Show Review: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2020

It was inevitable that an event that attracts half a million visitors to Ashton Court Estate, Bristol over a four day period would get cancelled because of the COVID19 Pandemic. In early July it was announced that instead of cancelling the event completely a single flight would take place on an undisclosed date sometime in the first two weeks of August. On a very hot Monday morning, just after 0600hrs, around 50 balloons took to the skies with the aim of flying over the City of Bristol. Being interviewed for local media, Craig Thompson, Pilot of the S.M. Gauge and Ben’s Tiles & Reclamation & Demolition balloons,  said “It’s all we can do.. but we’ll put 50 balloons above Bristol for the people of Bristol“. However, once airborne  the wind direction wasn’t as forecast and instead took them down towards the Chew Valley area to the south of Bristol.

The event organizers added a few special touches to the secret event. The first was arranging 22 of the balloons into a heart shape. Whilst this didn’t look much from the ground, once viewed from above it certainly looked something very spectacular.  The giant heart which covered one acre of land was all possible thanks to the funding of the Bristol City Centre Business Improvement District.

The second was local display pilot Richard Goodwin flying his highly modified  Pitts S-2S Special G-EWIZ over the Ashton area drawing his trade mark smiley face in the sky that so many around the south west have now witnessed during the challenging few months we’ve had. None of that could be achieved without regular supporter of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and Rich Goodwin’s title sponsor Anana Ltd.

Local balloon operator and flying display director for the Bristol International Balloon fiesta, Clive Bailey told BBC Points west “Its not the sort of Bristol Balloon Fiesta we wanted but I think its great”

Sadly one of the events most popular attractions, the Nightglow was also cancelled due to the pandemic pandemic and restrictions which sadly affected the whole of the fiesta. The organisers were able to treat fans though to a “Virtual Nightglow”. The broadcast was shown in the BBC iPlayer and The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta social media channels on night of Saturday 8th August at 9pm. The spectacle was secretly filmed at the Ashton Court estate a little earlier in the week and featured 12 balloons lighting their burners to the music being played, whilst Bristol-based aerial artist Lyn Routledge performed while being suspended underneath one of the hot air balloons.

Presented by Emma Britton, the BBC Radio Bristol team collaborated with a Bath-based DJ,  Andy Jarvis, to create and choreograph a very upbeat and energetic 12 minute soundtrack especially for the Nightglow. Based on the comments by those that watched the event online, it was certainly a success and brought many favourable comments.

The Virtual Nightglow can be still be viewed here on BBC Iplayer

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and  Plaster Creative Communications for making this article possible.

Report by Matt Sudol and Gary Morris  with additional images as credited.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2020