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Life in Flight
Fred Finn has spent more time in the air as a passenger than any other creature on earth. He’s flown to 139 countries, with many of them visited many times over.
Mr Finn was interviewed by Maryna GUDZEVATA, WU senior editor.
Fred Finn, 71, who is British, has been living in the town of Komsomolsk in Ukraine, happily married to a Ukrainian, for quite some time.
In 1983 he earned an entry into the Guinness Book of Records as The World’s Most Travelled Person with 7 million miles under his belt.
Since 1983, he has added many more millions of miles to his impressive air-travel achievement, which now totals 15 million miles (24 million kilometers). He traveled by the Concorde supersonic airliner 718 times, including the Concorde’s first and last flight. He has crossed the Atlantic more than 2,000 times, and visited Africa more than 600 times.
Mr Finn used to work in international law, in transferring technology, he was vice president of a well-known international company and consultant to many national airlines in different countries, he holds honorary titles of Ukraine International Airline Goodwill Ambassador and Friend of UEFA Euro 2012.
— What was the first foreign country you went to in your life?
— As a matter of fact, it was Belgium and Holland. I was thirteen and I went on a school trip. I still like Belgium, and I still go there once in a while. In fact, when I drive to Ukraine I pass through it. My next destination several years later was New York. I was 18. It took me 18 hours to fly there via Scotland, then to Iceland, Germany and finally to New York. 18 hours in total! Actually, the fastest I ever flew across the Atlantic was on the Concorde from New York to London — 2 hours and 58 minutes.
— I know you’re currently holding a record of flying on the Concorde.
— Yes, I went on 718 Concorde flights. I liked Concorde very much, she is just beautiful, like a beautiful woman, you know. Sophistication, elegance, speed and class. Concorde had it all. Did you know it carried only 100 people? Every week or two weeks I met people who were on board with me before. It was like having a business lunch for me. And of course I knew everybody in the crew.
— I assume most of your travels were on business?
— Yes, you’re right. I used to work in international law and specialized in transferring technology. It means that instead of buying and importing products, you can manufacture the product under a license of the main producer. I loved travelling and I still do. I always say I’m on a drug called travelling. Actually, every time I fly I am as thrilled as I was before. You never know what might happen…
— Have you experienced any dramatic situation while in the air?
— Yes, I have. About thirty years ago, on my way from Hamburg to London, there was an attempt to hijack the plane I was on. After the plane landed, the passengers were not allowed to leave the plane, and then we saw tanks surround the plane. Sometime later, military men burst into the plane and seized the two suspected hijackers. I managed to get to the hotel where my now ex-wife was waiting for me — she had come all the way from New York to meet me at the dinner — only at three o’clock in the morning. She did not believe my story of the aborted hijacking, it took the next day’s reports in the papers to make her believe my story was true. Probably, it was one of the reasons why she was relegated to the ex-status (laughs).
In another incident, I was held under house arrest in Teheran during a revolution there in the late 1970s. But my friend and I managed to escape and we went to the airport lying literally very low on the floor of the car. We were lucky to catch the last British Airlines flight from Tehran, and once we were out of the Iranian airspace and flying over Turkey, we began to cheer widely.
In still another incident, the plane I was on had to perform crash landing because the wheels failed to lock down …
Well, there were quite a few things that happened to me on my flights!
— Do you remember what the biggest number of destinations you flew to in, say, ten days was?
— Well, I think it was like this — I flew from New York to Buenos Aires in Argentina, then up to Rio de Janeiro, then across the Atlantic ocean to Dakar in Senegal to board the Concorde to Paris to Tehran, then I flew from Tehran to Dubai and then to Nairobi and then back to New York. And that was in 9 days.
— Oh, it must have been very tiring!
— Well, I got tired not of the flights but mostly because I had long days. Incidentally, today is another long day for me — I started it at 6 o’clock. I drove here to Kyiv from Komsomolsk (340 km), had a meeting, then I went to the office of Ukraine International Airlines, then I went to attend another meeting, and now I’m speaking with you — and in the evening I’m commenting the UEFA Euro 2012 Final draw for one TV company.
— Is there anything that you might call the biggest adventure in your life?
— This is a difficult question to answer. I love safari, particularly in Kenya. I suspect you’ll ask me about my favorite countries…
— I’m already asking!
— I’ll tell you that one of them is Kenya. It has mountains, lakes, fresh water, salt water, all sorts of animals — big game animals — I love flamingoes! It offers great safari and also beautiful beaches. I really love safari and I’ve taken several famous people to join me, for example, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Sir Richard Branson, Prince Michael of Kent. I arranged honeymoon destination for David Gower, former English Cricket Captain.
You know, before I recommend anything to anybody I need to try it and to enjoy it myself. So if I tell you: go to the Seychelles, I know what I’m talking about! They are my second favorite destination. If you’re looking for a superb beach and greenery — this is the best place on Earth to go to. There are no crowded beaches there because there are so many of them! The Seychelles are also a very peaceful and safe place. I love the weather there, I love the food. Ukrainians need no visa to travel here so even better.
And my third favorite destination is of course Ukraine. One can say that driving through Ukraine is also an adventure (smiles). I think Ukraine is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. Sometimes, in summer, when I drive to Kyiv through the Land of Poltavshchyna, I pass the fields of sunflowers and feel myself like being in a sunny ocean.
Last year I drove to Montenegro via Hungary and Croatia but the best part of my trip was through the Carpathian Mountains with their churches… Very special this country is. I love Ukraine’s culture and I believe that if one comes here once, he will come back and he would be very silly if he didn’t. The food is great — it is a natural food. I live in Komsomolsk, it is a nice small town on the Dnipro River with white sandy beaches. I’ve got a new hobby — you know, I brought a barbecue grill from Britain and now I often invite guests and make barbecues. I like to cook and I like when people come to my place.
Ukraine still has a big family culture — I often see fathers pushing baby carriages who are quite happy with their children. And I can’t but mention Ukrainian women — they are the most beautiful women on Earth! My wife is a beautiful lady but she is also a beautiful person and very caring indeed. Ukraine has a lot of natural wealth — rivers, mountains, sea. Last week I went to Berdyansk on the coast of the Sea of Azov to have dinner with my wife’s friend’s and her God Son. We stayed the night and went back home the next morning. Thousand kilometers of drive for a dinner!
Of course, the roads in Ukraine need much improvement. Tourism is one of the biggest businesses on Earth and Ukraine needs to invest in it. I’m just very excited with the Euro 2012 which will be hosted by Ukraine. I think it is a brilliant opportunity for Ukraine, and I don’t say it because I’m a football freak but because it opens the door to thousands of people to see this country. That’s why I’m proud to be a Friend of Euro 2012 and that’s why I have become an ambassador for Ukraine International Airlines. I want people to come to Ukraine.
When people come to Ukraine for the football in the summer of 2012, we have to make sure that they have good impressions, so that they will tell their families and friends to visit Ukraine and they themselves will all come back, but we need to remember that the first and last impressions are the ones that people remember most — so Ukrainians employed in all the services at airports, railroad and bus terminals must not forget to be smiling — it’s very important.
— It seems that very little is known in the world about Ukraine. What do you tell people you meet about Ukraine?
— When I’m asked where I live, I answer that I live in the biggest country of Europe. They say: “France?” “Oh, no, Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe”. Ukraine is really a fascinating country, and Kyiv is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I love Prague and I find it gorgeous but it doesn’t have wonderful golden-domed cathedrals and homey atmosphere Kyiv has. Another town that I particularly like in Ukraine is Lviv. It is of course one of the most historical and beautiful cites on earth with so many good coffee shops and places to visit. It is on UNESCO list the world heritage sites. And it does feel safe to live in Ukraine in general.
— What’s your favourite Ukrainian food?
— Borscht. I love borscht! I love varenyky too — stuffed with potatoes or strawberries. Pyrohy with sweet cottage cheese inside them or with sour cherries. And also pork — I think Ukraine produces the best pork I’ve ever tasted! My mother-in-law makes the best pomidory (pickled tomatoes) you ever tried!
And Ukraine has the best vodka in the world. And a very good drinking tradition — you sit at the table and have lots of delicious food. And every time you drink vodka you say a toast. What I like most is that the third toast is always for the ladies and all the men stand up to drink. This is wonderful. I’m a fan of Ukraine and I want to export this feeling. I talk about Ukraine so much every time I am asked about it.
— What was the most unusual food you tasted?
— I ate the meat of a giraffe and of crocodile…
— No, at least not on purpose (smiles). Oh, I’ve forgotten to mention fruit bat curry I had in the Seychelles!
If you ask about my favorite drink, it is wine made in Massandra in the Crimea. I went to Massandra in 1992 to shoot a documentary for Discovery Channel. First, we filmed dachas of the former communist rulers and czars and then went to the Massandra winery. As far as I know, Massandra has the biggest wine library in the world. It is also in The Guinness Book of Records. They wanted me to sign their certificate from Guinness World Records. What I saw there was very impressive, just fantastic — and I thought I wanted to go back to Crimea one day. Crimean Massandra in particular is one of the places I wanted to see again.
— When did you come to Ukraine for the first time?
— It was in 1992 — and I immediately knew I wanted to return. When I’m asked why I had chosen Ukraine as my second home I say — first, I’m a European and I’m used to changing seasons, second — I grew up in Canterbury which is often called the Garden of England, I lived in New Jersey, the Garden State of America, and now I live in the Garden of Europe!
The language is a bit of a problem for me but I’m learning it, and I’ve already learnt how to read even though I do not quite understand what I’m reading. Ukrainian is a very nice language, just like people.
I know enough of Ukrainian to talk to the road police and understand what they say if the road police stops me. And they are always polite to me! Probably, it is because I’m friendly to people and people are friendly back to me.
— When did you decide to move to Ukraine to live?
— In fact, I continue to be a resident of Great Britain, United States and Ukraine.
— What are your favourite places in Ukraine?
— There are many such places! Of course, Kyiv. Poltava is an absolutely charming town. Lviv is just amazing with its architecture and a unique atmosphere and aroma of coffee. And the local beer is very good too. I like Odesa with its beaches, but we have great white sandy beaches in Komsomolsk as well.
I’m happy in Ukraine and I truly believe many people will discover this land for themselves. Ukraine has a huge potential! Boryspil Airport in Kyiv, for example, can be developed into the hub between Europe and Middle East. I have many ideas on how to develop tourism in Ukraine. I would like to meet people in charge of the tourism industry in Ukraine because I have a lot of experience and I want to share it. I promote Ukraine any time I can — I talk about it in every interview I give to the European and world wide media and believe me, such interviews can be counted in hundreds. If the World’s Most Travelled Person recommends Ukraine, it means Ukraine is worth visiting!
Fred Finn after his 600th hundred Concorde flight — the event headlined the media reports; once, he crossed the Atlantic, flying Concord, three times in one day.
The luggage tag with Fred Finn’s name on it, marked “The first Concorde flight” and “Guinness Book of Records”.
Norris McWhirter, one of co-founders of Guinness Book of Records, awarding a prize to Fred Finn.
Fred Finn at the World Travel Market in London in the capacity of the Ukrainian Friend of Euro 2012.