Air Tattoo Contractor Catherine, Fairford
PUBLISHED: 18:46 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:47 20 February 2013
We all enjoy having a few friends around for the weekend, but what if its 160,000 of them? Katie Jarvis meets the woman who actually looks forward to such an invitation.
Catherine Elliott is one of the movers and shakers at Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo - but her feet are firmly on the ground. They have to be: for as deputy director of ground operations, she's in charge of the planning and building of the showground which welcomes 160,000 visitors each year.
She and her team make decisions on every aspect of the site, from where to park the aircraft to how many loos the public will need.
"I started as site manager when I was only 23, and people did a double take when they were introduced to me," Catherine says. However, her background in land management and her love of the outdoors have stood Catherine in good stead. Even during a spell working elsewhere, she came back to the air tattoo each year as a contractor.
This year the tattoo, which runs from July 14-15, will host Europe's largest tribute to the United States Air Force on its 60th anniversary. Last year, the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises through all its activities - including the air tattoo - was able to gift 300,000 to the trust's funds; it hopes at least to equal that amount this year.
Catherine lives with her husband, Clive, and their new baby, Harriet.
Where do you live and why?
Fairford - completely by accident! I was travelling home to Lancashire, after completing a degree in land management in Devon, when I happened to stop off here with a friend for a couple of weeks. I managed to get some temporary work at the air show as 'gofer' to Paul Bowen, one of the two co-founders, who sadly died in 2004. Really, since then, I haven't left. At the end of that first show, Paul offered me the job of full-time site manager. He could see I was an outdoorsy sort of person with some land management experience, and he felt it was me.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I've lived here for 11 years, but we moved into our present house a year-and-a-half ago. It dates back to the 1800s but it needed - and still needs - a lot of work doing, which meant we could afford it. It's not easy for young families to buy round here, especially if they're particular about the sort of house they want.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
It would be hearing someone leave the Royal International Air Tattoo saying, "That was fantastic entertainment!" People know it's the biggest military air show in the world, but they don't always realise what a great all-round day out it is. You could fill a whole weekend without even looking at an aircraft if you wanted to! When Harriet is older, I'm most looking forward to taking her round on an open-top bus; you get such a good view of the show.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I'd like to move somewhere with enough land for us to keep some animals, perhaps a goat, some chickens and a donkey. At the moment, we've just got a couple of ducks - Jennifer and Nigella, named after the cooks - so we're all right for eggs. Ideally, we'd like to be imperfectly self sufficient. We love the idea because we enjoy putting the effort in, and we have a healthy interest in the environment. We've already planted carrots, squash, leeks and courgettes ready for the autumn when Harriet will be moving on to vegetables.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
In a village that has lost the healthy balance between residents, locals and weekenders. That's what I love about Fairford: it's such a mix, with the whole generation span. Full-time residents can still buy all they need here. And the town strives to keep its identity: the church is very strong; the schools take an active part in the community; and we have the Fairford Festival each year.
Where's the best pub in the area?
We've got out of the habit of pubs because we've such nice local restaurants such as Allium and The Bridge. But we do have regular drinks with friends at The Bull in Fairford; and, although we don't go very often, I also like The Masons Arms at Marston Meysey.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
7a Coffee Shop & Delicatessen in Fairford, which is probably also the shop I could least live without. They're very baby-friendly, and their hot chocolate and brownies are the best in the world. I'm sure the ingredients they use are responsible for the town's current baby boom.
What would you do for a special occasion?
In 'normal' life, we'd invite friends round for a meal in the garden. We always tell people to bring jumpers as we don't go in easily.
And then there's the air show. When it's all over, the team celebrates by going out for a meal; but we tend to be in need of sleep, so it's a case of bed by 9pm! During the course of the show, Clive and I operate an open-house as far as my team of volunteers is concerned. They've become old friends. There's an almost equal split between military, ex-military and civilian, and they come from as far afield as Cheshire and Scotland. The longest-serving member has been with us for 22 years. There are around 3,000 volunteers for the show as a whole, and their experience is invaluable; we don't do anything without asking them what they think.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
I don't know if 'joinability' is a word, but that's the description I'd use: if something needs doing, everybody comes together to get it done. Coming from Lancashire, I do think the north/south divide exists, but there's no difference in the people.
... and the worst?
A lack of big hills and fells. They're probably what I miss the most. In Lancashire, I could walk 10 miles and only come across secluded dwellings. Here, you would go through three villages - very pretty villages - but you don't have that solitude.
What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?
People don't realize what a world-wide bonding session the air tattoo is. Over the years, it has gained a reputation for being a 'United Nations of the sky', bringing together air forces from around the globe to meet and exchange ideas. This summer, for example, we will be joined by both the Greek and Turkish air forces, and the Indian Air Force and Pakistan Navy, which can only be a positive thing. The humanitarian aspect of the military's work is also very much on view. Last year we had the Pakistani Air Force here who had painted up their Hercules to say thank you for all the support they received during their earthquake disaster. So much of the world's air force is committed to humanitarian work these days.
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
We'd have asparagus to start, with butter and salt to keep it simple.
Then I'd cook a bit of Gloucester Old Spot belly pork, with a lot of crackling, from Chesterton Farm Shop in Cirencester. As it would have to be May or June for the asparagus, I'd serve the main course with purple sprouting broccoli and garlic from the garden.
For pudding, I'd do summer fruit. Next year, we're hoping to grow raspberries ourselves.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
Out of my upstairs window, looking out onto Fairford's water meadows across to the mill bridge - the view is one of the reasons we bought the house. I love the way the meadows are constantly changing. We've got the wild flowers there at the moment, and nesting swans; last year, there were little egrets; and you'll see the cows at various times of the year. Nothing about that view ever sits still.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
I would say Slad because I read Cider with Rosie when I was young, before I had any connection with the Cotswolds. At the time, it gave the area an air of romance; but now, because I live here, it's even more pleasurable for being real. You can still go out and find those idyllic places, but you can genuinely live it as well.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
The Cotswold Show in Cirencester (July 7-8), demonstrating the rural life of the Cotswolds;
The Royal International Air Tattoo showing the technical side; advances in technology have allowed so many people to move here and work from home;
And Giffords Circus, which exemplifies the traditional family aspects of Cotswold life.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
The roofs on Burford High Street. If you sit in the Tolsey - the old wool market - and look across the road to Manfred Schotten Antiques, the roofs there are absolutely fascinating. People miss a lot when they don't look above eye-level!
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Go sledging. The hills aren't big enough.
Starter homes or executive properties?
You've got to get a balance. We desperately need starter homes to keep daughters and sons here; but at the same time, those who left to make their fortune should be encouraged to come back. There are already plenty of highly-priced older properties that are 'executive' homes. If new building has to take place, I'd rather extend the outskirts of a town like Fairford. The minute you build in the heart of it, you're in danger of changing its structure and damaging its character.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
I think it's only got three because of the point at the top: Wotton-under-Edge, Lechlade and Chipping Campden.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
Hollyhock seeds. I'm sure they'd survive in all sorts of places; the fact that they grow up in pavements outside people's houses means they're pretty tough. They're the bougainvillea of the Cotswolds.
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
Dog mess - or owners who won't pick it up. We're disappearing under it.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Buy locally, even if you are a weekender. There's nothing better on a Saturday morning than walking into the heart of where you live and talking to people. Any other time, people will be too busy; but at the weekend, you can happily waste an hour walking 100 yards to buy your paper.
And what book should they read?
Riders by Jilly Cooper: she's fantastic. I can't think of anything better to read in summer when you want to relax.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
There's one around Adlestrop that goes past Cornwell where the manor house was rebuilt by Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis who also built Portmeirion in North Wales. There's wonderful woodland, and even a couple of hills - though not big ones, of course!
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Fairford Festival, which takes place each June, because of all the bonhomie and fun. There's a ball on the Friday night, a dog show and activities on The Walnut Tree Field on the Saturday, and the 10 and three kilometre fun runs on the Sunday.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd like to go back to 1971 when Paul Bowen and Tim Prince organised the very first air tattoo at Fairford. I know the whole thing is vastly different nowadays because it has grown so immensely, but I'd like to know whether the ideals and the core values are the same. How much they have been able to keep it on course? Have they changed what they set out to do?
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
Things have to develop at their own pace. You can't force ideas and ideals onto people. If you did, then Fairford wouldn't be as very different from Stroud as it is.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Jonny Wilkinson. I have always been honest with Clive, so he knows that if Jonny ever knocked on my door...!
- This year, the Royal International Air Tattoo will be wishing Happy Birthday to the United States Air Force, celebrating its 60th anniversary. Among the highlights will be appearances by the USAF's super-secretive F-117A stealth fighter and the USAF Thunderbirds aerobatics display team.
- Among the more unusual aircraft schedule to appear are two Spanish Navy Harriers, two Turkish F-5 fighters and a Brazilian R-99. There are also hopes that some ultra-rare aircraft from India will put in an appearance. But despite all these, the one that is likely to trump them all for 'Wow' factor is the Vulcan bomber. Brought back to flying condition thanks to a multi-million-pound public campaign, the giant XH-558 is scheduled to appear only weeks after making its debut flight - leading the fly-past over London to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict.
- Other attractions include the critically-acclaimed Tri@RIAT featuring stunt car driving, battling robots, karting, record-breaking bikes, boats and cars, adrenalin-filled flight simulators and a breathtaking action arena; and there will be a free sunset concert featuring, among others, the Royal air Force Band.
Air show entry costs 37.50 for adults on the day (32.50 in advance) with accompanying children under 16 free. Buy from Ticketline on 0870 758 1918 or from the website at www.airtattoo.com