When Peter Urie wants to get away from it all, he does it at about 11,000 feet above the ground. The managing director at Metrodome Entertainment Group, the media rights distribution offshoot of TV-Loonland, has been a licensed pilot for more than a decade, and even performs acrobatic stunts at air shows.
For his birthday about 15 years ago his wife Suzanne bought him one flying lesson at Headcorn, a tiny grass airfield located in the middle of Kent. ‘I loved it so much; when we landed I went into the clubhouse there and signed up to take my license,’ he says. Over the next four to five months, Urie spent every free moment at Headcorn and earned his wings.
Flying has been in Urie’s blood since childhood, when his father worked at Rolls Royce building jet engines. He even tried getting airborne once before that fateful day at Headcorn, when he applied to the Royal Air Force. Although he applied to be a pilot, the corps only offered Urie the post of navigator. ‘I just wanted to go fly fast jets and blow stuff up and not sit in the back and worry about where we’re going,’ Urie says. So he turned the RAF down and ended up being a high flyer at the BBC, which launched his career in films and television – his other passion.
Of course, like the TV industry, flying is not without its perils. Several years ago, Urie was practicing touch-and-go landings when the flaps that slow the plane became stuck in the down position. He eventually got off the ground, but used up the entire runway to take off and almost clipped a hedge in the process. Forced to fly a very low circuit in between trees to get back on terra firma, Urie declared an emergency landing. ‘They had the fire trucks out. It was quite exciting and it’s great for after dinner stories,’ Urie says, jokingly.
His next step was mastering aerial acrobatics. ‘I wanted to fly as accurately as possible and the way you do that is learn how to throw an airplane around,’ Urie says. He started with a weekend course in basic aerobatics and eventually wound up delighting air show onlookers. ‘You can use smoke and throw yourself around in the sky and try and kill yourself, it’s absolutely fantastic!’
Urie says the best part about taking to the skies is it provides an escape from everyday stress. Flying obviously takes a great deal of concentration, and strapping yourself into an aircraft, particularly an aerobatic airplane, means your focus must be on the job at hand. That process really clears the mind, he explains.
As for what’s got his focus on the ground? He’s concentrating on spreading the word about TV-Loonland’s expansion plans at MIPTV. He says after a tough couple of years, the company’s turned itself around and is moving beyond its traditional production/distribution remit to acquire show concepts it can move into licensing, publishing and new media.