By Philip Appleton
From Philip’s memoir – completed, and under assessment for publication
BLUE SKY, RED CARPET
“The moving story of an airline pilot’s remarkable journey – one that takes him from 30,000 feet to the depths of despair, before finding a new life as an actor – and ultimately ways to fly free again.”
Air Vice-Marshal Dr Paddy O’Connor had a penchant for clotted cream. There was a small pot of it on his antique desk in his Harley Street office, which looked more like a Victorian drawing room than a consulting room. With the fading carpet and the quiet ticking of the wall clock, it was not how I had imagined God’s office would be. The books were also unexpected, on subjects ranging from black magic to neurological dysfunction, though there was a discreet portrait of the Virgin Mary and Child on a shelf. As a consultant in neurology and psychiatry to the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and British Airways, Dr O’Connor was The Supreme Being as far as I was concerned.
Short, frail and bald, he was responsible for drafting the international legislation on the psychiatric aspects of aircrew licensing. At 2.30pm on 24th September 1981 he finally destroyed my dream of being a pilot that had begun when I was an eleven-year-old boy, and had given me eight years of work in a profession open to only a few. As I listened to Dr O’Connor’s words about stringent international medical regulations, I felt the cold shock of reality. The AVM was old, wise and kindly, the perfect guy to deliver bad news, in his soft Irish accent. I knew it was coming and the nightmare was real, I just didn’t understand how I had got to that place. Patiently, the AVM listened to the reasons why I claimed I was well, then tore them to shreds. I would never fly again.