There are ways to lose friends; commenting a friend’s wife looks pregnant (she isn’t), emailing a rant (to the person you are talking about) or bragging you are being flown Upper Class (First Class) by Virgin from London to Sydney. Life at the top is a tough, lonely gig but someone’s gotta see if the Mile High Club really does reach new heights.
From the balcony of my penthouse suite at the Athenaeum, I am looking over the leafy tree tops of London’s Green Park, I can see as far as the London Eye, the Gherkin and beyond. This must be what a pigeon on Nelsen’s Column feels like...extraordinarily superior peering down on the minions (until a magpie swats you off your perch). I’ve pranced around the uber slinky, all white-n-mirror muliti bedroom apartment.
It’s impossible to be as cool as this place; even the cushions have fancier beading than a Dame Edna frock. You could hold a celebrity party in the black n white bathroom (the Kardashians probably did when they stayed here) and the complimentary minibar demands you eat your body weight in Blacks chocolate and Kettle crisps. Can life get any better…?
Limo to Lounge
Oh YES!!…the Mile High Club is about to welcome me into its arms. The Virgin Limo pulls up outside. Before you “tut tut, carbon emission” me, it’s a Volvo hybrid - Mr Branson cares about screwing business as usual. Within 45 minutes we arrive at Heathrow via a secret security flanked driveway. My private welcoming committee waits. There are no curtseys (disappointing), but within seconds my luggage disappears, my passport is checked and I am tap dancing like Judy Garland up a serene designer corridor where my hand luggage is scanned. Piff puff poof! I am spat out into Heathrow Duty free.
Despite calls of Gucci, Pol Roger and Crème de la Mer, I am a woman on a mission of a legendary creation I have heard tales about… it’s called the Clubhouse. It’s a land of happiness, filled with pretty people, endless drinks, hot tubs and a 24hr a la carte menu. I follow signs to ‘H’ level and am prepared to knock down any slow moving granny that gets in my way. The stairway to heaven appears “Good afternoon Miss Lawson, welcome, can I show you around?”….oh you most certainly can!The Virgin Touch – Lounge Life
A scene from Barbarella is before me. It’s all white with soft curves and the odd illumination of red light. Multiple hideaway areas with cascading levels to sit, lounge, preen, perch, play and scoff. It’s such a futuristic land I am expecting a levitating people carrier cocktail bar to zoom past at any moment. This isn’t a lounge it’s a mini city with view onto one of the busiest airports in the world. Most people arrive at the airport with a few hours to go. Not me. My flight is at 2215 and its 4pm. It took all my will power not to order the ‘limo to lounge’ at breakfast.
In a carefully planned offensive I make my first move knowing that if your name’s not down you’re not getting in. Treatments are first come first served. After a week’s reviewing in London my hair is more ‘Marge’ than ‘Mrs Simpson”, so I book in a haircut for just GDP 35 and a massage at 8.30pm. There is a tempting menu of treatments. Earlier in my trip I used the ‘Virgin Revivals’ lounge and am now rather addicted to the Cowshed products following a life affirming shower with ‘Knackered Cow’ range! Who needs Hello magazines to entertain when you have planes docking outside your window, a Grey Goose Vodka in your hands, knowing that my hairdresser was responsible for celebrity snips such as Michael Ball, Robbie Williams et al in this very chair? Stardom is rubbing off and I now look like a million dollars exiting with mighty fine POB (posh bob).
The next move is tricky. Do I: Head to the deli with its hanging saddles of hams, endless cured salmons, salads, and cheeseboards which makes me want to dive in and wrap myself head to toe in prosciutto?; launch myself into a swinging egg chair in the lower chill out level; order a Bramble Bombay cocktail at the bar, embarrass myself with a game of solo pool, or sink into recliner chairs in front of a megawall of entertainment screens with ‘ear massage by Bose’ headphones; log on at the business centre (nah!); or head to the fine dining restaurant? I decide on the rotation and proximity method; start with what’s closest to you and move in a clockwise pattern.
I discover an affinity with Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’. I could (and would) happily live here. My flight is called…
Pre Flight and The Chair
I am loving no-queue supremacy, call me shallow, but the experience of wafting past everyone else is a buzz like no other. I step onboard, momentarily dazed as the seats are in herringbone formation. Finding 7D, my seat is in two sections; a padded mini stool/come footrest and a normal seat facing the footstall.
Privacy screens on both sides mean you can read your Fifty Shades without fear. Ripping open my felt vanity bag, any hopes of L’occitane or other such beauty goodies are dashed - it’s a functional little kit of the essentials. After five minutes of button pushing I am no closer to understanding the intimate operations of the chair (just how many cocktails did I have?). “Madam, Champagne?” (I don’t believe that dehydration via alcohol applies to flights in Upper), “oh thank you”.
Pre flight bubbles are collected and we are up at 30,000 feet. I am now on my second Lanson and am being sustained by very agreeable crisps, no faffin’ around with opening packets; I am eating out of a baby bone china bowl. My order for dinner and breakfast is taken by the lovely stewardess. Next, movies! I start tapping away at the screen which swings out from the side of my chair; annoyingly it’s not working! Then I realize that navigation is via an Atari-style wired remote control. Generation Z is never going to get this…Food Action
I am staring at my dinner, my table is covered in white linen with a brown runner and I have warm bread offered from an enormous basket which economy passengers could easily sleep in. My star shaped butter pat is served in an ivory bowl. I have chosen St. Supery Napa Sauvignon Blanc to go with my Somerset cider and onion soup which is steaming and delicious.
It’s a trolley free zone as everything is hand delivered. Interflora could learn a lot here. I indecisively go for the chicken stir fry with black beans. It’s a spicy number tumbling with mushrooms, sweetcorn and chilli slices. There isn’t a grain out of place on the timbale of rice. In the name of research I try the English pea and mint tortellini which is divine; silky thin pasta sheets enveloping soft Italian cheese topped with pea shoots. I choose a Shopshire Blue and Cornish Brie, to finish it off and opt for a Stone the Crows Ozzie Shiraz. The silver cutlery completes the fine dining experience; they can trust us as here, presumably as there is no kid kicking the back of our chair which might make a fork a useful weapon?
The Inflight Bar
Most people are now sleeping but I am trying to beat the jet lag effect so I wander up to the Virgin in-flight bar. I find a few choggers (chair hoggers), so I munch on Captain Tiptoes Wasabi Flaming Beans and instantly make sympathetic friends as my eyes start watering from these “fireballs of combustiblance”. Water is passed down the line then further drinks offered.
Mile High Bed
After a quick stop-over in the Hong Kong lounge, we prance back to our seats and dive into another meal, more champagne, before I succumb to the idea of sleep. Wearing my fetching black virgin PJ’s, I am the epitome of sexiness. Now the bed…I could ask the steward to set it up, but how hard can it be? Bad move…Let me walk you through the process: you have to get out of your seat, put everything away in their little compartments, including the TV then press a button. The back seat rises up like a breaching whale and flips over connecting with the footrest to create a flatbed. Behind my seat is a bundle which most resembles something you would take camping. I pop the square pillow down and put the duvet over me. What kind of design genius creates a duvet that is a cross between a Ninja turtle shell and a wet suit? It’s like sleeping under a futuristic doormat. A stewardess swings by, “Hi, um…that’s your bed sheet, your duvet is here”. How embarrassing, but I am finally in snuggle wonderland.Touch Down
Waking up just before landing to a lovely cuppa, I choose the Full English breakfast over a bacon butty, cereal, fruit and danishes, though arguably you could have them all, and it’s all delicious. If you hate making your bed, you will love that they do it all for you whilst you brush your teeth and we prepare for landing. Express passes ensure you whizz past all the queues yet again and I hand my passport over at the desk in Usain Bolt time “Hello Miss Lawson, Welcome to Sydney, did you have a good flight?”
For the first time in my life I answer honestly ‘Best time of my life’.
- The writer was a guest of Virgin Atlantic.