'I kept screaming at Branson to pull the lever...'

Passport: MIKE OLDFIELD

AS THE plane began climbing over the Pyrenees, the rain got worse and the clouds got darker and before long, we were being tossed around in a storm cloud. People were throwing up. After flying through the middle of the thunderstorm for 45 minutes, it then decided to spew us out and we landed in San Sebastian."

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."

Suzanne Fisher

Mike Oldfield's latest album, 'Tubular Bells III', is out now on WEA Records.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing