An assistant from the TV company had ushered us into the limousine as soon as we stepped off the private jet from Istanbul. I recognised this woman, but I didn’t know her well enough to be certain I could believe her: she kept insisting she had to take us to an urgent production meeting before the finale of my series in Hungary. And that just didn’t ring true.
Frantic television meetings usually happen before the start of a show. That’s when the executives are in a panic, with jobs and multi-million-dollar advertising budgets on the line.
We’d been topping the ratings every week since our launch. The crew had the studio running like a smoothly oiled machine, and the contestants were spell-binding. What could be so urgent that I didn’t even have time to return to the hotel for a shower? And why couldn’t the execs talk to me in the lobby?
Rival TV stations will risk almost anything to boost their shows and damage the competition. I exchanged glances with Shipi. If we were lucky, maybe we’d just be held captive in some Transylvanian castle for a few days, until the show’s finale had been cancelled.
If we were unlucky, we might be held to ransom. That would be bad — I need all my fingers and both my ears — but it wouldn’t be as terminal as a swim in the Danube with concrete overcoats.
The driver and the assistant were weren’t mafia bosses: they were following somebody’s orders. I needed to use the power of my mind to force them to accept new orders. My orders.
Loudly and emphatically, I instructed them to turn the car around and take us back to Budapest. When that was ignored, I demanded that they stop and let us out. The assistant grinned nervously. “This is something you’ll like, I promise,” she said.
Shipi shrugged. If a surprise party was planned, he hadn’t been let in on the secret.
As the road approached an airfield, I began to suspect this was going to be more fun than a mafia reception committee. There’s been an aviation theme to my European shows — the personal jets, the Salzburg launch party at Hangar 7 which houses the aircraft museum owned by Red Bull’s founder Dietrich Mateschitz.
When I spotted the ex-Russian MiG fighter inside the gates, I guessed I was about to experience supersonic acrobatics. But as I stepped out of the car, I realised it was even better than that. One of my heroes was striding towards me.
I first heard about Peter Besenyei when I was flicking through the channels in a US hotel room and found myself hypnotised by a display of aerobatic flying which defied all the laws of physics. When I learned the pilot was Hungarian, I felt a thrill of connection: my father was Hungarian.
Besenyei is now regarded as the greatest aerial acrobat in the world, perhaps the best who ever lived. And he was going to take me for a ride.
“You have to totally trust me,” he warned as I was strapped into the forward cockpit of his two-seater Zivko Edge 540.
“Just promise me that I’ll still be able to stand up for tomorrow night’s show.” I said.
Peter’s eyes turned serious. “If you can’t take it, tell me and I’ll stop and bring us down,” he promised. “But keep your eyes open. It’s more fun that way.”
I bristled slightly. I’ve flown in combat conditions, and whatever Peter was planning to do, at least I could be sure there’d be no one shooting at us. “How many parachute jumps have you made?” I asked him.
“A hundred and four,” he replied. I nodded. It was good to know I held one record that beat his — I’ve done 120 jumps. I couldn’t say so, though, because the last of the straps had been pulled so tightly across my crotch that my eyeballs were standing out on stalks.
“When you feel yourself blacking out from the gravity forces, use your stomach muscles to push the blood back into your head,” Peter instructed. And while I was trying to work that one out, the plane blasted forwards and upwards.
He threw that plane around the sky like it was a leaf in a tornado. The barrel turns and sharp banks, the dives and rolls and tailspins, exerted forces of 6G or 7G on us — enough to test trained astronauts. I soon learned what Peter meant about forcing the blood back into my head from my stomach.
The astonishing thing was that I didn’t feel scared. I trusted Peter totally. It was only a few minutes earlier that I’d been anticipating a swim with the fishes. Now I was soaring with the hawks.
At the farewell party after the finale, in front of the production team of 150 people in an outdoor arena next to Hungary’s National Gallery, I was presented with this magnificent Herendi porcelain vase. It’s inscribed with Einstein’s famous formula… but the artist has depicted it as E=Mc and then a drawing of a square…. I wonder how this changes the laws of physics.
Danny Blue won the show, with a spectacular race against time to rescue precious mementos owned by TV presenter Nori Szekeres from a warehouse that was filled with boxes, bombs and booby-traps. Nori was in tears of anxiety by the end, but Danny never put a foot wrong. He has an exciting career ahead of him.
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