'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.

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living