MADE BY MEMBERS • December 2020

A toast to the travels of Christmas past

The festive season is here, so we’ve gathered a few starry friends and British Airways pilots around the virtual fireside to reminisce about their favourite memories of Christmases abroad. Prepare for your heart to be well and truly warmed…

Joanna Lumley - Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Says who: Joanna Lumley OBE, British actress, presenter and activist
I was six, my sister was eight and we had never seen snow. In Malaya, Christmas Day was just as hot and humid as any other day of the tropical year: boiling hot, with a sudden thunderstorm blackening the sky every afternoon and sweat running down our backs, long hair tied into plaits to keep cool. The fans spun silently in the ceilings of our army bungalow as we glued splodges of cotton wool onto the windows while my mother helped our Chinese cook, Ah Feng, decorate the Christmas cake with white icing (snow!), small fir trees and Donald Duck in a sleigh. We were excited to go the cinema in Kuala Lumpur to see the new Disney film, Alice in Wonderland. We’d both received beautiful Alice dolls – complete with blue dress, white pinafore and a hairband in her yellow hair – in the top of our stockings. We set off in the Wolseley, all the windows open as air conditioning was unknown, in our party dresses that Mummy had made on her sewing machine during the long nights while my father was away with his Gurkha regiment, fighting terrorists. Now we were all together. And when we walked into the cinema with our new dolls, I don’t think there were prouder girls anywhere in the Far East.

Stuart Beech - Johannesburg


Says who: ‘The Singing Pilot’ and senior first officer Stuart Beech, A380
After 11 years of working for British Airways, December 2018 became my first ever Christmas on the job as we departed for Johannesburg on Christmas Eve. My family and I had a mock Christmas on 23 December to compensate. And, in true festive spirit, we made the most of the situation by greeting our passengers with festive Santa hats, while later on I sang It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas over the PA. When we arrived at Johannesburg on Christmas morning, we were all in good spirits, setting out for a festive feast at the hotel. I managed to get the crew (and the rest of the hotel, it turned out!) up and dancing to Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. The crew came together as a family that day and made the most of our weird and wonderful Christmas.

Gabriel Byrne - Paris


Says who? Gabriel Byrne, Golden Globe-winning actor
I’ve always been a huge admirer of Oscar Wilde and the Christmas I remember most vividly is from many years ago, in 1988, when I was shooting A Soldier’s Tale in Normandy. After we wrapped, I decided that, rather than return to New York or London, I would spend every cent I’d saved from four months of filming and book the room in L’Hotel Paris, where Wilde lived in during the final days of his life. It was a tiny room, but beautiful. It looks out over the roads of Paris and I would go down every day to a different restaurant or café and walk in the Tuileries Garden, then sit for a while. I suppose what I wanted to do in that room was not just experience Christmas there, but to feel something of Wilde’s spirit. I stayed there for three weeks. 

Gabriel’s memoir, Walking with Ghosts (Picador) is available now as an ebook or hardback (£16.99) from all good bookshops

Jai Dillon - Orlando


Says who: Jai Dillon, senior first officer, A320
Growing up, my family and would always have a very traditional British Christmas, with all the movies, games and food you can imagine. However, probably our most memorable family Christmas was in Orlando, Florida. We spent the Christmas together, as we had done in previous years, but instead made it a two-week festive celebration out there. Our Christmas dinner is something we still joke about to this day: seated around a table at Epcot eating fish and chips! This was the first Christmas that we spent outside the UK but what it did prove to us is that Christmas isn’t about where you spend it, it’s all about who you spend it with.

Isla Fisher - New Zealand

New Zealand

Says who? Australian actress Isla Fisher
In a country as beautiful and ecologically diverse as New Zealand, you need to drive to enjoy all its wonders. Enter ‘Mabel’, a Motorhome that’s not as fancy as some of the more luxurious models, but kitted out with three beds, a kitchen and loo and our family home for four weeks. We began our travels in Queenstown on the South Island, camping on the first night by the shimmering Lake Wakatipu with the dramatic snowy peaks of the Remarkables behind her. From there, we drove North with squabbles, toilet stops, ‘I spy’ games and the Moana soundtrack blaring. We drank in incredible sights such as Fiordland National Park and its Milford Sound virgin rainforest, we passed craggy mountains poking through the mist, explored glacier ice caves, hiked national parks, dug in hot water beaches and marvelled at thermal springs. We had lunch in a Hobbit village, rode horses on a deserted beach, befriended a duck, spied on glow worms at midnight, showered and washed dishes in various caravan parks run by friendly locals, and celebrated Christmannukah with Champagne in Christchurch. It was heaven, like the people and like the place.

Isla’s latest film, Blithe Spirit, will be premiering in the New Year in cinemas, plus Sky Cinema and Now TV

Steve Allright - 35,000 feet

At 35,000 feet

Says who: Captain Steve Allright, 787
My most memorable Christmas away from home was on a night flight to Nairobi on Christmas Eve 2002, with me and my co-pilot aboard the 767. As we flew south on a beautiful clear night, it approached midnight local time as we passed over the South of France, Northern Spain and the Balearics. Suddenly, the sky all below us lit up with fireworks, and didn’t stop for at least an hour, going off continuously. Quite a sight! I was due to arrive back home on Boxing Day, but the best bit was managing to get home slightly earlier, dressing up as Santa and surprising my children who were 10 and 12 at the time.

Gordon Ramsay - Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Says who: multi-Michelin-starred British chef Gordon Ramsay
A few years ago, I wrapped filming late in December and so the family and I decided that we would stay in LA for a family Christmas. America does the ‘holidays’ brilliantly and, from pop-up ice rinks in Santa Monica to a full-on festive grotto at The Grove, it was pretty magical for the kids to experience. I remember driving around the neighbourhood to look at all the stunning decorations, each house decorated even more extravagantly than the last: giant candy canes, inflatable gingerbread men and all those lights (I swear you would see them from space!). Christmas morning was very different from the cold crisp awakening back in the UK. The sun was up and it was going to be a scorcher of a day. After a beautiful brunch, we prepped the traditional turkey with all the trimmings and then headed to Malibu for a walk on the beach. Wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas.

Gordon owns
35 restaurants around the world, including Plane Food at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5

Denise Lewis - Jamaica


Says who: Olympic gold medallist and sports presenter Denise Lewis OBE
My first Christmas in Jamaica was magical. I was nine years old and travelling with my mum, who hadn’t visited in her adult life. As we came in to land over Montego Bay, my face was excitedly pressed against the glass. I’d never seen anything like it before: the sea, the beach… everything! I was meeting some of my family for the first time and remember being embraced at the airport by these amazing, strong women who I didn’t really know. On Christmas Day, we got spruced up for church (a long, hot, process!) before heading back to the house for present opening and a mid-afternoon ‘dinner’: chicken (not turkey) and trimmings, rice and peas, fried fish – different from a British Christmas – but still with roast potatoes. With family, food and a mix of Christmas songs by Bing Crosby and local reggae artists, it was a real fusion of Caribbean and traditional Christmases. Just magical.

This article has been tagged Destination, Travel Tips