Mandy Smith, author

Interview by Faron Stalker

EVER since I took my first flight when I was nine years old, I've admired air hostesses. As a child, I remember watching an old film with elegant film stars playing air hostesses who lived together and enjoyed a life of travel and parties, and I dreamt of doing the same.

Instead of following that dream, I decided to please my dad and go to university first. After I finished, I started working in Virgin’s engineering department but I yearned to travel. Once I began training, I learned there was more to the job than glamour. It was an intense six weeks. In the end, I was glad I had gone to university, because the exams at my air hostess training were so difficult. We were taught to remain calm even in the most frightening emergency situations. After surviving an extremely realistic plane crash simulation, I was ready to fly.

I was so thrilled that my first flights were to New York as I finally got to see a little of the city I had dreamed of – the city I only knew from Sex and the City.

Although I would be gone for days at a time doing long-haul flights, I still had a great social life at home. I lived near Gatwick Airport, in a house with four or five other flight attendants. About 60 other Virgin crew members were also living nearby, so there was always someone around and there were loads of parties.

One of my favourite journeys was to Cape Town. We would usually be there for seven days before flying home, which left plenty of time to enjoy the beach, the vineyards and the mountains. The exchange rate meant shopping was always cheap, so we made sure to leave plenty of room in our suitcases on those journeys. And with seven days of free time, there was plenty of time to party and lounge on the beach.

Because we spent so much time there, we got to know the locals. In Kenya, we would visit animal sanctuaries and orphanages. Whenever we flew to Nairobi, the crew and I would fill our suitcases with chalk, crayons and other toys that we would take to an orphanage there. Sometimes, we would pinch the blankets from our long-haul flights and take them to elephant orphanages to wrap around baby elephants. They would use our old tights to tie the blankets around the elephants. We went through one or two pairs of tights each flight, so we had plenty to spare and were glad to see them go to good use.

As an air hostess, I got to fly around the world for free during my holidays, usually in upper class. I spent one of my holidays hiking the Inca Trail and exploring all around Bolivia and Peru.

The glamorous lifestyle lived up to the hopes I had had since I was a child. I once went to a party at Richard Branson’s mansion and have never seen more champagne in my life. On a flight from London to Los Angeles after the Brit awards, the plane was packed with celebrities like Robbie Williams, the Osbournes and the band Garbage. I was a big fan of indie rock, and when I noticed that Shirley Manson was on the flight I was starstruck. Robbie Williams, who had flown on my flights many times, was a friend of mine, and I remember squeezing his hand with excitement once I spotted Garbage. I was too nervous to speak to them much, but they were very sweet and very cool. Another time, Billy Connolly was in upper class and spent a whole hour sitting at the bar telling jokes to the crew. He was completely down-to-earth. I was pleased to find that he was so nice.

It wasn’t all wild parties, there was also vomit, blood, pizzas being thrown in my face, and, of course, screaming babies. My intensive training went to good use while sewing up a man whose stitches had burst and when a pilot had a heart attack mid-flight. Flying all the time and changing between time zones is really difficult physically. Although I was drinking three litres of water per flight, I was always dehydrated. We all had to wear support tights to avoid varicose veins, and I had irritable bowel syndrome for the majority of the time.

The job isn’t for everyone, but I found the lifestyle addictive. I loved the glamour, the party life, the shopping, and the travel.

Cabin Fever: The Sizzling Secrets of a Virgin Air Hostess by Mandy Smith is published by Thistle, priced £9.99.