'I kept screaming at Branson to pull the lever...'
Passport: MIKE OLDFIELD
Sunday 20 September 1998
Mike Oldfield later discovered that all commercial flights in the north of Spain had been cancelled at the time. The pilot, who had passed his flying exam just that week, had misinterpreted the weather forecast. This near-death experience, the inspiration behind Oldfield's Five Miles Out, was even more nightmarish for him because he suffers from a combination of claustrophobia, agoraphobia and vertigo.
"I really thought I was going to die. It certainly put me off flying in small planes!" Small planes, perhaps, but not hot-air balloons. Oldfield was signed up with Virgin at the time and agreed to go hot-air ballooning with Richard Branson only because he had assured him that they would remain low in the sky.
"We were setting up the balloons right next to Didcot Power Station, which has enormous chimneys. Just as we were stepping into our balloon, a friend of Branson's in the next balloon issued a challenge that he would beat Branson to Oxford.
Branson filled the balloon full of gas and suddenly we shot up and were hanging right over the middle of one of the chimneys. All my phobias returned, and we couldn't go down because we would have landed inside the chimney. As we were hanging there, the heat discharged from one of the chimneys pushed us up to around 10,000ft, and I was worried about my breathing because of the low oxygen levels at that altitude."
While Branson kept pumping the balloon up so that they would gain height and go faster, Oldfield worried about running out of gas.
"After an hour of this hell, the balloon started descending towards Oxford. We plummeted into a car park, shot up again and landed on the top of a bakery. I was screaming at him to pull the lever which lets air out of the balloon. Police and fire engines arrived and hauled us down from the balloon with ladders. I was trembling like a leaf. Branson was, of course, grinning."
Despite his traumatic travelling adventures and phobias, Oldfield loves to travel so much that he keeps his passport tucked in his jacket at all times. "During a tour in Germany, a bag which was holding my passport and the band's tour money was stolen from under my chair while I was eating in a restaurant. Now I carry my passport with me all the time. I am comforted when I feel it in my jacket because I know that, on a whim, I can head for the airport and go anywhere."
Mike Oldfield's latest album, 'Tubular Bells III', is out now on WEA Records.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Cara Delevigne addresses awkward interview on Good Day Sacramento
- 2 Top Gear team of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May officially heading to Amazon Prime for new car show
- 3 Stuart Baggs: Apprentice star 'The Brand' found dead aged 27
- 4 How to cancel Amazon Prime: after Top Gear hiring, how to leave premium service
- 5 MH370 debris: Investigators 'confident' that Boeing 777 wing found - live updates
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
Calais crisis: For desperate migrants it is 'England or death' as they brave dogs, riot police and speeding trains
COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...
£25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...
£17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...
£12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...