On Her Majesty’s secret service
Saturday 1st December 2012, 10:00AM GMT.
LIKE the estimated one billion other people around the globe, Colin Prescot was glued to the television set during the jaw-dropping Olympics opening ceremony this summer.
But watching from his holiday home in Alderney, he had more reason than most to be transfixed.
Colin, pictured, was the man behind the spectacular stunt that saw the Queen and James Bond apparently jump from a helicopter smack into the middle of the Olympic arena.
‘I was at home in Alderney, slightly nervous, watching with my family,’ he recalls. ‘On the screen, as always, it seemed quite brief considering the months of work that had gone into producing it. But it seemed to go down very well.’
The episode was the ‘crowning moment’ of a 30-year career spent creating hair-raising aerial sequences for films using helicopters and hot air balloons with his company Flying Pictures.
In 1986 he was hired as a stuntman to hang on a line 300ft below a helicopter flying in the Grand Canyon for Superman 3. He was doubling for Pamela Anderson – something, he says, he has never lived down.
For Sylvester Stallone’s film Cliffhanger, he created the first-ever transfer of a human being from one jet plane to another while in flight, 16,000ft over Colorado.
But his film starring the Queen was something of a first. Until the moment it screened on TV he had been sworn to secrecy about the stunt.
‘The amazing thing was that it never leaked, even though we closed down Tower Bridge and flew two helicopters through the middle of it to practise,’ he says.
His involvement came about when opening ceremony director Danny Boyle got in touch.
‘He said he wanted to create the illusion that the Queen and James Bond are taking off from the palace and jumping out in a parachute, which is exactly what happened,’ he says.
Recording and getting all the relevant permissions took many months. ‘We had to be very meticulous in order to get the timings right and so that the recorded stuff could be cut in with the live stuff. That was the biggest challenge.
‘We sent a request to the Queen just to see if she would approve the film and she said not only did she approve it, she wanted to be involved. In the February we had to ask her to choose her dress so we could make a duplicate. It became the only acting role she has ever done.’
His passion for ballooning was ignited by chance when, as a 25-year-old, he was taken on a balloon flight by an Afghan princess.
The glamorous experience was ‘the stuff of fairy tales’ and for Colin it was love at first flight. Already flying high as an advertising executive, he married both interests to create a ballooning company offering professional services to advertisers and film-makers.
Alderney, where he holidays several times a year, seems a surprising destination for a hot air balloon enthusiast. But he hasn’t let the island’s shortage of open space deter him. In 1994 he took off from the Butes and crossed the Channel to Dorset, becoming the only person in history to have taken off from the island in a balloon and setting the British Isles record for the longest sea crossing.
But that was small fry compared with the journey he took on five years later.
In 1999 he circumnavigated the world in a balloon in 17 days and 18 hours, setting the world endurance record for a non-stop sub-orbital flying machine. The epic journey, which he ended by ditching in the Pacific 100 miles off Japan, involved some of the most death-defying moments in his ballooning career.
‘We were stuck in a tiny capsule so that was kind of stressful to start with,’ he said. ‘We got into a thunderstorm in Thailand, on the verge of being sucked into it, and it was a miracle we survived. Times like that scared the hell out of me and you do think, “what on earth have I got myself into now?” You have to be unflappable to do it and, I think, a bit mad.’