On 9 September, 558 flew a display at CarFest North, Chris Evans’ new entertainment extravaganza. Vulcan official commentator Sean Maffett was there. Here’s his story.
Drive to Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire. (Say Chumley unless you want to sound naff). It’s an early 19th century pile built by the 1st Marquess of C, set in 7,500 acres. Second day of Chris Evans’ CarFest North. Pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike a lot of air shows, there are not many jobsworths in evidence. I’m allowed to park roughly where I need to.
CarFest is pretty big, spread over the castle’ s acres, with an arena and lots of stalls. There’s one particular single-track estate-style road with straw bales on either side. The bales are on the grass, set back a couple of yards from the road. The audience - thousands of them - are kept behind the bales. Good thing, really, because exotic cars of all ages are roaring up and down the road, some of them quite fast. But - bit of a shock, this - there is also a Finn, who may or may not have been the World Rally Champion, doing doughnuts up and down the little road in his rally car. As he spins round and round, tyres shrieking, and smoke pouring from his wheels, he seems frighteningly close to the audience. They love it, of course. Even when he sets a straw bale on fire. Twice.
There’s some commentary on all of this, coming from the sort of double decker commentary van-thing that I’m quite used to at air shows. I make friends with the commentators, explain that I’m here to do Vulcan stuff, a bit later. OK, they say.
Various aircraft appear, spasmodically, and the commentators commentate.
I go to see the Club guys at the stand, which is right by the arena. Doing their usual good stuff are the two Bobs, Izzie, Barry, with James and Aaron, and John - and also Brian Whittington, who actually helped build XH558. Good job, mate! Barry, bless him, introduces me to the guy doing the arena commentaries, which are separate to the track coverage. Somewhat to my surprise, I find myself standing in the middle of the arena, rabbiting on about our lovely old lady. And almost, but not quite, forgetting to give out the text contribution details.
About half an hour before V-hour, I return to the commentary van. Bit surprised to find everyone packing up.
“Erm..... leave me a microphone, would you.....”
“Sorry, mate, we’re packing up - all the sound is transferred over to the stage.”
“But I’ve got to do the Vulcan stuff...”
“Best you get over to the stage, then.”
The stage is already in full, 105-decibel rock-concert mode, with an audience of something like fifteen thousand. It takes me about twenty minutes to get through the throng, and then sweet-talk a slightly unhelpful security guard (did I say no jobsworths?). I have the wrong colour wrist band, but I need to get backstage. Not for the first time, the magic word Vulcan helps.
Inside the hallowed backstage area, I find the Stage Manager. He’s not sure they can fit a commentary between the music. I suggest that Chris Evans wants a Vulcan commentary, and that time is running short. Chris E himself is brought in. After a hurried consultation, Stage Manager says
“Can you do it on the stage?”
“Of course.” (Gulp)
“Here’s a mic, wait here.”
Picture shows the view from ‘here’, just before going on. Chris Evans, with his three-year-old son Noah, the band (sorry, never did find out who they were), and some of the fifteen thousand.
Anyway, the band finishes, and starts packing up. I’m to keep to the front of the stage, and stay out of their way. Chris (my New Best Friend) brings me on, whips the audience into a frenzy, and hands over to me. I’m without my notes - well, you can’t read from notes in front of all those people, can you. It shouldn’t matter, but I’m a bit paranoid about getting little details wrong.
Kev Rumens, along with Bill Ramsey and Phil Davies, bring 558 in, to the second, just as Chris hands over. I can’t see their approach because of the stage canopy. The fifteen thousand are looking towards the stage, and me. Ooo-er, missus. So I have to tell them to face the other way if they want to see the aeroplane. Which they do. Kev and the crew do their usual brilliant show, and the audience go wild.
It’s all over too soon, and 558 departs, with a trumpeting howl and a mighty Olympus roar. She’s louder than the band, and the fans go bonkers. I manage to give them the text number while they’re still onside, and try and persuade them to visit the Club stand. My New Best Friend then coaxes them into further paroxysms of joy as they say goodbye to me. I’m not quite sure whether to applaud myself, as you do these days, and in the end I only manage a slightly stagey bow. And then I’m gone.
In more than thirty years of commentating, which includes talking from the Lancaster over Buckingham Palace, commentating for the Queen for her silver jubilee, and speaking to a live audience of half a million for Trafalgar 200, CarFest North was something else.