U.K. pilot flies in Natchez race

Published 12:03 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

Natchez — The sound of approaching hot-air balloon burners rattling chimney pots in the early morning is a sound Andrew Holly recalls from his childhood in England.

Holly chased balloons in his hometown of Bristol, home to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. He said the town’s premier balloon festival is the reason he is so passionate about ballooning and has made it his livelihood.

Holly has flown nearly 40 countries and runs Exclusive Ballooning, a balloon advertising company out Breadstone, Berkeley in Gloucestershire England. He was invited to Natchez by fellow balloonist Matt Torgerson. This year is Holly’s second time to fly in the Great Mississippi Balloon Race.

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“It’s certainly becoming my favorite,” he said. “It’s not as busy or as pressured as some of the other races.”

Holly also has something at home that reminds him of Natchez.

Holly landed in Vidalia during one of his flights on his first visit to Natchez three years ago. He and Torgerson found a stray, emaciated puppy near their landing spot close to the old Fruit of the Loom plant.

Holly said while he and Torgerson were discussing what to do with the dog, it crawled inside Torgerson’s truck and got stuck between the windshield and the dashboard.

“That’s when I said, ‘He’ll fit right in at home,’” Holly said.

It took nearly a year, lots of paperwork and $4,000, but the dog, which he named Natchez, now lives with him in England.

Holly said coming to Natchez every year is a vacation for him. He said Natchez was his first visit to the South.

“I really, really liked it,” Holly said. “The way of life is so relaxed. The people here are really friendly,” Holly said.

Eddie Ray met Holly as one of his crew members during Holly’s first balloon race in town.

Ray said they keep in touch on Facebook. Ray feeds Holly’s strawberry Twizzlers craving, since he can’t get them in England, and Holly sends Ray, Earl Gray tea.

Ray said Holly is a great guy, who explains ballooning so well and wants everyone to learn about it and experience it.

“I’ve dubbed him the perfect British Southern gentleman,” he said.

Holly said his entire life is ballooning, and he gets hundreds of balloon race dates each year, some of which don’t make it on his calendar.

“This is one of those events that definitely gets put on my calendar to see if I can make it.”