Fri­day ed­i­tor Karen Pasquali Jones is fly­ing high af­ter sam­pling the very best of Bri­tain.

With a royal baby, Wim­ble­don cham­pion, and a fleet of sta­teof-the-art aero­planes touch­ing down at Heathrow, it’s no won­der Lon­don’s fly­ing high, dis­cov­ers Fri­day ed­i­tor Karen Pasquali Jones

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

My co-pilot’s voice was calm. “Watch out for that moun­tain,” he said as I squeezed slightly on the joy­stick and the plane banked to the left. I peered through the low­ly­ing clouds, ea­ger to catch a glimpse of the run­way. Not much longer and the land­ing strip at Hong Kong should come into view. The clouds parted, and there it was, a tiny dot in the mid­dle of the South China Sea.

“Pre­pare for land­ing,” I said, hear­ing the pas­sen­gers and crew mov­ing around be­hind me. My left hand felt clammy on the stick and my mouth was dry as I turned off the au­topi­lot. I was in charge now.

My take off at Lon­don Heathrow had been text­book per­fect, and up un­til now the jour­ney had been smooth and trou­ble-free. I glanced at the al­time­ter then down at the lights to the side of the run­way. There were two white and two red and that’s how they needed to stay for a per­fect land­ing. “Good,” my co-pilot Si­mon Axby said as I edged nearer the run­way. My sweaty hand made tiny move­ments to line up the giant A380 with the run­way lights. “Per­fect ap­proach,” he re­as­sured me.

My heart was thud­ding so loudly it was hard to hear his softly spo­ken en­cour­age­ments. “You can do this,” I told my­self, nudg­ing nearer and nearer to that tiny strip of con­crete. I pushed the stick for­ward, ea­ger to keep the plane’s nose down – I didn’t want it to bounce and risk do­ing any dam­age – when sud­denly a voice boomed, “Re­tard, re­tard!”

I thought it may have been a crew mem­ber be­ing rude about my first land­ing at­tempt, but it was ac­tu­ally the plane’s au­tosen­sor telling me to pull back. I jerked back on the joy­stick, but I pulled too hard and the plane started climb­ing.

“Get it un­der con­trol,” Si­mon warned as the au­tosen­sor’s strict male voice barked in­struc­tions. I tried to fo­cus as the run­way lights all turned red, but fear was rush­ing through me, and I froze. “We’re go­ing to crash,” one of the pas­sen­gers yelled, but Si­mon had al­ready grabbed hold of his con­trols and man­aged to bring us down safely with a thud on to the tar­mac. Our pas­sen­gers clapped and I slumped into my seat, re­lieved. We’d sur­vived – just.

Out­side I could see fire engines and am­bu­lances rush­ing to­wards us but I knew that thank­fully they wouldn’t be needed. Clam­ber­ing out of my seat, I pulled the door open, but I wasn’t in Hong Kong. I was in an A380 flight sim­u­la­tor at Heathrow.

Lux­ury in the sky

Even though it felt a bit like an ex­tremely so­phis­ti­cated com­puter game, this was, in fact, a £10 mil­lion [Dh56.9 mil­lion] sim­u­la­tor that is used to train Bri­tish Air­ways’ top pilots to fly the A380.

And even though he acted like a pilot, Si­mon is ac­tu­ally the en­gi­neer­ing team leader for BA. Us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, he puts the pilots through their paces, fly­ing to any air­port around the world that can take the big­ger aero­plane, and con­jur­ing up with the flick of a few but­tons myr­iad weather con­di­tions and ad­verse sit­u­a­tions (bird strike, en­gine fire, snow storm any­one?).

I was one of a group of jour­nal­ists who’d been flown (on real aero­planes) into Lon­don to see the de­liv­ery of BA’s first A380, and one of only three jour­nal­ists to ‘fly’ the sim­u­la­tor at BA’s flight train­ing cen­tre near Heathrow. Need­less to say, I didn’t think I was about to get my wings any time soon. But the next day I was back at Heathrow to watch the real A380 land in a cer­e­mony ri­valled only by the ar­rival of Prince Ge­orge, the new­born son of Wills and Kate and the third in line to the Bri­tish throne.

Step­ping aboard the A380, I could see what all the fuss was about. It is fuel ef­fi­cient, quiet, has a pa­per­less flight deck, can seat 500 pas­sen­gers over two floors and is, quite frankly, in a dif­fer­ent class to other planes. All leather up­hol­stery and state-ofthe-art, any­one who gets to fly in one of these is go­ing to ar­rive in style at their des­ti­na­tion – the jour­ney might even be the best bit of their hol­i­day.

This is the first of 12 A380 air­buses – an or­der worth £ 5 bil­lion – which means more lux­ury in the sky for pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling from Lon­don to Los An­ge­les and Hong Kong, which is why I de­cided to ‘land’ there. So af­ter try­ing a First Class seat/ bed (a dis­tant dream even for a sea­soned sim­u­la­tor pilot like me) it was time to leave Heathrow to ex­plore Cen­tral Lon­don.

Af­ter all the ex­cite­ment I de­cided to head for a re­laxed af­ter­noon tea at

The Con­naught in May­fair. Orig­i­nally two Ge­or­gian houses and named af­ter Queen Vic­to­ria’s third son, Prince Arthur, the first Duke of Con­naught, the five-star ho­tel was once owned by the Savoy Group and it shows. El­e­gant and ef­fort­lessly so­phis­ti­cated in a quin­tes­sen­tial English way, this is Lon­don lux­ury at its finest. There’s a roar­ing log fire, wood pan­elling and crys­tal glass and heavy sil­ver­ware to en­joy your re­fresh­ments with.

On the menu is an ar­ray of sand­wiches, in­clud­ing cu­cum­ber and egg may­on­naise – with the crusts cut off, of course – which are de­li­cious, and scones with straw­berry jam and clot­ted cream. It was all served with plenty of tea (I chose English breakfast even though it was mid-af­ter­noon) and the charm­ing com­pany of Paula Fitzher­bert, the ho­tel’s PR di­rec­tor.

Sit­ting in the light set­ting of the ho­tel’s brasserie restau­rant, Espelette, we feasted on mac­a­roons, and dainty cakes while look­ing down on the bustling Mount Street out­side in the heart of May­fair vil­lage. Luck­ily, I hadn’t booked din­ner for that night as I left ab­so­lutely full. In­stead I headed back to our ho­tel, the Athenaeum, to re­lax.

A girl about town

Sit­u­ated op­po­site Green Park, the five-star Athenaeum Ho­tel is per­fect for ex­plor­ing Lon­don. In­side it’s a lux­u­ri­ous sanc­tu­ary from the hus­tle and bus­tle, but when I stepped out­side on to Pic­cadilly I was right in the heart of the city.

There’s a concierge on the door, com­plete with bowler hat and um­brel­las at the ready in case it be­gan to driz­zle. But I didn’t care about the weather. Stay­ing here, at the Athenaeum with the wis­te­ria grow­ing up its ex­te­rior walls, made me feel like a girl about town, so I set off to do all the usual tourist things – like travel on a red dou­ble-decker bus, the tube, a black cab, and stand out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace and Down­ing Street.

I was in­vited to the Apollo Vic­to­ria The­atre to see Wicked, the play about the witches of Oz long be­fore they

met Dorothy and her ruby slip­pers. So it was off for a quick sup­per at Car­rara at St James – yes I broke my vow not to eat any more, but this was just a light bite – be­fore the show.

Strolling up the restau­rant’s sculp­tural Fi­nal En­core stair­case, de­signed by artist Mark Humphrey and built in Italy from white Car­rara mar­ble, I cer­tainly felt like I was mak­ing a dramatic en­trance, and work­ing up a teensy ap­petite.

The menu is English with Ital­ian in­flu­ences, which was a per­fect mar­riage of tastes. So you could choose a rab­bit ter­rine with pick­led black­ber­ries, fish and chips or go the Ital­ian route like I did and have the best-tast­ing boc­concini moz­zarella, cherry tomato and pesto salad with an open wild mush­room lasagne this side of Rome.

The pre-the­atre menu is for peo­ple like us, who wanted a tasty bite be­fore watch­ing a play. I over­did it a bit and wouldn’t have any room for an ice cream at the the­atre, but that didn’t mat­ter as I was too en­grossed in the mu­si­cal to care about snacks.

Bril­liantly acted, beau­ti­fully sang and with an in­trigu­ing sto­ry­line that ac­tu­ally makes you like the wicked witch, the evening flew by.

A royal wel­come

The next morn­ing I was up early for a visit to Kens­ing­ton Palace, home of Prince Wil­liam, Kate Mid­dle­ton and their new­born son Ge­orge.

Once the home of the late Princess Diana, Kens­ing­ton Palace has been a royal res­i­dence since way back in the late 1600s. Queen Vic­to­ria was raised there, Queen Mary II died there, King Ge­orge II met the king and queen of the Chero­kee In­di­ans there – it re­ally is like walk­ing into his­tory. While the wing where Wil­liam and Kate stay is still pri­vate, the his­toric state apart­ments are open and have been trans­formed into ex­hibits and art in­stal­la­tions that bring his­tory to life.

There are dif­fer­ent routes to look around the apart­ments, so you just have to choose which one to fol­low. There are ex­perts dot­ted along the way who will an­swer ques­tions and give you a per­sonal talk about the room, monarch and ex­hibits.

I spent 20 min­utes dis­cussing Queen Vic­to­ria with a chap in a his­tor­i­cal cos­tume af­ter see­ing her dresses on dis­play and be­ing shocked at how tiny she was. The abridged his­tory on the life and times of the queen most fa­mous for say­ing, “We are not amused” cer­tainly made my trip to the palace worth­while.

But see­ing the Grand­mother of Europe’s pe­tite clothes, with a waist no big­ger than a seven-year-old’s, wasn’t as mov­ing as the room full of por­traits of the late Princess Diana.

Kens­ing­ton Palace was the place where the pub­lic showed their grief af­ter her tragic death, lay­ing tributes at the golden gates at the south of the build­ing un­til ev­ery rail­ing had been cov­ered. A new ex­hi­bi­tion of her dresses opened just af­ter I vis­ited, which has at­tracted thou­sands of peo­ple. As I stared at her por­traits by famed pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino, it was strange to think it has been 16 years since she was trag­i­cally killed. But it was nice to know that Prince Wil­liam and his fam­ily are liv­ing there now, bring­ing hap­pi­ness to the palace and boost­ing the Bri­tish econ­omy with ‘royal baby fever’.

So, in keep­ing with the royal theme, I headed back to the ho­tel to pack my bag then scooted over to the Café Royal on Re­gent Street – my base for the rest of the trip.

Step­ping in­side, I gasped. Newly con­verted from the fa­mous restau­rant, and a grade-one listed build­ing, it was easy to see why the likes of poet Os­car Wilde, writer Vir­gini­aWoolf, play­wright Noël Cow­ard and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill made this the place to see and be seen.

Orig­i­nally founded in 1865 by a bank­rupt French­man who ar­rived in Lon­don with just £5, the Café Royal soon be­came part of the cap­i­tal’s high so­ci­ety with fans in­clud­ing El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, David Bowie, Mick Jag­ger, the late Princess Diana and nov­el­ist

Gra­ham Greene. Known as much for scan­dal – mur­der, adul­tery – as its fa­mous pa­trons, the glam­orous restau­rant was trans­formed into a 159-room ho­tel last year.

I was ush­ered past the orig­i­nal ra­di­a­tor grills, which are also listed, up the tiny lifts to my suite, which was so mod­ern I reeled back, shocked. I’d been ex­pect­ing a glitzy, golden room in homage to the ho­tel’s her­itage. In­stead I walked into a con­tem­po­rary ur­ban suite, com­plete with a Bang & Olufe­sen TV, which swiv­elled and fol­lowed me as I moved around the room. My bath­room was al­most as big as my Dubai apart­ment and the bed was com­fort­ably big enough to sleep six. It was a clever jux­ta­po­si­tion by ar­chi­tect David Chip­per­field, and I loved it!

By con­trast the Grill Room down­stairs – also listed – has been re­stored to its for­mer or­nate glory, with Louis XVI decor and a dress code ask­ing din­ers to be “cel­e­bra­tive and so­phis­ti­cated”. That meant high heels and a glam­orous gown, so I hap­pily dressed up to meet friends for din­ner.

The menu was typ­i­cally Bri­tish but with plenty of fi­nesse and there were tast­ing dishes to share, along with a feast of oys­ters, lob­ster cock­tail and Osci­etra caviar. The food was amaz­ing, the ser­vice im­pec­ca­ble and the sur­round­ings exquisitely op­u­lent. Need­less to say we sat up chat­ting and watch­ing the fab­u­lous en­ter­tain­ment – a singer and dancers in keep­ing with the high-so­ci­ety theme – and I re­luc­tantly went to bed at one in the morn­ing know­ing I had to get up early the next day. I would have ig­nored my alarm if I hadn’t had a spe­cial day planned: Wim­ble­don.

A win­ning com­bi­na­tion

Rush­ing past the pretty bunting strewn across the city to cel­e­brate 60 years of the Queen’s rule, I hoped to see an­other Bri­tish suc­cess: a Bri­tish Wim­ble­don cham­pion.

Sadly I didn’t get to see Andy Mur­ray lift­ing the tro­phy on cen­tre court, but there was plenty of ten­nis ac­tion on court Num­ber One, along with tra­di­tional straw­ber­ries and cream. I was stunned by how or­derly and quiet the venue was – hardly a peep from the crowd ex­cept when a favourite won game, set and match.

The day sped by and it was back to the Café Royal for one last evening be­fore head­ing back to Dubai. I didn’t want to leave the glitz and grandeur of my new home, but at least I’d had a taste of the best of Bri­tish – and could savour more as I’d been booked busi­ness class on the flight home.

Re­clin­ing on my bed in the clouds, I won­dered what would hap­pen if some­thing hap­pened in the cock­pit and the in­fa­mous plea went out over the loud­speaker: does any­one know how to fly a plane? If it did I would have to vol­un­teer my ser­vices – well a sim­u­la­tor’s al­most the same isn’t it?

The Con­naught, left, is the per­fect venue for af­ter­noon tea be­fore see­ing Lon­don’s fa­mous at­trac­tions such as Tower Bridge, this pic­ture, a West-End show, in­set, and Big Ben, be­low right

Kens­ing­ton Palace has been a royal res­i­dence since the late 1600s and is now home to Prince Wil­liam, Princess Kate and baby Prince Ge­orge

Al­though the Café Royal has been re­cently ren­o­vated, some rooms such as the Pom­padour

room, this pic­ture, and the Grill room, above, have been

kept in the old style

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