The Times We Lived In
Published March 2nd, 1988Photograph by Jack McManus
Aer Lingus hostess Elma Peters with singer Colm Wilkinson at Dublin Airport for the inaugural flight to London Stansted.
Headi ng away for Paddy’s weekend? Chances are, if you’re flying off somewhere, you may be passing through Stansted airport. We used to speak about the airport as if it was on the outskirts of the equatorial rain forest. Nowadays, of course, we all know the layout and whereabouts of Stansted as intimately as the layout and whereabouts of our own living rooms. Thanks to Ryanair, right? Wrong.
Aer Lingus got there first, as this photograph from the day of the airline’s inaugural flight to Essex, EI444, proves. At that stage, Ryanair was still based in Luton and didn’t shift its centre of operations to Stansted for another three years.
The aim of the picture, presumably, is to encourage punters to sign up for this voyage into the unknown. But imagine arriving at check-in desk 20 to find the larger-than-life singer Colm Wilkinson towering over petite Aer Lingus hostess Elma Peters, looking as if he’s about to grab that bunch of chrysanthemums and break into a song from Les Miserables at any minute.
The original Jean Valjean, Wilkinson had been feted on both sides of the Atlantic for his role in the musical, which opened in the West End in 1985 and transferred to Broadway in 1987.
He’s giving his airline role plenty of welly, too. The hat, the mad eyes, the trenchcoat; it’s all a bit Inspector Clouseau. Good fun so long as you’re not the on-duty air hostess, worried that Wilkinson is going to scare away the paying passengers.
And what were they paying? Thirty-five punts each way, increasing to 45 a month later . A quarter of a century later, you can still fly to Stansted from Dublin, with Ryanair, for about ¤47.
Meanwhile, the airport itself – the UK’s fourth busiest, with 18 million passengers passing through in 2011 – is shortly to be sold to Manchester Airports Group for £1.5 billion . Not bad for the edge of the equatorial rain forest.
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