Cabin Crew life: the London Bridge Sheep Drive

By: Dave Gunner

September 28, 2016

Enrolment at Guild Hall

Enrolment at Guild Hall

Lynn drives sheep across London Bridge

Our cabin crew are used to dealing with anything life in the air can throw at them. Spilt drink? Crying child? Full blown medical emergency? Nothing fazes them. But can one of our Flight Service Managers drive a sheep across London Bridge? To answer this strange question, we joined Lynn Sutherby at the historic London landmark last weekend. Along the way we discovered a life affirming story, some ancient British traditions and gained even more respect for our cabin crew, the job they do and the training they undertake.

Why do people drive sheep across London Bridge

No city does quirky historic tradition like London and at the heart of much of these ancient practices are the livery companies. These trade associations and guilds – usually called the ‘Worshipful Company of…’ – were established to promote trade, protect working conditions and ensure the quality of their work, many in medieval times. London has 110 worshipful companies, from the Worshipful Company of Mercers established in 1394 to the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars established as late as 2010!

Lynn drives sheep across London Bridge

Throughout their history, members of the guilds have been given the ‘Freedom of the City of London’.  First presented in 1237 to regulate trade in the city, this has evolved into a unique part of London’s heritage which is maintained today as a living tradition. The right of Freemen of the City of London meant they could bring, at no cost, whatever was needed to do the business of their trade into the city. This included the right to drive their sheep over London Bridge for those trading in wool. At the time this would have marked London out as a centre of global trade and commerce. Today you can be awarded the Freedom of the City of London by being a ‘person of distinction or a person who has, in the opinion of the council, rendered eminent services’.

What did Lynn do to deserve this?

As far as we know Lynn is the only Cabin Crew to be awarded this honour, for her services to aviation and for saving a young life way back in 1997. While on holiday in Miami, Lynn was sitting by her hotel swimming pool when she became aware that a 3 year old girl, having run out of her mum’s sight, had fallen and was now lifeless at the bottom of the swimming pool. Lynn immediately put into action everything she had learned in her cabin crew medical training and after 7 minutes, managed to restore the pulse and revive the young girl whose name was Natalie.

Many years later in 2014, Lynn was surprised to hear she’d been nominated for the Freedom of the City of London. At her enrolment ceremony in the Guildhall, Lynn chose to be joined by a number of people who work behind the scenes to equip our cabin crew with the tools and training needed to do their job. In this photo you can see some of our Cabin Crew managers, our CEO and representatives from the various training teams who deliver safety and medical training to all our cabin crew. Every year, all crew must undergo a rigorous refresher training on service, procedures, safety and aviation medicine.

Enrolment at Guild Hall

Enrolment at Guild Hall

Where do sheep come into this?

Today, the Worshipful Company of Woolmen holds an annual sheep drive across London Bridge for people who have been given the Freedom of the City of London. Established in 1180 and officially made a guild in 1522, the modern-day Company promotes the wool industry and raises awareness of wool products and sheep farming, and for the first time this year the sheep drive included a Wool Fair in Monument Street. You can find a list of all the vendors and their products here. And in case you’re interested, the sheep used on the drive are a cross between the Swaledale and the Blue Faced Leicester! Other traditional benefits of having the freedom of the City of London include being able to carry a sword unsheathed and if sentenced to hang, you can have a silk noose instead of the usual rope one!

London in September

The day of the sheep drive saw the capital at its best. London Bridge thrummed with interesting characters, from brightly regaled woolmen – many wearing red capes to match Lynn’s Vivienne Westwood uniform – to the hordes of sheep drivers who turned out in fancy dress. The atmosphere was fun, with a strong sense of history – not to mention London’s glorious architecture as a backdrop.

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen

What training do our Cabin Crew undertake?

So how did Lynn know what to do at that poolside in Miami all those years ago? We asked our Head of Medical Services, Linda Porter, to explain.

“Our crew are incredible – they deal with a spectrum of in-flight medical events every day, ranging from nosebleeds and faints to childbirth and sudden cardiac arrest.

Out of the six million customers we fly around the world every year, 4,000 will become unwell in flight requiring our crew’s immediate care and intervention. Out of these 4,000, some 400 will be full blown medical emergencies which on the ground would require an ambulance.

Our crew are trained to use equipment such as telemedicine, defibrillators, advanced airways and also to lead medical emergencies with the assertiveness of a medical professional in an emergency department. Last year alone we had three customers have sudden cardiac arrest – two (aged 31yrs and 55yrs) successfully resuscitated and alive and well today thanks to our Cabin Crew and their excellent training”.

Our Cabin Crew undergo their medical training.

Our Cabin Crew undergo their medical training.

How is Natalie doing now?

These two photos tell the whole story. On the left, Natalie, sitting on her mum’s lap, recovers in hospital in Florida in 1997. On the right, Natalie today, a happy and healthy mum who is studying to become a phlebotomist.

Natalie, on her mum's lap, recovering in hospital in Florida with Lynn and Dennis McGovern who helped with the resuscitation. And Natalie now, with her own baby.

Natalie, on her mum’s lap, recovering in hospital in Florida with Lynn and Dennis McGovern who helped with the resuscitation. And Natalie now, with her own baby.

So now you know, when you step onto your flight, you can rest assured our Cabin Crew receive the highest standards of training to deal with all sorts of situations. If you’re unlucky enough to become unwell you’re in good hands. And if you happen to be on a flight with Lynn, she’ll be able to tell you all about the day she drove some sheep across London Bridge. It’s all part of the service!


Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

Categories: Our People