It was 1972. I was a 23-year-old stewardess. I thought I had the best job in the world. In those days, there were fewer career choices for women. As with many things you love, you often do it well.
Foote Cone & Belding had this idea for an ad campaign with a real person, which was very original at the time. They started looking through all the mugshots of the 1,500 crew to decide who to call for an interview. They rejected me, but my Queen Bee hostess [her boss] said: "That’s an awful photo of her – she’s worth looking at."
I think it’s a general rule that if you feel you don’t have a chance, you are much more relaxed. There were three of us by the final screen test and they gave the job to me. My face had what they said was a "good remembrance factor".
It was all gently, gently. No-one knew how it was going to work. They didn’t know if I would be politically inept, say the wrong thing to the press or go off and get married. You’re not hiring an actress that you can disown or that is professionally diplomatic. In those days, you signed a contract to be an air hostess for 10 years, or until you were around 36 years old, whichever came first. We weren’t allowed to get married. It makes you realise how far things still had to shift.
I couldn't fly. The passengers kept asking for my autograph
I appeared at the marriage of BOAC and BEA and became the face of the new British Airways. The campaign started elsewhere in the world and just grew and grew. Because I wasn’t being paid a fortune, they didn’t have a massive financial call on me, so everyone was terribly kind to me. David Bailey was so accommodating. And I was in Ridley Scott commercials – can you imagine?
I was used in a variety of things – visiting hospitals, opening shops, it all felt very regal. And quite lonely in a way. I was very much alone. A remove. It’s not you that’s doing the removing; they hold you apart.
When the ads started in the UK, it began. Who are you going out with? Where do you live? Being recognised. It was only a very small taste of what being famous would be like. At the beginning it was completely thrilling, but it becomes a complete pain – and this was before Twitter and trolls. There wasn’t any unpleasantness but it was intrusive. I remember being in a lift and people talking about you as if you weren’t there. There’s some bit of you that doesn’t belong to you but belongs to them. You become public property.
I used to say I was my imaginary sister. If I was dressed in scrappy jeans with a T-shirt on and not looking my best, those asking would be relieved. It went on for six or seven years. In the end, I couldn’t fly. The passengers kept asking me questions and asking for my autograph. I was put on Concorde, which was great because everyone was more famous than me.
When I finished I had just signed another two-year contract. Someone asked me how long I was going to stay and it was just one of those moments. I said: "Actually, I’m probably going to leave." I knew I had to go before I’d had enough, which is a great luxury. It is a fantastic thing to do in life – bow out while you’re still enjoying it. Timing is always a really tricky thing. As soon as I had said that, the ad agency changed. It was a big American one. Who knows what would have happened? I feel very privileged to have done it all.
I have had so many lives since then. I went on and did nursing, and now teach English as a foreign language. I don’t get any concession travel at BA – I feel now I should have negotiated something! Super-strangely, I got recognised by a taxi driver in London just last week. I’m also still very dear friends with the lady I joined the airline with: we’re having lunch this week.
Roz Hanby was a British Airways stewardess