8 March 2001
A Day in the Lakes
Band Member Journal : 

Woke up at 8.25 in room 11 of the Glenridding Hotel, Ullswater. I had booked a morning call for 8.00 which I hadn't received. No wonder! - I had unplugged the phone. Doh! I was supposed to be downstairs at 8.30 to leave for Coniston with Steve Rothery. I bungled around, bouncing off the walls, trying to get dressed and shower at the same time. The hot water took an age to come through - I really couldn't face a cold shower this morning. I arrived downstairs at 8.45 and managed to make it into the breakfast room before Rothers appeared, announcing that Coniston was further away than we had originally thought and that we must leave immediately. Downed a quick coffee and smuggled a plate of toast past the receptionist and into the car. We sped away through the massive hills past sheep dyed pink and then orange on the steep dry-stone-walled moorland of the magnificent Kirkstone pass - on our way to Ambleside (where we passed a shop called "The home of football") before turning right for Coniston. We arrived in Coniston around 9.30am and stopped to ask directions to the boathouse, where Bill Smith had arranged to meet us. At the top of the road that descends to the lake we were stopped by a stony-faced policeman who told us we could go no further. Tense moments passed whilst we tried to convince him that we were official guests of the dive team. He was supposed to have a list of car registration numbers, but - if he had one - he didn't bother looking at it. Eventually he reluctantly let us through telling us we would probably be turned back at the next roadblock. Miserable bugger! We arrived at the next checkpoint and were waved straight through to the car park by the lake where Bill Smith joyfully bounced up to meet us - already inside his wet suit - saying "Hello! What kept you?" Once again, I was struck by his physical resemblance to Marillion's former singer, and the irony that he probably had a greater right to the nickname..
Down at the lakeside there were about fifty people - mostly TV, radio and press, clutching cameras and microphones, and all set back from the lake by a rope which was being monitored by police. Bill marched through the police line beckoning us along behind him past bemused officials, to the end of a jetty which looked out twenty metres to a large barge with a crane arm swinging out over the water. Bill told us that he had towed the Bluebird from it's original crash location this morning at 5.00 am and that they were making ready to bring her to the surface here so that she could be manoeuvred on to a trailer which would tow her to the shore. As Bill had decided to make Steve Rothery his official photographer, Steve set about making his cameras ready to capture the amazing events about to unfold, crouching low on the end of the jetty, while I leant against a post, occasionally scanning over my shoulder at the media scrum roped-off up the beach. I'm sure a few of them were wondering who the hell we were. Little did any of them know that I was the one who had started all this, having written the words, which led to the song, which led Bill to spend the last four years determinedly trying to find the Bluebird.
I was introduced to Michaela - a girl in green Doc Marten boots who was the roving reporter for the Westmoreland Gazette. Bill had obviously decided she was groovy enough to be allowed forward from the throng of national media to the end of the jetty. The Westmoreland Gazette is based in Kendal, where I was born. I told her I was born at Helme Chase hospital which she told me is under threat of closure at the moment. It's not the same place I was born - that was a maternity hospital ran, at the time, by nuns. Helme Chase was now a ward within the main area hospital. Indeed, the newspaper was campaigning to save the Helme Chase ward. Perhaps we could help, I suggested.. auction something off perhaps.. Michaela said yes, that would be nice, but she was too wound up in the immediate proceedings to discuss it further.
Around 10.00am it became apparent that a technical hitch had happened - the Bluebird had drifted beneath the barge and the barge would have to be moved out of the way to avoid her colliding with the underside as she was lifted. By now, I was really feeling the cold which had slowly crept into my bones during the hour of standing over the water on the end of the exposed jetty. I walked back up the beach - trying to avoid the gaze of the press and the police - to the "Bluebird Tearooms" and bought myself and Steve a cup of coffee. The view from the window of the tearoom was excellent so I ordered a toasted teacake and bought a few Donald Campbell postcards and a slab of Kendal Mint Cake (made mainly of sugar with peppermint flavouring and reputedly to have been taken to the summit of Everest by Hillary and Ten-Sing during their famous first ascent.) On any other occasion I would have stayed-put and watched the rest of the morning unfold from the window of the warm tearooms, but this was too important to witness at a distance. I returned to the end of the jetty. The barge was now in the right position and the orange float-bags, which would bring Bluebird K7 to the surface of Coniston for the first time in 34 years, were being inflated. I listened with mounting anticipation to the sound of the pumps on the barge and watched the divers in the water hauling at the blue-nylon ropes until, at 10.45, the famous blue tail-fin of the Bluebird appeared above the surface of the water. I was amazed by the fact that it was still blue - that the paint had held under the water for three decades and that the union flag motif remained almost intact - stubbornly evoking the patriotism of the man, and of another age. The atmosphere was oddly celebrational and somber at the same time. Bill was grinning away as only someone can as they see four years of their own hard work come to fruition - hamming it up for the cameras and wearing a flamboyant coloured felt hat (which I'm told he always wears when "searching") He looked like a victorious buccaneer-jester, beaming away at the assembled media. I had begun to wonder whether the mood was getting a little too flippant to suit the occasion. Any light-heartedness came to a sudden stop, though, as the rest of the craft appeared above water, revealing a shocking, mangled mess of metal at the front of her - immediately behind where the cockpit (and Donald) would have been as she hit the surface of the lake at 300mph. Suddenly it felt like there were too many people witnessing this - too many of the wrong people. I include myself. I might have initiated all this but I felt I had no right to be there really - like some uninvited stranger showing up at a famous funeral looking for autographs and a mention in the media. I watched as Donald's second wife, Tonia Bern-Campbell was ferried to the barge to gain a closer presence to the crash-damaged machine which was still half-submerged and surrounded by divers, still tugging at the flotation bags and manhandling the Bluebird in an attempt to guide her on to the tow-trailer and prevent her colliding with the barge. Tonia looked on for a while. God knows what she felt. What do you feel when you're confronted with the wreckage of a machine that killed your husband 34 years ago? Surprised by a sudden rush of grief?.. guilty for not being able to feel enough?.. angry for being forced to confront these feelings? 34 years is a long, long time.
The process of guiding Bluebird on to the tow-trailer was long and involved. All in all, the divers tugged and held the ropes in the cold water of the lake for a good two hours before, at last, a land-rover winched the trailer and her precious cargo slowly towards the beach.
And there she stood, much bigger than she had looked in the old photographs. Again, a certain quietness descended the scene for a time as celebration gave way to introspection and we all slowly took in the sight before us. From the rear, Bluebird is indistinguishable from a jet fighter - she is almost intact from the cockpit rearwards, as if she'd crashed head-on into a mountainside. I suppose the impact was not dissimilar.
As the press took their photographs and clamoured to interview Bill, I chatted to the divers who were very relieved to be out of the water. Even wet suited, they must have been freezing and exhausted after all their hard physical work. They seemed to me like a really nice bunch of people - friendly, intelligent and down-to-earth free-spirited types, brought together by their enthusiasm for diving and adventure. Bluebird was taken up the beach and locked up inside a boat-house. All the commotion died down as the journalists took their turn to interview Bill and then found a quiet corner to file their stories. Precious photographs were being e-mailed from laptop computers by cellular phone links to the worlds press offices for tomorrow's front pages. So no one really seemed to notice when one of the divers climbed from a small boat holding the nose cone of Bluebird. I recognised the remnants of the two crossed union flags which once adorned her snout. It was badly distorted and most of the blue paint had gone, but being of aluminium, no corrosion had taken place. I was honoured to be given this to hold and a Reuters photographer, Jon Super, took a photograph of me looking along the shoreline and holding the first part of the Bluebird to hit the water on that fateful January day in 1967. By this time, my heart was heavy and my mind was well and truly blown! I retired to the tearooms for a coffee and a sandwich while Steve R wandered about outside talking into his mobile phone. On emerging into the daylight I ran into Bill who said "D'you want to have a look?". Steve and I followed him into the boathouse and we, and the dive team suddenly had the Bluebird all to ourselves. The outside world was locked out and, for the first time I got to have a private moment with this piece of history. She was still dripping water onto the concrete floor of the boathouse and, amazingly, still oozing jet fuel! The smell of high-octane spirit was overpowering. All that time underwater.. maybe there were air locks, or maybe the water trapped the fuel in some way - after all, spirit is lighter than water so it would act like an air-lock, I suppose. The smell of the fuel only served to remove the 34 years she'd been under the lake. Suddenly it felt like no time had passed. At the front end of the wreckage, fastened to one of the cross-members of the metal structure was a half-inch bolt - bent out of shape to almost 90 degrees. Attached to this was a short and torn remnant of seat belt material. This would have been the harness, coming up from the floor between Donald's legs, holding him in place. It was the single most disturbing moment of the day for me. I only hope Tonia never noticed it. Ken Norris - Bluebirds' designer - had appeared and was talking to Bill at the rear of the craft. I managed to eavesdrop parts of their conversation. Apparently Bluebird was designed for a maximum speed of 250mph! Ken was saying he was surprised at the extent to which Bluebird had withstood the crash. I couldn't catch everything he was saying, but he seemed emotionally detached and interested in the machine totally from an engineering standpoint. I guess it's to be expected really - he would never have designed the Bluebird in the first place if he was faint-hearted.
Steve and I emerged from the boathouse to a crowd of people hoping to catch a glimpse inside, and made our way back to the car. Our plan was to check out of our hotel and into a hotel in Coniston. We reserved a couple of rooms at The Black Bull Hotel and drove back over to Ullswater where we checked out of the Glenridding Hotel returning, once again across the hills to Coniston. Our welcome at the Black Bull was as warm as any I've ever had. Sue, the landlady seemed genuinely pleased to have us and keen to help us. We checked in and ordered dinner in the lounge bar. The walls were adorned with photographs of Campbells's exploits. Even the beer was called "Bluebird Ale" ..and it was excellent. By now, I was pretty weary so I said I'd see Steve in an hour, and had a bath while watching Liverpool playing Porto on TV through the open door. Relaxing on the bed in a towel, I answered a knock on the door to find Steve informing me that Bill and all the divers were downstairs in the bar demanding our assistance in celebration. I got dressed and went downstairs to be handed a beer by Bill. We all sat down and tall tales were told of diving on battleships in fjords and submarines from the war. I told them of my chance meeting with Paul Barney, sole British survivor of the Estonia, not long after she sank with almost 1000 people aboard and his account of his 5 hours in the Baltic Sea waiting to be rescued. It's quite eerie how many of the big news stories throughout my life have somehow brushed against me personally. I shudder to wonder what will be next?..
The dive team had dinner at The Black Bull and then we all trooped round the corner to their hotel - The Sun Inn. As it turned out, we all had a few beers and talked together quite late into the night. However, the whole affair was pleasant and good natured, and nobody got out of hand. Around half-past eleven it occurred to Steve and I that perhaps we might be locked out of our hotel. Steve disappeared and returned to confirm that, yes indeed, the Bull was all locked up and, although one of the outside doors were accessible with a safety code, the management had neglected to tell us what it was. Oh dear... There were two emergency telephone numbers on my key fob so I went to the bar to ask if there was a payphone in the Sun Inn. I was directed through to another room and as I walked a distinguished silver haired lady said "Excuse me - aren't you the chap who wrote the song?" It took me a moment to realise that this was Tonia Bern-Campbell. She held out her hand in greeting and I gently took it, telling her it was an honour to meet her. She looked much more glamorous than her appearance down at the lake that morning, and her heavily accented English reminded me of Za-Za Gabor. I asked her where she was from originally, and she told me that she is Belgian but has spent much time in Italy, England and now, San Diego in the USA. She said that she too, is a singer and quizzed me on the technical difficulties of the melodies of Burt Baccarrach and Michel Legrand! She asked if I might send her a copy of "Out of this World". I promised I would and she gave me her address. She explained that she had objected to the raising of the Bluebird for fear of what else might be found within the wreck. Fortunately, there appears to be no trace of her husband. She seemed in a bright mood, and I had the impression that she'd recovered from the harrowing experience of the day's earlier events. During our conversation, the few people in her party rose to leave and so I wished her "goodnight" and reaffirmed my promised to send her the song.
I returned to the task of trying to find the access code to our hotel so that Steve and I would be able to sleep tonight. Steve eventually sorted it out and I wrote the code down. I drank a little more and chatted a little more with the divers and the BBC crew who were there making a documentary about the whole project. We would love to make the music to accompany this. I was wanting to talk to the director, Mike Rossiter, to persuade him he could trust us to provide him with a great soundtrack, but he was holed up in the corner of the bar with his friends and I didn't want to crash in on his leisure time. I managed to speak to him briefly before we were all thrown out of the bar at midnight, and he gave me his address so I could send him some music. I made my way down the lane in the rain, back to the Black Bull - an apt name as, when I got to the door with the coded entry lock on it, it was too dark to read the letters and numbers on the buttons. I stood there like a blind man reading Braille with my fingertips for at least ten minutes, hoping my eyes would become accustomed to the pitch darkness enough to see something, but to no avail. In the end I think I got it right by fluke, and in a state of much relief, made my way through the darkness inside and upstairs to my room. Before I went to sleep I thought I'd better try and write down what had happened today...
When I finally closed my eyes and drifted into sleep it must have been nearly dawn. A tune hummed silently in my head..
"..only love will turn you round..only love will turn you round.."
Such a sad song.