Choc’s Away! Painting

Sophie Green - Choc's Away Painting

Having essentially grown up into ballooning as a result of my family’s, and especially my father’s involvement, I was very lucky to be a surrounded by commercial ballooning at the start of the “boom”. I was a small child, suddenly engulfed by these new, amazing, special shapes, these incomprehensible flying machines. At this time, commercial advertising balloons, especially those involving special shapes, followed a typical pattern – a main balloon and a backup cloudhopper. Sponsors from indigestion remedies, beer manufacturers and national energy suppliers all used special shapes and cloudhoppers to promote their brands. However, there was one business sector, and one brand in particular that grabbed my attention. Food, and KP Choc Dips.

At the time KP were launching the Choc Dips brand onto the UK market, but this gave the supermarket’s a problem. Was it a chocolate product to stock with the dairy milk bars or a biscuit product to stock with the digestives? As a result, KP threw huge sums of money into in store promotions and advertising to ensure the product sold; and as a result, had a far greater reduced budget for external advertising than initially planned. This is where ballooning came into it’s own. High impact advertising, that was fresh, new and exciting. Who wanted an advert in a national newspaper when you could have a 80ft high flying Choc Dips tub for a fraction of the price!?

And so, G-DIPI – a Cameron Tub-80 special shape replica of the choc dips tub and G-DIPZ – a Thunder & Colt 17A cloudhopper to be used as a backup, were born, the registrations are meant to represent DIP 1 and DIP 2. That was it: I had a sweet tooth, I was in love. I first saw them in 1988 and 26 years later I still have more loyalty and affection to the brand than is probably healthy. In a strange and bizarre way, I am almost protective of the brand as a result of the deep and lasting impressions those balloons have had on my life.

And it’s this loyalty and connection that meant I moved heaven and earth to own them. The balloons were commercially operated by Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, which when the contract finished in the mid 1990’s sold the balloons onto the private market, on the understand that the branding was changed. Both balloons were relocated together to their new home in Belgium and to fulfill the requirements that the balloons could no longer directly advertise KP and/or Choc Dips, the artwork was altered with the C’s in “Choc” on the shape being rounded off to create “Ohoo Dips” while the full branding on the cloudhopper was replaced with new yellow fabric to ensure nothing was left and the weight reduced.

The cloudhopper, sadly went into storage, mainly due to it’s tiny volume meaning that only it is only really capable of flying on very cold days or with a very light pilot, and as a result, has averaged less than 1 hour for every year of it’s life. The shape, however, has been more active since it moved into private hands, and while not flying that regularly, has been used and given an enjoyable life. The shape came back to the UK in 1997 and in 2005 appeared on the open market. That was it, my childhood, my love, was for sale and I wanted it. Sadly, I was too slow on the phone and Dave Such beat me to it.

Dave used the balloon for a couple of years on a foreign tour, flying her at balloon meets in Château-d’Oex in Switerland, Albuquerque in America and Sint Niklaas in Belgium. However, knowing how much I had wanted to buy her, Dave very kindly agreed that when he finished his tour he would allow me to buy her and true to his word – just before Christmas 2006, when she arrived back in the UK from America, I got to fulfil a dream. She was mine. The first flight I made in her was not only an amazing feeling, but also an amazing flight. My father and I flew for 1 hour from Streatley Recreation Ground, landing literally, in the adjacent field! It was so slow that the retrieve crew actually followed us on foot!

Owning G-DIPI, attentions now turned to the cloudhopper, and for a number of years attempts to track it’s location, or whether it even still existed, proved unsuccessful. Then in 2011, a chance conversation, a flippant throw away remark, lead to a couple of fellow balloonists, with friends in Belgium getting involved in the hunt and suddenly, we had a lead. We had more than a lead. We had found her. Tucked away in a garage and available to buy. Well that was it, get the passport ready, I’m off to Belgium.

I will never forget that feeling when I arrived in Belgium and set eyes on the hopper for the first time in over 20 years. I was a little kid again. That was my balloon and I was about to own it. As sad as it is, my heart was racing. Of course, the path of true love never runs straight and once I’d purchased the balloon and brought it back to the UK, getting the paperwork sorted to allow it to free fly again proved a nightmare, but thanks to the amazing staff at Cameron Balloons, especially Simon Askey, on 20th April 2013, G-DIPZ took once again to the UK skies and honestly, she flew as well, if not better than G-CEGG!

As 2013 saw the balloons turn 25 years old, and having reunited them, it seemed only fitting to mark the occasion and so, I commissioned Sophie Green, a stupidly talented artist from Liverpool, to create a picture to reflect this landmark anniversary, the reason for their existence and the place they hold in my life. You never even know, if you ask me nicely, or offer to pay lots of money I may let you even purchase a print!

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