Basingstoke Balloon Festival
4th -6th August 2006


Sadly, not baboons over Basingstoke as I’d hoped. I think primates fired from cannons would’ve been great. The balloons make a spectacular sight too though.
Basingstoke’s War Memorial Park hosts several large public events each year & the balloon festival’s been held there since 1996, attracting nearly 50,000 visitors over the course of the weekend. Music’s provided by Kestrel FM & Meridian TV are also on hand. The weather obviously plays a big part in it’s success -surprisingly, the hot & humid Summer this year hasn’t been ideal. The best flying conditions are apparently dry & still air, typified by crisp Winter mornings. Mass balloon launches take place from the park at 6am & 6pm each day from Friday to Sunday, judged to be the best times to catch the necessary thermal currents.
Once unfurled & spread out on the ground, it takes about 3 minutes to fill the balloon envelope with cold air, using a portable fan, then once it’s inflated, gas burners add hot air for buoyancy. Heavy tethering lines are attached to 4 wheel drive vehicles to pin the balloon down until everyone’s clambered aboard the basket then the pilot uses a quick release cable & it’s up, up & away.
For the past few years a new attraction’s been added to the event. Besides the fairground rides, bouncy castles, food stalls & children’s procession, Friday night sees the “Nightglow”. Sponsored by local company Wella Haircare, it’s a 40 minute musical & visual performance using a dozen balloons tethered closely together in an arena with the woods as a backdrop. Synchronised bursts on the gas burners then illuminate them to music with the help of pyrotechnics & coloured smoke. The last time I went they performed “The Prodigy’s” “Firestarter”. This year it was Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds”. Very dramatic. Green lasers projected an animated face onto the central balloon speaking Richard Burton’s sombre narrative -”No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless Worlds of space”. The night sky’s filled with mortars & rockets & jets of flame as red smoke drifts across the arena. It’s very effective; spookily ethereal. It’d make a great set-piece for an outdoor concert. H.G Wells’ classic story of a Martian invasion in Victorian England begins with the first landing in Woking, Surrey of course, only 30 miles away.
Basingstoke’s putting on more & more of these kind of events & I must admit, they do it well.
Still think the baboons would be better though.