My Cotswold Life: Joey Beard, film-maker and glider pilot

PUBLISHED: 11:08 02 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:08 02 July 2019

Joey Beard (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

Joey Beard (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

© Thousand Word Media

Joey Beard is a film-maker and glider pilot on a mission to encourage more women to take up flying. Back down to earth, she tells us about her Cotswold life

Joey Beard is a filmmaker and glider pilot, who combined both interests for her latest film, Airborne. It follows the trials and tribulations of Amy, a teenager who longs to get her glider 'wings' - a storyline reflecting Joey's own first solo flight in 2002, aged 16.

Not only is the making of Airborne - currently being shown at film festivals in the UK and abroad - a long-held personal ambition; it's also Joey's way of encouraging more women into flying.

"The British Women Pilots' Association states the percentage of female pilots in the UK is as low as five percent - and that's probably true of gliding, too," she says. "It's often a question of confidence; but there's also a perception of women not being welcome on airfields. I've found the opposite to be true. In fact, Nympsfield - where my family and I mostly fly - has become a home from home."

Indeed, flying is a very much a family affair. Her father, Geoff, is a retired commercial airline pilot; both her grandfathers were aviators, and her two sisters are solo glider pilots, alongside both nephews: four generations to date. Joey's own first flight was at the age of ten, from Hullavington - and she was hooked from the off. "It was amazing: the rush of it; the feeling of freedom. There's something about glider-flying which is like nothing else because it's so natural. You're just using the air and the wind to stay airborne."

Joey's full-time job is with the Ministry of Defence, where she's (unsurprisingly) a commercial manager for flight-simulation training.

Joey Beard, filmmaker, with film crew friends, Charlotte Powles, make up, and Douggie Vance, Bristol & Gloucestershire Gliding Club operations director and film liason. (c) Andrew Higgins/TWMJoey Beard, filmmaker, with film crew friends, Charlotte Powles, make up, and Douggie Vance, Bristol & Gloucestershire Gliding Club operations director and film liason. (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

Where do you live and why?

I live in Cambridge (always a potentially confusing thing to tell people!), the village near Slimbridge. I work in Bristol and people often ask me why I don't live there. It would be easier if I did, but the place that's held me to this area is Nympsfield, the airfield (Bristol & Gloucestershire Gliding Club). It's become a real home from home, and most of my family fly here.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

I've been backwards and forwards since 2016, though my parents have lived in Cam for six years. I was born in Bedfordshire, where my dad was flying airships out of Cardington - the big airship hangars on the flats. He was a commercial airline pilot but it's very common for the aviation industry to go through peaks and troughs, and he hit a real lull during the early 80s. So he took a job flying airships and absolutely loved it. Known as blimps in the US - where my dad did work for the Olympics and for a James Bond film - these airships were generally used for advertising and a little camera-work before helicopters became cheaper and drones came in. We eventually ended up in Manchester, when my dad got a job with British Airways.

What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

Gliding! My dad owns a share in Verity, a Slingsby Venture motor-glider that we used in my film. When dad and I plan flights together, we choose particular sites we want to see from the air, such as a White Horse trail we once did. The flight I particularly remember, though, is when we went looking for the hauntingly heart-shaped clearing in a wood near Wotton-under-Edge, planted by a farmer in memory of his wife. It was a family secret until a balloonist spotted it. I was busy taking photographs of this perfect 'heart' when - all of a sudden - Verity's engine stopped and we had to make an emergency landing in a farmer's field. That's quite a common occurrence for a glider - but, in a motor glider, it's a bit different. We had 30 seconds to make a decision because we were losing height rapidly. Dad picked a field, which I thought looked slightly more inclined as we got closer. Luckily, I looked over his shoulder and spotted a longer field, which is the one he went for. He always says we might not have come off so well had it not been for that. There are risks but you go into automatic mode, and I've absolute faith in my dad.

Geoff and Joey BeardGeoff and Joey Beard

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

I wouldn't buy another house; I'd use it for making films! Airborne cost just over £5,000 - a relatively small budget. I crowdfunded about £4,000 of it. There were a lot of cast and crew involved - all people I knew - and no-one got paid. It's currently on the film festival circuit, and so far has been accepted into Newlyn, Swindon, and Cyprus International.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

Furthest from an airfield.

Where's the best pub in the area?

The Woolpack at Slad: I love that place. It's very friendly and traditional; and the location - in the middle of nowhere - is magical.

View from the cockpitView from the cockpit

And the best place to eat?

The Old Flying Club Café at Nympsfield, which I helped get up and running. It does breakfasts, lunches, cakes and ice creams, and we get a lot of walkers and cyclists, as well as people using the airfield.

What would you do for a special occasion?

A big special occasion was flying solo in a glider at 16. It was towards the end of a course I did as an air cadet. My instructor had hit a bit of a brick wall with me, and I didn't think I was going to be allowed to fly on my own. That's when the Commanding Officer - an old friend of my dad's - took over my instruction. We went for a few flights that morning and brought the glider back; then he took his parachute off and said, 'You're going on your own now'. It was petrifying but so exciting. I remember the launch feeling very different because you're one person down, so you need to adjust the handling. Once I'd done it, I was over the moon. Because there have been gaps in my flying - including going back to university to gain my master's in film - I'm having to learn to go solo once again. I'm hoping to achieve that this year.

What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?

Running the ridge! Nympsfield is on top of a big hill. When the winds are going in the right direction, gliders can run the ridges - all the hills - between here and Bath, leapfrogging them for lift.

Airborne, Joey Beard's new movieAirborne, Joey Beard's new movie

... and the worst?

The winding roads when you're a passenger. Believe it or not, I get carsick!

Which shop could you not live without?

Uley village stores: a community-led shop that sells everything. My other great love is Cath Kidston, who has Stroud connections. There's quite a lot of Cath Kidston in Airborne!

What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

Wotton Electric Picture House, where the premiere of Airborne was held last September. We did a proper red-carpet event and all dressed up.

Airborne: Alina as AmyAirborne: Alina as Amy

What is a person from the Cotswolds called?

Either a Wolder or, if they've got any sense, a member of a gliding club.

What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?

I'm not a cook. The Bodkin on the A46 [at Petty France] does amazing steaks, so I'd just go there!

What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

From the top of the launch at Nympsfield, overlooking the Severn Estuary. When a glider is winch-launched, you're pulled up on a cable. The top of the launch is anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, depending on the winds and direction of flying. As soon as the cable is released, there's such an exciting, freeing feeling. You lose your stomach and see the whole landscape spread out before you.

What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

I tend to see places in terms of film-sets, and Castle Combe is certainly how Hollywood depicts England. You instantly can see a period drama being set there. Cinematic.

Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...

Air, wind and clouds. You don't want a clear day for gliding: clouds tell you a lot about flying conditions. You get these magical things called cloud streets - highways of little cumulus you can fly along without losing height.

What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?

There's a gatehouse at Badminton, with a little glass dome on it, that's really pretty. Almost mystical. I tried to get it as a film location for a palace entrance a few years ago but they wanted an arm and a leg for me to use it!

What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

I'd never believe in something I haven't seen for myself. You hear a lot of stereotypes about grumpy old men of airfields not letting women get on with things - but I've never found that. I've hardly had any issues, personally, with sexism. Having said that, it is undoubtedly harder for women pilots because it can be intimidating to be in a minority. When I learned to fly at 16, I was the only girl on the course. I'd never had interest from boys before and, suddenly, I was a honeypot. It was distracting and confusing for a teenager.

Starter homes or executive properties?

I'm all for adaptive living. I live in a barn conversion, which I adore. If more old buildings and unusual places could be converted into smaller dwellings, it would mean we wouldn't have to have so much new-build.

What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?

In terms of airfields: Nympsfield; Aston Down; Brize Norton; and Oaksey Park - a really pretty little private airfield. I went there once to get some Avgas [aviation fuel], and saw a young woman step out of the club house in flying gear. She got into this beautiful red and white aerobatic biplane and confidently flew off. I just went, 'Wow!' and came away feeling really inspired. After a bit of research, I think it might have been Lauren Wilson (an aerobatic display pilot: laurenwilson.co.uk).

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

A copy of Airborne.

What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Stop and smell the flowers; stop and look up at the clouds. There's so much beauty and not enough people stop to appreciate it.

And which book should they read?

My parents are obsessed with the Miss Read books, which are (fictitiously) based in the Cotswolds. I've always been one for heartwarming, feel-good stories, which is what the Cotswolds are about for me.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

There's a walk dad and I do several times a year from the bottom of Cam Peak, along the Long Down which, in spring, is full of bluebells. At the peak - which is weirdly bouncy underfoot - you're on top of the world.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Aerobatics. A friend of mine has a Pitts Special, and we did some crazy aerobatics in it yesterday. I get carsick but not aerobatic sick! It's very strange: you can turn me upside down in an aeroplane and I'm fine; but never take me along twisty roads.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I'm fascinated by the women pilots of WW2. The likes of Mary Ellis and Jackie Moggridge, members of the Air Transport Auxiliary, who delivered bombers to the front line. Their lives must have been so exciting.

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

To the arts. One of my pet peeves is people mocking arts degrees when they're as important as the sciences. During WW2, when Churchill was asked to cut arts funding, he replied, 'Then what are we fighting for?'

The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?

The occasional airstrip.

Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?

Now, that's an aviation term! 'Normal gliding attitude' is a combination of the airspeed (in knots) and the glider's relationship with the horizon (adjusted using the elevator). I'll stick with that.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

I'm always split between filmmaker and aviator; but my all-time favourite filmmaker was Nora Ephron: When Harry Met Sally; Sleepless in Seattle; You've Got Mail. When you read about her difficult private life, it's amazing that she could create such feel-good romances. I grew up on them, and they're the reason I love film. If I'd been able to meet her, I'd have loved to get her advice about which film I should make next.

You can find out more about Airborne, the movie, at airbornethemovie.co.uk.

The Bristol & Gloucestershire Gliding Club - including the Old Flying Club Café - is at Nympsfield, GL10 3TX; bggc.co.uk.

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