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Virgin Balloon Flights staff face their fears for charity

Facing their fears are Matt Jones, Maria Wilkinson, Hannah Keane and Shawn Howells
Facing their fears are Matt Jones, Maria Wilkinson, Hannah Keane and Shawn Howells

Staff at the UK’s largest commercial hot air balloon rides company came face to face with their worst fears in aid of charity last week when they had a close encounter with snakes, spiders and scorpions.

Virgin Balloon Flights, based in Stafford Park, Telford, teamed up with Exotic Zoo for a fundraising Face Your Fears Challenge in aid of the company’s chosen charity, The British Lung Foundation.

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Six of them met with Animal Presenter Sam Jones, who introduced them to Bowser the Asian forest scorpion, Sid the corn snake, Olive and Sweet Pea the Burmese pythons, Tony the tail-less whip scorpion and Charlotte the tarantula.

Hannah Keane and Maria Wilkinson were two of the staff members to take up the challenge, with Miss Keane holding the spider and Mrs Wilkinson holding the two scorpions.

“I was absolutely terrified when Sam put the first scorpion in my hand – I couldn’t even look at it to start with,” said Mrs Wilkinson.

“But the Exotic Zoo team are so calm that they really do put you at ease. It also helped that the animals were pretty chilled out too, as I’m not sure what I would have done if Bowser had gone running up my arm.

“I’m really glad I did it though. I’ve been petrified of scorpions since I was a five-year-old so it was a huge thing for me to be able to hold both the scorpions they had at Exotic Zoo.”

Prior to the challenge itself, the Virgin Balloon Flights team had sessions with Pete Bryceland, a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming from Telford to try and reduce their fears.

Miss Keane said the sessions had definitely helped.

“I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it when we got there and I they got the tarantula out. I did almost lose my nerve but forced myself to go through with it,” she said.

“A huge thank you to Sam and everyone else at Exotic Zoo, plus our NLP practitioner Pete. Thanks to them, I don’t feel half as scared of spiders as I did before.”

The Face Your Fears challenge was the first major staff fundraiser of several planned throughout the year for the British Lung Foundation by Virgin Balloon Flights.

With £3,500 already raised towards their £27,500 goal for the British Lung Foundation, staff are confident of hitting their target.

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