In this month’s Crew Files, we’d like to introduce you to one of our best-loved members of staff, Cabin Service Supervisor Michael Blair.
Originally from Bradford, Michael’s been flying with Virgin for 13 years. His northern charm has won him many famous fans and his winning ways have landed him a year-long exchange programme with our friends at Virgin Blue in Australia, as well as the chance to hang out with Richard Branson on Necker Island.
We chat to Michael about Cheryl singing him Happy Birthday, chewing the fat with Kylie and Bette and what he gets up to when he’s ‘down route’ in his favourite Virgin Atlantic destinations.
Michael, what inspired you to join Virgin Atlantic?
My Nana first encouraged me to travel the world and find work on a cruise ship or an aeroplane, and when I broke up with my long-term partner I felt the time was right so I applied to work with Virgin Atlantic. From the first day I started in 1997 I’ve never, ever looked back.
Other than a high-flying career, what else has the job given you?
Above anything else, this job has given me my closest friends – so close that I consider them family. Being able to make lifelong friends through work is a really special thing.
I’m a huge Madonna fan and one of the best things about my job is that I get to indulge my passion and have seen her in concert in many of the cities we fly to – 42 times now and counting!
I was lucky enough to win a Cabin Crew of the Month competition a couple of times, which resulted in a few trips to Sir Richard Branson’s Caribbean home on Necker Island. It’s a very special place and we were treated like royalty by Richard and Joan.
Most of all though, the job’s given me opportunities that I never would’ve dreamed were possible, like my exchange programme with Virgin Blue.
Tell us some more about that – how did it work?
The scheme was set up a few years ago – we send some of our crew over to Australia to work for Virgin Blue for 12 months, and their crew come and work for Virgin Atlantic in return. I was lucky enough to be chosen and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.
I was based in Sydney, and got to travel all over Australia. I loved it so much I was allowed to stay on for a further five months, and then took some unpaid leave to travel back slowly via southeast Asia: through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. The whole thing – both the exchange and the travelling – really was an amazing experience.
What was the best place you discovered in Australia?
It has to be Broome on the west coast. I went there on holiday with friends and for me, it’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth – wild landscapes and wide deserted beaches. I’m a fitness and yoga obsessive and being able to run, cycle, swim and do my yoga on Cable Beach every day was amazing.
One of the most atmospheric places in Broome is the Sun Pictures outdoor cinema and we spent a night there under the stars watching Quantum of Solace. There’s a scene where James Bond is sitting at the Upper Class bar on a Virgin Atlantic flight and I remember thinking what a surreal experience it was. There I was, sitting in a tiny cinema in a remote part of Australia watching a character on screen do my day job, and I knew I was the luckiest person on earth. I’d worked hard and in return I’d been given this great opportunity.
We have some amazing celebrity passengers – who have you met?
I’ve met all sorts of celebrities onboard. I had the pleasure of serving Dame Helen Mirren as she flew out to Los Angeles to pick up her Best Actress Oscar for The Queen in 2007. I also met Dame Judi Dench right after she’d come off the set of James Bond. She quizzed me about Brighton where I lived at the time and as she was heading there shortly, she invited me to meet her for a coffee – she’s a truly lovely lady.
I’ve met so many lovely people – Graham Norton, Lorraine Kelly, Sharon Osbourne, Linford Christie, Mel B, Nicole Kidman… I’ve had Girls Aloud sing Happy Birthday to me, and Amanda Holden invite me and the whole crew to a party in Barbados – but my absolute favourites were Bette Midler and Kylie Minogue. Kylie was so lovely; we chatted for hours about Stock, Aitken and Waterman, the 80s, and Madonna.
One of the funniest celebrity encounters was when we had Su Pollard on a flight, who was a real hoot. She was flying in Upper Class but said she was with her father, pointing down the plane behind her. We looked but couldn’t work out who she was referring to and asked her which one was her dad. “Oh, none of them”, she said. “Up there!” and pointed to the overhead storage. After a confusing few minutes it transpired she was talking about a casket containing her dad’s ashes…
Can you tell us about your favourite Virgin Atlantic destinations and what you like to get up to while you’re away?
There are so many but I especially love Havana, Nairobi, New York, LA and Sydney.
In Havana, I love to just wander around with my camera – the architecture and culture just blows me away; it’s a wonderful city to photograph.
I love going to Nairobi. For a while now, some crew friends and I have been visiting the Thomas Barnardo’s orphanage (now known as Kenya Children’s Home) and we always stock up on nappies, baby bottles and footballs before we go. We just spend time playing with the kids and helping out with the laundry – that kind of thing. They do an amazing job.
In New York one of my favourite things to do is sit in the Boathouse in Central Park and people watch. It’s a great place for celeb-spotting too. In the summer, I’ll take a boat out onto the lake itself and lie there and read – it’s so peaceful.
Big Bear Lake, about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles, is a fantastic place to ski. It’s really beautiful, and I’ll always try to convince other crew members to come and stay in a log cabin with me. We might only get about 48 hours but it’s worth it. Especially when I get to ski in my shorts!
I got to know Sydney really well when I was based there working for Virgin Blue. My favourite place in the whole city is Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton pool, a huge outdoor pool right on the harbour’s edge near the Botanical Gardens – it has the most amazing views. I also recommend running the coastal route from Bronte to Bondi Beach – best experienced at 5am as the sun’s coming up.
I have to say though, one of my absolute favourite things of all is the view of the London skyline as we’re coming in to land at Heathrow – I never, ever get tired of it.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming Cabin Crew with Virgin Atlantic, here’s all you need to know. And if you enjoyed this post, check out our previous interviews with Cabin Crew members Jennifer Jones and Ben Ward.