02 A change of view

Towards the end of the 1990s, several things happened to set me on my present path. First, I discovered Concorde on the internet. In the French group concorde-jet.com I found people who were just as passionate about Concorde as I was. The British group concordesst.com gave mind-boggling amounts of technical information, as well as fabulous pictures and tips on where to see Concorde if you went plane-spotting at Heathrow. (I never did get to see a take-off from the Pink Elephant car park, alas …) There were also wonders such as footage of the Tu-144 flying as part of NASA’s High Speed Research (HSR) programme. (Video clips of these flights can be found here.)

Tu-144 "Concordski" at Sinsheim museum

Snow-bound at Sinsheim
This is the closest I have ever got to a Tu-144: aircraft no. CCCP 77112, displayed on the roof of the Auto und Technik Museum at Sinsheim. 

Intriguing glimpses

I was working near Leicester Square, and happened one day to walk past a small photographic gallery near my office. My attention was caught by the poster on their door. It was the first time I had seen an exhibition devoted solely to Concorde. I went up the stairs to a small room filled with what looked at first like someone’s happy snaps. Then I looked and read a bit more closely, and found out what the photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans, was really saying in his work.

He presented images that seemed ordinary and banal – until you looked past the nondescript houses, streetlamps and sagging telephone wires to a patch of sky with a mysterious delta shape, like a spacecraft from the future that had slipped through a wormhole. Sequences of shots showed the aircraft approaching, growing more distinct, until the whole frame was filled with a breathtaking image of Concorde. Tillmans went on to win the 2000 Turner Prize with one of these images, and later, when the aircraft was retired, wrote a wonderful tribute to the “utopian idea” of Concorde, in the Guardian newspaper. I bought the book that accompanied the exhibition, and still enjoy looking through it; this book, simply titled Concorde, is available on Amazon.

Then, in 1998, I bought my first flat, in the East End of London. An ex-council tower block might not be everyone’s ideal home, but it was perfect for me. From my eyrie on the 10th floor, I could see right across London. To my joy, I was able to watch the Concordes coming in for their evening approach to Heathrow. A couple of minutes before they were due, the skies would clear of other aircraft – then Concorde would soar in a graceful arc over south-east London, passing behind Canary Wharf, and treating me to the crackling roar of her engines as she disappeared into the city haze.

Concorde circling over south London

Concorde behind Canary Wharf
Concorde heading into Heathrow

A perfect summer evening
This is what I was privileged to see every evening, as I stood on my balcony to enjoy the show. I used to look on the internet to find out what time to expect Concorde, then hurry out to wait for her. Breathtaking, every time.

For several years I had been working as a book editor for Dorling Kindersley, and now my work brought me even closer to the object of my fascination. I was given the chance to edit the in-flight first aid manual for British Airways, and put my all into the project – both for the sake of the airline and (secretly) to feel a connection with Concorde. I understand the manuals were placed on every aircraft in the fleet, so I think I’m right in saying that my work has travelled on Concorde, even if I never did!

Concorde over the Thames, from Canary Wharf

Concorde over the Thames
The riverbank at Canary Wharf eventually became another favourite viewing place for me. This photo was taken on a lovely day in summer 2000. Tragically, a few weeks later, the unthinkable happened at Gonesse and 113 people lost their lives.

< 01 Before the beginning | 03 A series of shocks >

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