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I TALK TO Arthur Williams

I recently caught up with Arthur Williams to speak about life after the Paralympics, what he's doing next and an incredibly interesting doc he's got coming out called The Plane That Saved Britain.

Best known for presenting the afternoon coverage of last summer's Paralympic coverage on Channel 4, with Georgie Bingham, Athur Williams' passion for flying and especially his love of the WWII Mosquito plane.

It was clear that this is a real passion of his and one I'm sure you'll spot yourselves when reading the interview and hopefully watching the doc on Sunday, which is well worth a watch.

It's been almost a year now since the Paralympics where you presented in the afternoons, how was that for you?

It was awesome. It was the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life, presenting those games. To be a voice for people I admire and have so much admiration for to the nation was just out of this world. It was phenomenal. 

To be able to be in a position to do that, and do it well, and it go down so well, and win a BAFTA for it, and people receive it so well. And being at the front line of having such a change on people's views on disability sport.

I remember visiting the Paralympics and the atmosphere was incredible. It was the first Paralympics to sell out wasn't it?

Yes it was, it was. I mean just look at all the household names that have come from it. It's the first time that the tickets had been sold at a higher price than ever before, and it was the first time that a Paralympic sporting event really ever sold out. 

It just wasn't bus loads of school children shipped in to fill seats, it was genuine people who were fascinated and intrigued as to what these people could do, and they came along and watched and weren't let down. 

Disabled people have known for a while how phenomenal the sport is, but to be able to take people who had never seen it before and win them over like that was incredible. I think the country, over the last four years since Beijing to London, was in a much better position to receive it, we're a lot more open minded the general public these days. 

I think we're a lot more open minded to give things a chance. All they need to do is watch one thing and that's it, we've got you, we've grabbed you and you can't shake it off then.

When did your passion flying first begin?

From my mum's womb, seriously, I've just loved aeroplanes ever since I was born. It was the first thing I ever really loved. My dad had a library, he was an ex Naval Officer, and one of my first memories was climbing up the shelves of this library, picking up illustrated histories of flights, so I knew virtually all aircraft types before I could read the time. 

I've just loved it, I was in the Air Cadets and then there was a period of adolsecence in school where it was cooler to join the marines so I did that for a while, and then after the accident rekindled it. 

I don't know what it is, but there's just something about aeroplanes, there's not a single ugly aeroplane for me. They're just amazing to me, it's magic. Flight is magic. It shouldn't happen. I hold Pilots with so much admiration and respect, when I was growing up they were all heroes.

The focus of the documentary is the Mosquito, what was it about that particular plane that made you want to do a documentary about it?

Well it was always up there with the Spitfires and the Lancaster's but it was always in the shadows of those greats. There's so many documentaries about the Spit and I always think "What about the Mos?!"If you look at it, it is a stunning plane. 

It's better looking than a Spitfire, by far, and a damn sight better looking than a Lancaster, but in terms of performance it's a middle between the two. To be able to carry the same heavyweight bombs as a US Four-Engine Bombers, but yet outrun a Spitfire which was a fighter is incredible. And when you look at it, and when you feel it, it was just a beautiful aeroplane. 

And for me, it's just a damn travesty that no-one's really celebrated it. I mean it hasn't helped in part being wood, and the fact that they all rotted away after the war, but now that we've got one again we can really celebrate it again.

There's that moment in the documentary where that massive garage door opens to reveal the Mosquito. How did you feel when you saw it for the very first time?

It was spine-tingling. You know when the hairs on back of your neck stand up? She's just a majesty when she sits on there. She's just looks like a monster. It's not a little aeroplane. When you say it's a fighter, you think "Oh it's probably quite small and nimble." but it's not. It's bomber size, it's a monster. 

And she just sits there on her tail wheels and her nose is up in the air... It's just an aeroplane that looks right, there aren't many more that look more right than a Mosquito, and it just is a stunning thing to look at. At no angle of the Mosquito do you look at it and think it's not beautiful. It's just a beautiful looking machine.

Later on in the doc you get to actually sit in the Mosquito, and fly in it. We saw you get quite emotional at that point. How was that experience?

(Laughs) Yeah, that was terrible really, I'm a Marine, we don't do that, we don't cry. But no... that wasn't me crying, that was just me hot and sweaty. 

I was just like a kid, it was overwhelming. Because it was a life changing opportunity you know? You couldn't dream of flying that aeroplane.

Did you ever think you'd get to fly in a Mosquito?

No! Not in a million years! In 1996, when the last one crashed, I was in Middle School, so you'd never dream of flying the thing again. And then for it to happen, and for it to actually be exactly how you'd envisaged it was just... WOW.

How did the documentary come about then? Did you approach Channel 4 with the idea? Did they approach you?

It's quite funny. It came from a conversation at a Christmas party between me and the Commissioning Editor at Specialist Factual at Channel 4. He asked me what my favourite aeroplane was, because we knew we wanted to do something to do with my flying, and we were just looking for ideas. 

And I said the Mosquito, and he was so taken back by this because he thought I'd say the Typhoon, or Concord or the A380 or the Blackbird or the Lightning, something like that. And then I told him the story of what the Mosquito was and then I think I must have sounded quite passionate about it, that I won him over to how beautiful this plane is. He virtually commissioned it there on the spot!

You obviously knew a lot about the Mosquito before making the documentary, did you learn anything about it whilst making it?

I probably learnt about 10 per cent. I knew about 90 per cent of what we were doing on the Mos. Especially I think, the six-pound cannon, that was pretty new to me. I didn't know that she'd had many success with those kind of operations.

I thought that six-pound cannon was just an experimental thing, I didn't know it was used to such great effect. So I learnt that, and flying the thing and just what it was like to be up in the cockpit, that was new to me. But pretty much everything else I knew! (Laughs).

So what's next for you then? More documentaries? More presenting?

Yeah yeah yeah, I'm off to the World Championships in Lyon and then we're plugging ideas, hopefully for more Specialist Factual documentaries. Maybe go and explore my Royal Marines past, with the 50th anniversary of the Marines birthday coming up.

So maybe do something for that, and then hopefully some more flying stuff as well. I'd love to do some more stuff like that.

The Plane That Saved Britain airs Sunday 21st July at 8pm on Channel 4

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