For the last 20 years Tara Panchaud has worked at Virgin Atlantic, serving passengers on flights around the world. Over the years, she’s taken some brilliant photos, here’s just a few from her collection…
Over the years, Tara has had some incredible experiences, including meeting the ex-President of the United States, Bill Clinton, while in Dubai for a press conference with Richard Branson.
“I switched my phone on when we landed and I had a call from the press office and they said ‘you’re going to dinner with Bill Clinton’,” she explains. “We got there and it was the most amazing evening. There was about 20 people at the table and I don’t think I spoke a word. I remember thinking to myself ‘12 hours from now I’m going to be in Sainsbury’s doing my shopping and no-one is going to know what I’ve just been doing.’”
Tara says that it’s hard to pick her standout moment at the airline – there’s been so many. But up there on the top is definitely the inaugural flight to Las Vegas in June 2000. “The whole flight over to Vegas was phenomenal,” she says. “We had a roulette table at one door, a black jack table at the other. Richard was in a red Elvis costume, there was a Frank Sinatra impersonator. I actually came back from that trip with absolutely no voice.”
“We work so hard when we do those promotions but it’s worth it. I think on that Vegas trip I went through seven shirts in three days!”
Another promotion that she was lucky enough to be involved in was Virgin Atlantic’s 21st birthday where Richard Branson celebrated with Pamela Anderson.“I had to open the door on the lefthand side so Richard could walk out on the wing. And I happened to have my camera with me…” Tara says.
“All the press were all on the ground, underneath the wing so I had this opportunity to get a picture that nobody else would get so I snapped away. Obviously I was doing my safety duties at the same time so I just snapped two quick pictures. It was amazing.”
It’s not all about partying and celebrating though, Tara was in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks and had the privilege of meeting Mayor Rudy Giuliani and some of the firefighters involved in the rescue efforts.
“That was very emotional. We all sat round and had this beautiful dinner about 10 of us and it was really personal and really nice,” she explains. “You’ll never forget it, it’s amazing.”
As for the future, Tara will be one of the first members of crew on Virgin Atlantic’s brand new Dreamliner next month. “My training course is the beginning of October, I’m on one of the first. And I’ve been chosen to do the CAA proving flight, before the inaugural flight. I’m so super excited to do that.”
However it's not just about the special days. Tara’s a firm believer that it’s important to give everything every day. “Last week for example, we had a gentleman from New York who was terrified of flying. He’d not left New York for so many years because he didn’t want to get on a plane. He was in Premium Economy and he was crying before we’d even left the ground,” she explains.
“I had six spare seats in Upper Class so I just took his hand and said ‘come with me’ and I put him in Upper Class. And when we got to Heathrow he just didn’t stop hugging me. He just said ‘I can’t thank you enough, you’ve made me feel so comfortable’."
"And that’s when you know you’re doing the job properly. It feels like we, as flight service managers, have been given the tools to make someone’s day and it’s so lovely to be able to do that.”
And after 20 years with Virgin will she be hanging up that red uniform soon?
It’s not likely! “I just feel like I want my 20 years to start all over again!” Tara says. “They’ll have to carry me off with my Zimmer frame.”