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Jamie Bowden

1969 was a truly historic year for travel innovation.

Concorde and the Boeing 747 made their maiden flights and in July of that year, along with millions of other 13 year olds boys around the world, I watched the grainy TV images of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the surface of the moon. 

Just a week later I took my own first steps on soil that was at least for me, just as exciting - foreign soil. Admittedly not from a lunar module, but my dad’s Ford Cortina.  Peering out of the rear window I had no inkling at that point that travel was to consume my adult life. My first opportunity for independent travel arrived 5 years later in the shape of a £29 InterRail pass which offered a months unlimited train travel across Europe. This was a rite of passage for many teenagers in those days as 'no frills' air travel to Europe was still some 25 years off.  Too much school time however was spent daydreaming of travel to far off lands instead of concentrating on my GCE’s, so with scant qualifications, I started full time work as a labourer in a local dog food factory.  

Jamie Bowden _ Places

A guy I worked with at the factory was very artistic and introduced me to a magazine for people in the photography and design industry called Creative Review, which opened my eyes to what was going on in London.  I had been messing around with cameras since the age of about 15 and the idea of a life in that industry appealed very much to an 18 year old who earned his living putting labels on cans of cat and dog food!

My father arranged a meeting for me with our local MP Clement Freud to see if he could help with contacts or advice. He went one better and invited me to stay with his family for a week at their London home as a base for me to research the photography opportunities. During this week Clement said he'd put me in touch with a 'couple of friends' in the business.  They turned out to be three of the most influential people in the industry - ever; photographers Norman Parkinson and Terence Donovan and the redoubtable Beatrix Miller, the legendary editor of Vogue.  Bursting with enthusiasm and optimism, I rushed back to Wisbech, jacked in my dead end job, left the Fens of East Anglia and headed to the bright lights of London. The summer of 1977 was spent knocking on studio doors in the daytime looking for photographer's assistant jobs, and evenings were spent cleaning offices.  Although permanently skint, life in London at that time was pretty amazing as the emergence of the punk scene gave even those with little money the chance to see emerging bands playing in pubs and dingy venues before they hit the big time.  

 

A number of studios offered me jobs but only as an unpaid intern.  These internships have always favoured young Londoners who are able to work for nothing while they live at home with their parents. This simply wasn’t an option for me, so rather demoralised I moved back to Wisbech, took a job operating the giant machine that froze peas for Birds Eye while I saved hard for a trip to the Big Apple.

July 1978 found me jetting off to New York aboard Freddie Laker's 'Skytrain'.  Within days of arriving in the city a mate got me a job with a UK based medical company, delivering medical supplies to hospitals and medical suppliers.   New York  was intoxicating, and whereas the year before my summer had been defined by the punk music of London, the summer of 1978 New York pulsated to the music of Disco.  The soundtrack for the summer was Donna Summer, Chic and the Bee Gees, fresh from their Saturday Night Fever film and album success. I got to hang out in Soho and Tribeca and get to see legendary bands like Bruce Springsteen, the New York Dolls and Jackson Browne, all in their heyday.  Why, I even managed to get into Studio54……once!

My visa eventually ran out that winter and I headed back to the UK where my prospects did not look good.  Squeezed into my back row seat on the Pan-Am flight home, I struck up a conversation with a stewardess and casually asked what kind of perks she enjoyed working for an airline. She described the free and discounted air tickets, the hotel discounts, the great pay, but above all the lifestyle.  The conversation ended and I pulled up the window blind and peered down as dawn was breaking over the west coast of Ireland.   In that very moment, I knew my life was about to change forever.

 

Two weeks later I hitch hiked from Wisbech to Heathrow Airport, where I walked into the main reception at BA's HQ and promptly asked for a job!  The receptionist eventually directed me to the 'Personnel' department in an adjoining building where I was handed an application form for a seasonal job at the airport.  In April 1979 I started as a Passenger Services Agent in Heathrow's Terminal 2 and within a couple of years started climbing the greasy corporate pole.  During my 22 year career at British Airways, I lived and worked in 10 countries, flew Concorde on a regular basis and contributed to some of the airline’s most memorable marketing and advertising campaigns.

 

From my early days as a check in agent to my last role as the airlines media spokesman, BA were a fantastic company to work for. My career in the airline gave me a lifestyle most people would die for, and by the time I had completed my final role, managing the global PR for the London Eye, I knew the time had come to get out of corporate life and it felt right to go out on a high. It was time for a completely new path.  After a couple of years backpacking in South America, I was contacted by the BBC who asked me to join the presenting team on their flagship BBC1 travel programme Holiday.  For the next few years I was a regular commentator on aviation and travel matters for the BBC, Sky News, ITN and CNN.  In 2008 wanderlust got the better of me again and for the next eight years I divided my time between touring the USA in my campervan 'Madge', riding round Europe on my motorbike and living in Cape Town during the winters. . 

 

A few years ago at the age of 60 I plunged headfirst into a new challenge - buying a boat in Holland and then setting off to travel the waterways of Europe.  After touring the canals and rivers of Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany, I brought my boat “Moonshadow” back to the UK where I spent the summer living aboard on the Thames. I sold the boat in late 2021 and had intended to buy a new motorhome, but engine availability and general supply chain issues put the mockers on that for the foreseeable future. I now spend my summers travelling round Europe by train and in my trusty soft top car.  

January 2024 

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