What is wing walking, you ask? Not for the faint-hearted, wing walking is where you are strapped on top of a bi-plane from take-off to landing, whilst the pilot flies the plane and performs aerobatic stunts!
So it was with great surprise that we read last year of Betty Bromage, a local woman who was undertaking her second wing walk for charity. Amazed by her achievements, we followed her activities over the next year and were thrilled to find out she was doing it again just after her 89th birthday. We got in touch and were delighted when she very kindly agreed to meet with us to model some of our clothes and discuss breaking the stereotypes that surround age.
Betty is a retired nurse, having worked in Cheltenham Hospital's A&E department. Perhaps it is because of this, working under constant pressure in stressful situations, that she is incredibly modest about her achievements, brushing off our compliments as we sit down to chat, in awe of her bravery and fortitude.
Before we got down to the more serious questions about wing-walking, we asked a couple of ice-breakers (more for us than for Betty, who was very at ease, having given several interviews for radio and television since her wing walking adventures began).
What do you have for breakfast?
"Layers of porridge, yoghurt and fruit. I leave them overnight to soak in and it’s ready by the morning."
Where is your favourite place in the Cotswolds?
"Cooper's Hill, Brockworth. I used to live in one of the cottages at the bottom of the cheese-rolling hill!"
Aside from wing-walking what other hobbies do you have?
"I walk for 2 hours a day. I’ll walk through the parks and take a look in the charity shops. I often walk up the Promenade to meet with friends and old colleagues. I use a stroller as I can become a bit wobbly at times. I did quite a lot of gardening in Abbeyfield House before they recently employed a gardener. I enjoy attending the Cheltenham Literature Festival with neighbours too."
What’s your favourite piece from our summer collection?
"The lavender unlined jacket and trousers. I really like the grey fleck in it. It’s perfect for a wedding I’ve been invited to!"
What inspired you to start wing-walking?
"I have no idea! I moved to Abbeyfield House and I thought about 'What would I like to do at 90?' and thought 'What have I got to lose?' It’s good to do something for charity and I always say 'let me not delay kindness.' Life’s too short, I don’t want to look back wishing I’d done something."
"The first time I did a wing walk, I raised funds for the Midlands Air Ambulance, the second time was for Cobalt [a local charity supporting cancer and dementia patients] and this time was for Sue Ryder. Sue Ryder is a charity rather close to my heart, as my sister-in-law, Margaret Eccles, received care from the local hospice, Leckhampton Court. We were incredibly close, she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. When I told her I was wing-walking, she did not approve, she thought it was far too dangerous. She sadly passed away before I did the wing walk for Sue Ryder but I know she would have been pleased that I was raising funds for them."
Watch the incredible footage from Sue Ryder of Betty's wing walk in the video above.
Were you nervous? How did it feel?
"I firstly went with my daughter-in-law to the airfield to see if I could do it and then after that, I had to get a doctor's note to say I was fit to do it. Climbing up is the hardest part, you have to climb through under guide wires to get up!
"It was great up there! Biggles [her aptly named teddy bear] kept me company, tucked into my harness. During my first wing walk, the pilot did a half loop which was a bit tame but on the last wing walk, which was very good, he did a half loop and figure of eight. The crowd loved it and so did I!"
What do you wear when you are wing-walking? Is it cold up there?
"It was cold as I didn’t have a headband on. I had to wear earplugs and goggles, which kept slipping off! You are 500 feet in the air so you need lots of thermal layers. I wore a padded ski jumpsuit which I found in a charity shop and wore a Sue Ryder t-shirt over the top."
Will you do it again next year?
"I would like to do something but I don’t know yet..."
"Abbeyfield is a charity, which manages lots of properties. I’d like to raise funds for a minibus for them, as when we all go out at the moment, we have to order taxis, which as you can imagine, becomes quite costly."
Betty looks over the fantastic photos and articles from her wing walk.
Would you encourage others to take up daring activities?
"Try it! There is no disgrace in failing; not trying is failing. If you think you can, you are halfway there."
"Whatever age you are, you look back and think I should have done that! I would love to do a zip wire but I’m worried about the landing."
Betty’s adventurous spirit runs in the family as her grandson goes skydiving!
What’s next on the horizon?
Betty has been featured in a Los Angeles animation for 8-10 year-olds about proactive seniors and has also been featured on many TV and radio interviews, both local and national as well as international (she was featured in the Nigerian and Canadian press). Her inspiring wing walking has captured the world's imagination: "My son phoned me from Australia to say he’d read about me in the paper [Cheltenham Standard]. A neighbour had given him a copy and I had no idea I was in it!"
If you would like to support Betty's fundraising efforts, please visit her JustGiving page >
With enormous thanks to Betty Bromage, a fantastic model and incredible woman, as well as Kelly Rumble from Sue Ryder.
For more interesting updates and special offers, sign up for our email newsletters here >