Valerie Jenkins, air hostess

I WAS seven when I first went on an aeroplane. I couldn’t take my eyes off the air-hostess; she was the epitome of beauty, glamour and class. Her job seemed so exotic that it could only ever be my fantasy – I was never academic and it was not anticipated that I would go to college or university, let alone have a job that allowed me to travel the world.

I left school at 16 and started working as a travel agent for AT Mays because I knew that no one would let me fly until I was 21. We were sent on an educational trip to Laker Airways’ new ticketing office opening in Glasgow’s Queen Street, and I pestered the manager to give me a job in his office. Any job in an airline would do.

Little did I know within months Laker would go to the wall and I would be made redundant at 18. I was devastated. AT Mays were my knights in shining armour, and I worked quietly for them having had my fingers burned until I was old enough to fly.

At 21 I applied to every airline under the sun, and Loganair took me on in 1983. I worked in the ticket desk, until I eventually got my wings. I transferred to their base in Manchester, and then started with Air 2000 on new Boeing 757.

It was after a flight from Manchester airport that somebody mentioned British Airways were hosting an Open Day in the airport hotel. I turned on my heel in my Air 2000 uniform and was on top of the world when they offered me a job, flying out of London.

Valerie Cook from the coal-board scheme in Muirhead had finally made it. I stayed with BA for 20 years, worked my guts off and landing in First Class.

I’ve seen the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China; been on a dinner cruise down the Zambese river and a safari in Nairobi. I’ve met the Queen of Spain, Michael Jackson, Billy Connolly, Jeff Goldblum, Elvis Costello.

Some trips could be lonely. You could be away from three days to three weeks, not really knowing where home was in between.

Some flights were more sociable than others until BA brought out Buddy Rosters and I paired with my best friend, Phil. He was an ex red-coat for Butlins, and the funniest, kindest man that I’ve ever met. He is Aunty Phil to my three daughters, Fairy Godmother to one. We’ve laughed our way around the world.

It began harder to leave the girls as they grew up, so I took a career break. When empty nest syndrome hit hard, the only job I could genuinely do was fly: it gets into your bones.

I’m now back in the skies where I belong. Every day is different; I look at my passengers boarding the aircraft as though they are dinner guests in my own home.

People say that to work with the public is difficult, and the airline industry has changed a great deal, but a genuine warm smile and treating people as individuals goes a long way. Whether that is on the ground or in the skies, it makes no difference to me.

Carla Jenkins