POP STAR TO PILOT
With her alcohol issues behind her, white witch Fiona Horne is soaring in her new role.
Fiona Horne was 9 years old when she fell in love with flying. At an air show with her adoptive father, watching vintage World War II planes climb into the clear blue sky above Goulburn, NSW, her heart soared. It was a rare moment of happiness in what the former Def FX pop sensation calls “a challenging childhood.” “I don’t have a lot of good family memories, but there were moments. And the air shows— I remember going to three or four— were right up there with the best,” says the singer, broadcaster, author, actress, self-described “white witch,” fire-dancer and, as of last year, commercial pilot. “Dad was really into World War II relics and warbirds, but we always went as voyeurs. We were never in the cockpit,” Horne, 50, tells WHO. “I found the concept fascinating, but it never occurred to me that I could be the person flying the plane.”
It took until her mid-40s for Horne to realise she could steer her destiny along a different course, as she reveals in her autobiography, The Naked Witch (Rockpool Publishing, $29.99). Today the spellbinder who scored a US following is living quietly in the Caribbean, where she is most at home in the cockpit of a Piper Aztec twin-engined “island-hopper” plane. “Even at 42 degrees with no air-conditioning,” there’s no better place to be, says the onetime Playboy cover girl, who rebelled against a conservative— and difficult—upbringing in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
Growing up, Horne writes that she was repeatedly sexually abused by a family member and bullied at school. Later, celebrity, divorce and alcoholism left the star broken before she found a reason to reinvent herself. “As I moved through that pain, I had this vision to become an aid worker and someone whose brain was able to grasp the operation of heavy machinery at altitude,” says Horne. “As I got deeper into it I realised I wanted to leave the entertainment industry and remake myself as a professional pilot.”
The catalyst was a 2012 visit to a
remote village in Baja, California, where she was appalled to see “gorgeous little Mexican kids with black, rotten teeth.” Told that a dentist occasionally flew in to help, Horne promptly resolved to get involved with similar grassroots aid.
At that point, the former rocker, who formed electro-dance band Def FX in 1990—they split seven years later—was at the lowest ebb of an up-and-down existence. Her husband, Jeff (she prefers not to reveal his surname), a “Brad Pitt look-alike” pilot 16 years her junior, had walked out on her for another woman, fame had palled and favourite pursuits such as skydiving no longer distracted her. The bottle beckoned. “Basically, I was trying to drink myself to death,” concedes Horne, who somehow managed to complete a Def FX 15-year reunion tour of Australia during her nadir. “I was descending into a pit. Six months after Jeff left I had become a full-blown alcoholic, blacking out and coming to covered in bruises.”
Getting sober in a program was the first step back. Moving from California to the US Virgin Islands in 2013 marked another milestone. “I passed my private pilot check-ride one afternoon, went to True Tattoo, Hollywood, at 8 PM and got a 1934 Boeing Stearman propeller tattooed on my left forearm,” Horne recalls. “With just two bags I caught the plane to the islands the next day, arriving on May 1,” known as “Beltane” in the witches’ calendar, she explains: “A time to burn away the past and plough the future.”
Flight training proved tough: “I worked four jobs for three years, slept in my car, ate food from other people’s fridges and
“I was trying to drink myself to death”
pizza left over from flight-school seminars. I spent every cent and did whatever it took to seal the deal as a multi-engine commercial pilot last October.”
The result was a renewed sense of self. On a February 2016 trip to Africa to hone her bush-pilot skills, Horne had to buzz airstrips to scare off grazing wildlife before she could land, and in late January she flew her first humanitarian mission to hurricane-stricken Haiti with a cargo of 350 chickens, 45kg of feed and three pregnant rabbits. Today, these are the kinds of challenges she relishes. “So simple is life now. I am living and, more profoundly, experiencing my dream.”
Despite the accolades and fame, this sense of fulfilment is new. “You know, when I was very high-profile there was an emptiness inside,” she reflects. “I ran around chasing sensation, looking for other people’s approval, because I always thought I wasn’t good enough.” Today, she has found paradise. “I have a view of the translucent blue tropical water of my childhood dreams, lapping up to white sandy beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs.”
Not that she’s attached to that, either. “When my time here is finished I will go somewhere else. All I have can fit into three bags so it’s not hard for me to pack up and move,” she says, smiling. “I don’t miss being a rock star. I am so much happier now. I don’t have a house—i live where I lay my head.”