Actually it was a Tristar when she saw to Margaret Thatcher’s needs on a Tel Aviv to London flight! On Concorde, Senator – not actor by then – Bob Hope was served on a trip to New York from London. But coming from a family of performers, music was also in her veins!
`Air Stewardess’ was the term used in those more `politically incorrect’ days and Gibraltarian Rosanna was one for 15 years! Before British Airways became so, BEA and BOAC were the two British National carriers which later amalgamated to then become BA. Rosanna began her flying career with BEA on Tridents and TriStars, and after more training the last five were spent on BA’s Concorde. “Concorde was incredible. We flew at 67,000 feet and on a clear day you could make out the `curve’ of the world, we’d make it to New York in about two and a half hours which was amazing, and so was the ticket price, £2,600 one way!” Rosanna recalls.
Music didn’t get her very far on the Rock despite coming from a very talented musical and performing family. The `Valverdes’ were headed by dad Frank, who was a comedy writer and actor, wife Anita sang, sons Frank, Hubert, Philip sang too and played guitar, Joseph must’ve done his bit also, Grace was a Miss Gibraltar and so was her daughter Michelle… by way of contrast, Elizabeth had her sights set on becoming a nun but in the end didn’t, and Rosanna – `air stewardess extraordinaire’ – whilst in her teens dabbled in guitar and piano playing and joined a popular group on the Rock in the 60s called The Odds. The habitual day job however was inevitably more than a habit to earn your keep, and The Odds keyboardist was employed as an accounts clerk in the NAAFI, looking after the affairs of the military and their families stationed here which by all accounts wasn’t so thrilling. One of those moments arrived when you ask yourself `what next?’. London tended to be the obvious choice in the 60s and 70s for us in Gib when you wanted to get out. By then she was in her early 20s, so off she went to seek fame and fortune. “I remember being impressed when approaching London and seeing so many lights from high up.” Little did she know she was really going to get her fill of that view sooner than she thought! She found a job in one of London’s top stores in Kensington – Barkers – and quickly made contact with a close Gibraltarian school friend who was already a `stewardess.’ Isabella Edge or `Ita’ (who managed to clock up no less than 32 years with BA), encouraged her to join… and she did. “I was surprised when I was told I’d done very well in all three interviews I had to sit through, and after my training I began to fly on most occasions with Isabella which was great. When you start working you’re asked what destination you’d like to go to on your first flight and I said Gib, which was good also to see my family and show them what I’d been up to.”
Rosanna has lots of stories to tell of her experiences in the sky travelling to most European capitals (in Western Europe only in those days), with British European Airways (BEA). Tridents carried just about a hundred passengers and TriStar 350. “We’d also fly to Cairo and Istanbul and sometimes you’d have to stay over for three or four days before flying back. It was some sort of regulation or other and at times some of the girls would throw a `sickie’ before leaving London when scheduled to fly to those countries because if you were working on a flight to Stockholm or other Northern European capital you’d get an allowance of £120 for each day there, but for Istanbul say, it was only £20 so you tried to get off that shift. Isabella and I attempted to pull a fast one by arriving just short of leaving time for one of those flights with dirty hands and dishevelled uniform, saying we’d had a problem with our car in the hope that other staff available would step in, but the flight was delayed and we were told we had plenty of time to clean and smarten ourselves up, so that plan failed miserably! On another occasion trying to be clever backfired again, when staying at The Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv. They had these lovely bath robes which, it later transpired, guests tended to make off with. We tried to take one each before checking out of the hotel but our cases were searched and we were embarrassed to be found out… we pleaded ignorance claiming we thought we could keep them and you know what? The captain had one in his suitcase too!” And so the stories and anecdotes just kept on coming: “Joan Collins throwing a tantrum because she arrived late and her seat had been given to the next person on the waiting list, introducing astronaut Neil Armstrong to the Captain on the flight deck, Margaret Thatcher being very nice on a flight back from Tel Aviv, Isabella and I, on my guitar, singing carols and songs with the passengers on a Christmas flight to Athens and collecting money for charity in our caps, and a Concorde Captain serving Rosanna tea on an empty (`US’) unserviceable Concorde flight back to London from New York.” On a less `fun’ occasion, she told me about one of the aircraft’s engines heating up and having to jettison fuel over the sea in order to make an emergency landing. “Yes, and after the repairs were done the faulty engine heated up again as we revved up on the runway to take off and when those brakes are applied full on, it’s a good thing you’re strapped in! Another time some prankster claimed there was a bomb on board and the Captain gave the order to evacuate the plane quickly. Experiences like those, you never forget. When you come to a standstill with all the emergency services all around and you deploy the slides, you never know what the outcome might be. Some passengers get in a panic and are reluctant to go down them and one time we had to gently push them down for their own safety. Because of our training and the adrenalin flow, during those minutes and moments you just get on with it and don’t think about how serious a situation you’re in,” Rosanna assures me. But in general a flight attendant’s working life, especially on Concorde, is a relatively glamorous one: always looking great in uniform, flying to New York, Miami, Washington, Bahrain, Singapore and back to London and meeting the rich and famous on the way… Barbra Streisand and Stephen Spielberg, Paul and Linda McCartney, Ringo and his `Barbarella’ actress wife, Grace Jones, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Presidents Nixon and Carter and of course Bob Hope, who was by that time a senator of the US administration, and there were many more celebrities she met. But also there were other individuals she had to `see to’ during flights, including disgruntled and sometimes argumentative passengers bringing about situations which through training, Rosanna and her colleagues have learned to quickly diffuse by keeping a cool head.
Well, she left her job in the skies and all her flying experiences are now confined to the history books. Soon after, Rosanna met her partner and went to live in Columbia for ten years working in PR in a top hotel there, later travelling up and down the South American continent training others to sell cosmetics for a very well known firm in that part of the world, and then heading back to the British capital decorating homes and working for top London store, Peter Jones in Sloane Square.
And so, all of it leading to what inevitably one day arrives at the door: retirement was clearly on the horizon on Terra Firma, this time from where – not serving drinks at 67,000 feet above the world’s surface, amazed at the view of the earth’s curve – Rosanna and her partner happily split their time between their two `homes,’ Columbia and Gibraltar travelling to and fro… hopefully, as simple, undemanding airline passengers!