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Dom Joly: A lot of hot air

PUBLISHED: 12:02 13 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:42 15 April 2015

Dom's hot-air balloon, 'Patches'

Dom's hot-air balloon, 'Patches'


Dom Joly wants a hobby to keep him busy in his golden years, but ballooning around the Cotswolds wasn’t the first potential pastime that came to mind

I’ve only gone and bought a hot-air balloon. That was not something I expected to be opening a column with this time last year… or even last month.

A local friend of my wife’s has been ballooning for years and wanted to sell her beloved ‘Patches’ (not the most reassuring of names for the nervous flyer) to someone who would appreciate the thing as much as she had. So we made a deal, whereby I would buy it from her and she would teach me to 
fly it.

It turns out that the Cotswolds is quite the ballooning community and I’ve been inundated with greetings and advice from other local enthusiasts. I’ve also been given my fair share of warnings – “Welcome to spending long evenings in a field waiting for the wind to die down…” seems to be the main thrust.

The idea of just jumping into my balloon and soaring off from home is most appealing. I imagine that the idea is slightly less attractive to anybody living within a 20-mile radius of me but I promise not to drink and fly and I shall do my best not to ‘worry’ any animals except for my beloved pig, Wilbur, who will hopefully accompany me on my inaugural flight.

My late father’s partner once told me that my dad didn’t have any hobbies. This, according to her, made life very difficult for him (and her) as he got older. I decided there and then that I should establish a hobby to keep me busy in my golden years.

So I had a serious think – stamp collecting, model aircraft building, train-spotting… all of these ‘classic’ hobbies just didn’t really seem to be my bag. I’d flirted with golf, screwed up at painting, resisted dogging, seriously considered setting up a hide to catch the morons who drive stolen cars around Cleeve Hill Common at night… and then… the hot-air balloon thing came up and everything suddenly made sense.

There’s something a bit eccentric, a bit Heath Robinson about balloonists that has always appealed. I’m not talking about the annoying Branson types who want to fly round the world while naked in outer space. I mean the ones who float about beautiful places on lovely days and seem to always be quaffing champagne and occasionally hit power lines.

And I love the idea of telling people what I do, when they ask me?

“Me… Oh, I’m a hot-air balloonist.”

Actually I’m going to go one step better. The French, in their stroppy way, call hot-air balloons ‘Montgolfiers’ after the French brothers that pioneered the activity. Maybe I can be a Montgolfiste?

“Moi… je suis Montgolfiste,” I will say to interested parties. It has a nice ring to it. It certainly beats telling people that I’m a comedian only for them to ask me to tell a joke or to tell me that I don’t “seem to be very funny.”

Once I’ve learned the ropes then I can set off on mini adventures. It’s going to open a whole new avenue of travel to me – raiding parties over Stroud, soar over Jeremy Clarksonland, organise water balloon sorties over Gloucester…

I am tempted to commission a new balloon that is an exact reproduction of my head and face but Stacey, my long-suffering wife, informed me that I was already full of enough hot air and shouldn’t embarrass my kids even further.

This is another noticeable trait when you mention balloons – everybody suddenly has a terrible joke – full of hot air, basket case, inflated prices, going up in the world… What is it with that?

Balloonists tell me that the local papers like nothing more than a story about them crash-landing into a village or a tree. I can’t believe this, as local newspapers have far more important things to report. Why, just the other day The Wetherby News broke the huge story of a “red hat found in tree…”

Whatever, I am embarking on an intensive period of training so it won’t be too long before you will see me floating over your heads in complete control of my craft and destiny… I have a feeling that The Gloucestershire Echo is going to have a field day with me over the next year or so…


This article by Dom Joly is from the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Dom, follow him on Twitter: @domjoly


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