As my Bio indicates,Â ClosetaryÂ is normally the home ofÂ purelyÂ fashion-related articles on The Beauty Laureate. However today it playsÂ host to an interview I wrote for Vogue in March this year, but before that, I’dÂ justÂ like to thank everyoneÂ for the greatÂ reception to my blog! It makes me so proud and happy to see that the pieces that I took so much pleasure in writingÂ areÂ being enjoyed by readers around the world. (Even typing that last clause seems crazy, ‘…around the world‘)
Anyhow, I’mÂ having a busy week with writing assignments so whilst I readyÂ the next posts, here isÂ one third of the tasks entrants were asked to compose for Vogueâ€™s Talent Contest for young writers. Many a keen scribe like myself will apply, but thereâ€™s only one winner, whom, I believe, will be crowned as such in the October issue. In a nutshell, contestants were asked to write an 800 word interview with ‘a person who is not a member of your family.’ As you can imagine, this casts a very wideÂ net of topics, themes and people to write about, no less the struggle to harness your ownÂ ideas and inspirations. Narrowing down myÂ choices of interviewee was easy, but the word count was not. (FYI, 800 words for what would normally be a two/three-page spread in Vogue is not much leeway to do an all-encompassing interview, never mind that I wrote and edited three articles over a 48-hour period!) I changed some details re names, but allÂ ofÂ the facts remain as they are reported here. EnjoyÂ
Itâ€™s a cold stormy day that swears in the beginning of March. The rain is driving like itâ€™s monsoon season and squalls of wind have challenged my coiffured efforts during the scramble from my car to the front door of Easterby Hall. Once inside, Iâ€™m welcomed into the Snug, a room resplendent in golds and greens with fire glowing in the marble grate. My host and the lady I am interviewing for this very piece smiles across the room at me from a leather studded chair, Evelyn King, a BOAC airhostess in 1947. Envisage Tory Maxwell of the Jilly Cooper novel Riders, and you will have it sussed â€“ carmine nails, race horses grazing beyond the lawns, and all. King is keen to share her experiences and to discuss the discrepancies with air travel as it is today, for one thing, â€œpeople used to dress up to fly in those daysâ€ she informs me. â€œAs not many had the chance [to fly] it was an occasion and therefore deemed necessary.â€ As for her own uniform it seems that airlines started as they meant to go on – stylistically at least, tailoring their employees in fine woollen skirt suits with pointed hats. An old photograph of King in full uniform is offered to me for inspection, it’s conservative, but even in black and white a distinct touch of glamour is notable. Itâ€™s certainly not dissimilar to the costumes worn by the characters of â€˜Beauxbatons Academy of Magicâ€™ in the fourth film instalment of Harry Potter. Magical literary comparisons aside, though, this image does nothing to dispel (forgive the pun) my long held belief in the synonymy of air hostesses and timeless style.
Itâ€™s soon apparent that this nod to magic will become an emerging theme in this interview. The era in which King joined BOAC remained haunted from the events of the past decade, however with the cease of military operations in World War II, the mood for women formerly â€œtrapped at homeâ€ was suddenly lifted by the excitement to board a plane and see the world. I ask if she had ever flown before applying and a resounding â€˜noâ€™ is the answer. Itâ€™s unimaginable now, but in the forties King was not alone in being amongst the uninitiated fliers. Copious passengers had also never flown meaning hostessesÂ had the additional task to act as counsellors to them on long-haul routes and five-crew maximum passenger planes.
Passenger aviation had only been around since 30 years previously, and albeit at the forefront of technology, I have to ask, what did make her want to fly? â€œIt was written about so much. Everyone had heard of the Horseshoe route, the Kangaroo route. It was an adventure and most peopleâ€™s aim to â€˜live outâ€™ the austerity they had lived under for the previous years.â€ It makes perfect sense. Kingâ€™s feeling of claustrophobia – the pestilence of the age â€“ had been replaced by the freedom to choose a new career, a new life. Although she never flew as far as Australia, or as west as the States â€œmy route was diverseâ€ she interrupts, with a look of nostalgia, â€œI was regularly on the Continent and in Africa – all of the destinations were so dreamy.â€ And romanticised they were. Namely flying to the balmy climates of Rome and Cairo, King recalls the BOAC posters from the forties. Iâ€™ve seen them myself; they employ the kind of propaganda with more than an inkling of similarity to army enrolment posters from three decades earlier, if inciting fervour to fly rather than fight â€“ but they had the same effect.
Candidates rolled up in their droves for a coveted flying position, and much like now, crew open days attracted a very specific demographic of candidates in nubile young women and â€œhomosexual menâ€ – Evelyn nonchalantly interjects, leaning in to emphasise that at 30,000 feet it was well known that young men were most likely gay, but nevertheless safe from prejudice. â€œWe all had one thing in common though, our youth.â€ She was 22 and remembers the open day well. â€œIt drew an abundant crowdâ€ teeming with young and beautiful hopefuls. Applicants could be aged betweenÂ 21 and 26 years, and in this time of pre-political correctness, guidelines stipulated a height between 5â€™2 and 5â€™6, and crucially, not a pound over 130 in weight. â€œYou were grounded if you gained an inchâ€ – she tells me this last aside with an earnest raising of her eyebrows for extra aplomb. Apart from the scrutinised recruitment process, I wonder how she enjoyed the role she was in? â€œIt was amazing, and I did love it – I saw the world like I never believed I would.â€
Although BOAC wasnâ€™t to disband and become British Airways until 1974, by 1949, Evelyn sought change, â€œI think Iâ€™d had enough after two years. I canâ€™t say it broke my heart to leave; social life at home was very difficult. You never knew how long you were going away for.â€ Add to this the distraction of a proposal and itâ€™s perhaps easier to understand the brevity of this then revered career by replacement with another – as a wife, and later, mother. They met on a flight to Rome, a Jewish lawyer who sheâ€™d been married to for 50 years before he died some years ago. â€œI will always remember flying with a fondness, after all, it led me to him â€“ how magical is that?â€ How magical, indeed.