Countess Sarah Bathurst was shocked to see the huge balloon sail past as she was opening her bathroom curtains
A countess was furious after opening the bathroom curtains of her mansion and to see Virgin hot air balloon sail past — along with a basket-full of gawking tourists taking pictures.
Decorum prevented Countess Sarah Bathurst blasting the Virgin Balloon Flights pilot and passengers with a tirade of abuse for invading the privacy of her most inner sanctum.
But she was furious and immediately fired off a complaint to the company as well as venting her feelings on Twitter.
Posting two pictures of the balloon no more than forty feet high outside the bathroom window of her Cirencester Park mansion in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, she wrote: ‘NOT the sort of thing you wish to see when you draw the curtains in the morning. Gross invasion of privacy @VirginBalloons – not impressed.
She claims the firm told her the pilot would phone back later that day but failed to do so.
However, she did get a call the following day, very soon after she had tweeted to her followers that she had still heard nothing.
‘It was about 9am when it happened,’ she said. ‘I had been in my bedroom quietly catching up with emails and then I went into the bathroom.
The fuming aristocrat took to Twitter to vent her anger. She added: ‘One has to be a little bit protective about one’s own garden and house’
‘I opened the curtains and there was this bloody great big hot air balloon. It was so low that it had to gain height just to be able to get over the house and carry on. It was totally unacceptable for the pilot to come so close and drop so low.
‘He obviously wanted to be able to give his passengers a good close view of the house – and they certainly got one.
‘There were about a dozen passengers in the basket and they were so close I could see them clicking away on their cameras and mobile phone and the flashes going off.
‘It filled me with alarm. I was in a most private place and although Cirencester Park has been open to the public for access to the grounds for over 300 years this was just not on.
‘The grounds may be open but one has to be a little bit protective about one’s own garden and house.
‘I felt like remonstrating loudly with them but I didn’t want them to be able to take pictures of that sight as well!
‘I phoned Virgin Balloons straightaway and made a complaint. They promised me that the pilot would ring that day – which he did not.
Lady Bathurst, 52, who served last year as the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, lives at the mansion, set in 15,000 acres of grounds, with her husband Lord Allen Bathurst, 56
‘The next morning my Twitter followers were all very sympathetic and were asking what Virgin had to say about it. I said I had not heard anything. Whether it’s co-incidence or not the pilot rang me within fifteen minutes and gave me an abject apology.
‘He promised it will never happen again.
‘I told him hot air balloons do fly over our estate and other big houses in Gloucestershire and that is fine as long as they keep a respectable distance. But his balloon was no higher than 40ft and very close indeed to the house, as my pictures show.
‘It was a very still day so there was no way he was blown off course or anything like that,
Their estate includes Cirencester Park Polo Club where Prince Charles and his sons have been regular players
‘They had taken off from the Kemble airport a few miles away and he told me they were heading for a landing at Cirencester Rugby Club. Forgive me, but I was a little bit quizzical about that because he said a gust of wind had taken them on to Fairford, which is ten miles further on.
‘I was not the only person who noticed how low it got. Several others also tweeted about it from Cirencester.
‘I suspect he rather took advantage of the direction he was heading and he let the balloon drop right down over the mansion and got as close as possible for the benefit of his passengers.
‘But, of course, I have accepted his apology and I don’t think they will pull a stunt like this again.’
In an apparent reference to the Royal homes of Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Highgrove and Gatcombe – only a few miles from Cirencester Park – the Countess added ‘I hope they (Virgin) don’t do the same sort of thing over any of the larger homes in the county which are homes to much more important people than us.
‘This was certainly not a good piece of PR by Virgin, was it? It caused me shock, surprise and alarm. It was a real invasion of privacy, They were far too close and far too low.’
Lady Bathurst, 52, who served last year as the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, lives at the mansion, set in 15,000 acres of grounds, with her husband Lord Allen Bathurst, 56, who battled a life threatening infection last year and was in hospital for several months.
Their estate includes Cirencester Park Polo Club where Prince Charles and his sons have been regular players.
A Virgin spokesman said: ‘We’re sorry that our big red balloon caused concern for Countess Bathurst earlier this week.
‘Having received a call from the Countess early on Monday morning, we arranged for our pilot to get in touch directly so he could explain in more detail how hot air balloons fly and why the balloon was over the estate.
‘He was able to speak to the Countess early on Tuesday morning and explained that he had not deliberately ‘steered’ the balloon towards the estate.
‘Hot air balloons travel where the wind takes them and cannot be steered in the traditional sense like other aircraft.
‘They will come in lower as the pilot prepares to land where they find a large enough, clear and open space as per UK aviation regulations.
‘Our Cirencester flight took off at about 8.45am that morning from Kemble airfield with 16 passengers on board, who all enjoyed a wonderful flight before coming in to land at about 9.45am.
‘Our highly experienced pilot, who has flown in the area for more than 20 years, had initially looked to land near Cirencester rugby club, as the wind had taken the balloon over the grounds of the Bathurst Estate.
‘However, a change in wind direction shortly afterwards meant he instead brought the balloon in for a textbook landing in a field to the east of Cirencester, where our passengers all enjoyed a celebratory glass of Champagne before heading on their way.
‘Once again, we apologise that our balloon caused Countess Bathurst any distress that morning and while we can’t control which way the wind takes us, our pilot and the Countess came to an understanding regarding future flights that may head in the direction of the estate.’