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WED JAN 30
At last, after months of preparation it's time to go!! Only just made it though -- we got final approval on loading of equipment from the European Aviation authorities as 2am this morning and Ian finally got all our passports back with visas from one of the required embassies at 6.30 pm last night. Talk about cutting it fine!!
We all met up in the Harrods's Lounge at Stansted at 8am to hopefully board the plane and depart at about 9am. By "all" l mean band with various family members, management , all the crew, documentary team, Sky News, a few friends who work with us like our agent John Jackson and merchandiser Barry Drinkwater with their wives, tour photographer John ("promise it wont take long") McMurtrie and of course our flight crew and Captain Dickinson.
Of course someone has to be late and this time it was -- most unusually -- Janick, blaming traffic of course! We left the lounge and walked out onto the tarmac and there she was and what a beauty!! It was the first time I had seen Ed Force One for real. Lots of pics of course, but they really didn't do her justice. We boarded and took our seats -- I get 1A of course!-- but only to find the overhead locker full of cardboard boxes so had to stow all my gear further down. This was Dick's idea of a joke -- the boxes were full of photos to be signed by the band for the FC. There is such a backlog as the band haven't been in one place for a while (for which if you haven't received one we do apologise but it is very hard to keep up now as the FC is so popular. I think we have had to stop doing this now due to sheer numbers which band just cant keep up with - but we will catch up with those promised). Apparently I had promised Laz we would get them done somehow on the plane and this was a reminder !!
We had a very nice tour of the runways courtesy of the tower giving Bruce a wrong direction (its tough to reverse a 757!) and took to the air. My seat is already called "the office" and the seat next to me is spare so any of the guys can sit there to discuss whatever needs discussing. Spent most of initial 5.5 hour flight to Baku in Azerbaijan updating band individually on all the good things that have been happening and going through media stuff with Dave, Gaddsy and Scot and Sam from documentary crew. Also talked to Fiona and Matt from Sky about the plans for the coverage and how we could help them get what they wanted for a great news piece. (don't miss it!)
Easy flight, everyone seems very happy with the plane. We have 20 old BA First Class manual seats for band party -- it just wasn't feasible to put in electrics for the modern bed seats, but these are very good seats -- with standard seats behind for crew and anyone else. However these are very comfortable as there is 4 inches more legroom than normal and the middle seat in each bank of 3 is unoccupied. And its all one big area, no partitioning, Maiden style. Behind the crew is the 12 tons of very very safely packed equipment in its own customised and tested-to-death module.
We arrived in Baku to refuel. Whist on the ground Bruce did an interview in the cockpit with Sky News. As refuelling progressed the local airport staff came on the plane and started asking for payments for other services on top of the fuel and handling fees which had been agreed. Bruce asked what other services to be told "Weather Information". "But we didn't need or have any," says Bruce. This got a blank look. And this was after we gave them the signed autographs! I can tell this tour will have a bit of the Wild West about it -- great!!! We had also ordered 200 cans of beer, the small ones, to restock the second leg -- they brought them on and gave us a bill for $1600!! £4 a go -- at an airport duty free!!. Bruce's Yorkshire blood boiled and he told them to eff off and take them away. Maiden are very generous but no one takes the piss. I doubt we will ever play in Azerbaijan -- the whole stop must have been at least 40 min longer than necessary. And we certainly didn't give in to their demands!!
Once we took off for Baku I did an interview with Sky as requested about the plane and the prep -- guess my kids will like to see dad on TV News if they use it. Baku to Mumbai is about 4.5 hours and I spent this getting up to here with this diary, did some other laptop prep and then had a chat with Nicko and a couple of beers.
We arrived in Mumbai at about 2am local time and all crammed into the airport bus to the immigration. Very impressive new airport. Passport control was fast but then an eternal wait for baggage, probably as most of the baggage handlers and other airport staff were busy getting autographs.
Finally outside confusion reigned as the vans provided had no luggage space, just like the old days. Finally got to hote (and what a beautiful hotel it is) at about 4am, where, being a conscientious chap, I finished this off as I know some of you will be waiting for the first news.
So a few highs and lows on our first day but the main thing is that the plane is terrific and everyone seems delighted with the on flight arrangements. As there is no in-flight entertainment the band bought all the crew good quality DVD players and a supply of movies so that and copious amounts of beer kept even our crew content for the duration.
That's it for Wednesday. I am going to try to do these daily although some may be a couple of days late due to time and logistics. This tour will be so eventful with so much happening it deserves a daily report and anyway flying 50,000 miles or more gives us plenty of time on the plane so I may as well spend some telling you our closest bunch of fans what is going on out here. So more soon. Take care.