London by helicopter

Friday 23 September 2011

Peter the pilot is everything you’d hope for in a helicopter flier: he is well-groomed, precise and sober. None of which could be applied to me after the previous day’s martini masterclass. So it is with slightly wobbly anticipation, but absolute confidence in our dashing airman, that we board the small five-man chopper for a pigeon’s-eye view of London...

An early morning haze is rapidly burning off in the spring sunshine as we lift gently from the London Heliport, hang drowsily over the great river for a few seconds, then, rotors thrumming hypnotically, are up and away eastwards. From up here London landmarks rendered invisible by over familiarity take on startling new characters: Westminster Abbey, I notice, for the first time, has magnificent flying buttresses jutting like delicate insect legs from the cruciform church, Battersea Power Station is completely hollow inside and Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College is perfectly symmetrical – a masterpiece of formal baroque architecture peering imperiously across the water to the upstart skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. In minutes we’re over the Olympic site where orange bulldozers work bee-like beneath us to ready the Olympic Park for the rapidly approaching 2012 Games. Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre seems to swim below us with the fluid elegance of a stingray, the Velodrome is as sculpted and aerodynamic as a racing bike and, at the centre of it all, the vast Olympic stadium forms an anticipatory ‘O’.

But quick as a dissolving vapour trail we’re back in South London airspace and coming gently back down to earth. As Peter kisses the tarmac softly with the landing skids, we hear a French pilot over our headsets negotiating his descent in a thick accent. Thanking Peter profusely for the experience, I look back to see the Frenchman’s passengers supervising as their matching Louis Vuitton luggage is unloaded, and I feel privileged to have had a fleeting taste of the high life. We stayed at the boutique Hotel Verta, the only hotel to have direct access to the London Heliport in Battersea. To book a room and read full details of helicopter trips, check the Verta website.

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