According to Mr Cameron, a friend who worked for National Geographic at the time mentioned that hot air ballooning had just begun in the United States.
“We thought we would buy one from America but it was too dear to buy, so we decided to build our own,” said Mr Cameron.
As a result, the Bristol Belle was built in 1963. Five years later Mr Cameron received the UK's first ever balloon pilot’s licence.
Over a few drinks
Mr Cameron went on to create many ballooning ‘firsts’ including the first crossing of the Sahara in 1971. He also created the first shape balloon in the world in 1976, using the ‘golly’ trademark used at the time on Robertson’s jam and marmalade.
“Everyone went crazy and loved it [the first shape balloon],” said Mr Cameron.
The first Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was created 30 years ago over a few drinks. Mr Cameron says a committee formed by the Junior Chamber organised the ballooning event for the first 10 years.
“It [Bristol International Balloon Fiesta] grew to such an enterprise.”
Mr Cameron recalls the first event was much smaller with “a few balloons, no fence and people could wander around the balloons.” The event today attracts approximately 1.2 million people with up to 150 balloons being launched.
“It is part of the calendar and is something that everyone can enjoy. We want to preserve the tradition of free entry. It costs a lot to put it on and we hope to keep it free. People seem to enjoy it.”
Mr Cameron still takes on the occasional creative project and enjoys the challenges involved with big adventures and record challenges. His current project involves parachutists jumping from a hot air balloon in near space.
Even with creative projects on the go, Mr Cameron says he would like to organise a balloon race challenge.
“I would like to get an Atlantic race up and running again. It is a wonderful sport.”
He says that for him ballooning has never stopped being fun and that receiving awards from the Queen to aeronautical groups have been some of his proudest moments.
“It is always nice to receive the acknowledgement and rewards,” he said.
Although ballooning is the oldest form of flight, Mr Cameron thinks the future for ballooning is computer-generated designs.
“It [ballooning] is too good an idea to ever be given up. I am sure it will continue. There is always something new meeting modern possibilities,” he said.
“It [ballooning] is a magical experience.”
The 30th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta will be held at Ashton Court from 7 August until 10 August 2008.
last updated: 28/07/2008 at 15:12