THE FLIGHTDECK • January 2020
The words of theatre giant Stephen Sondheim, “If I cannot fly, let me sing”, may apply to many, but not to British Airways’ very own singing pilot and performer, Stuart Beech. He has mastered the art of both, since shooting to viral fame on BBC1’s Michael McIntyre’s Big Show. We sit down with the Mancunian pilot to talk wine in Cape Town, steaks in San Francisco, and how he juggles his two favourite passions
Which came first, your love of singing or flying?
As it turns out, the exact same time, between the ages of nine and 11. During those years I was in my school’s gospel choir, where I sang my first ever solo in Oh Happy Day, and would spend Saturday afternoons watching the planes at Manchester Airport with my grandad. That was when my passions for both really kicked in.
What was it like appearing on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show?
It was the most genuine surprise I’ve ever experienced. One minute I’m running a British Airways Flying with Confidence course helping nervous customers take to the skies, then suddenly I’m on stage at London’s Theatre Royal with Michael McIntyre, being asked to sing. It clicked that I must be on some kind of surprise talent show, but it took me a good 10 seconds to figure that out!
Do you sing on the plane?
I’ve been known to sing a few tunes in the skies. One Christmas Eve, we were on the Airbus A380 to Johannesburg when I gave a rendition of It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas over the PA, to some lovely applause. On the Flying with Confidence courses I’ll tend to give everyone a performance of Come Fly With Me. It provides people with a nice final memory of the day.
Where has been your favourite travel experience?
Probably Cape Town (pictured above) – thanks to a combination of its latitude and the ocean, the city produces excellent wine. It’s also beautifully quirky. The exchange rate makes things quite affordable, plus it feels perfectly safe and there’s no jet lag. Visit the rooftop bar at The Silo for a great cocktail.
Where would you recommend for the wine?
Take a drive east to Stellenbosch to Delaire Graff Estate. There’s a wonderful spa, fantastic restaurant and the Sauvignon Blanc is about £10 a bottle.
What are your three in-flight essentials?
A face oil with natural ingredients, an eye mask and water – for a 10-hour flight I’d recommend passengers consume at least two litres, on top of all other drinks.
Where is your favourite landing?
There’s nothing like coming into San Francisco on a clear day. Flying on the right hand side of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can see the whole city with a backdrop of lush green hills. During layovers or holidays there, I’ll head to Harris' Steakhouse (pictured above) – it has an Art Deco vibe with waiters in dicky bows, and a fantastic jazz group. I’ve been known to get up and sing a number myself!
What skills do you need to become a great pilot?
An aptitude for it and great coordination are the basic two, but what separates people I’ve met at BA is the ability to work in a team. That’s a BA mentality – to have an open floor for ideas, and make the best decisions based on everybody’s input.
What has been your proudest moment as a pilot?
It has to be the first time I flew into Manchester Airport – the same runway that had captivated me as a kid – with a training captain. All my friends and family were in the viewing park, waving banners and cheering. It was in an A321 and the landing was terrible, a real bouncer, but everyone was there to support me and it brought home all the hard work and passion. That was very special.
Are you available for bookings?
Absolutely. You can book a performance from me via my Facebook page, The Singing Pilot, or through my website’s booking form.