Stephen Tompkinson's Australian Balloon Adventure

Sunday, 29 August 2010, 6:30PM – 7:30PM on ITV1

The final episode sees Stephen and Robin take on the best balloon pilots in Australia as they reach the balloon competition in Canowindra to settle the Australia v Britain sporting rivalry.

Ahead of the competition, the team bases themselves South West of Sydney and takes on a mock competition: Stephen and Robin against Matt, who is based in Sydney. In competitive ballooning, it’s about the skills of the pilot in reading the winds rather than the balloon’s speed and both balloons have to meet three targets.

Before they set off Stephen says: “Matt knows this area a lot better, so of course he has an advantage over that. Robin is more senior and has done many more hours in a balloon. Matt’s the young pretender!”

After wishing each other luck both balloons set off for the first target, a reservoir where they have to dip the balloon basket into the water and pull out again in a move called a splash and dash. Stephen and Robin reach the water first, but Matt’s close on their heels.

The next target is a bridge where the balloonists have to catch helium balloons released from the ground by crew member Victor. Stephen narrowly misses catching it with his hands, but the helium balloon gets caught in their balloon and, as Matt misses altogether, it’s 2-1 to Stephen and Robin.

The balloon truck is the final target and the teams have to throw a marker as close to it as possible. Matt throws first and misses by a short distance. “He’s too impatient”, says Robin, “we just have to sit and wait.”

But the winds are against them and Stephen and Robin are unable to reach the target so the competition is called a draw. Stephen says: “It’s given us a taste for it but we can get sharper now we’ve had that experience.”

Days before the Canowindra balloon challenge Stephen sets off to explore Sydney’s culinary offering with Australian Masterchef presenter Matt Preston who takes Stephen out to eat at some of the city’s finest restaurants. Australia’s vast array of climates makes it possible to grow a variety of foods and Matt says: “There’s no better way of understanding a city and a culture than through its food. This is your first step to understanding Sydney.”

As Sydney is the drag capital of the world, Stephen and Robin head into the city to meet the real ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. Local drag artist Graham, also known as Mitsy Macintosh, invites the pair to judge at one of his drag competitions. Afterwards, Stephen reveals: “The contest was quite confusing, because I’m pretty sure that the winner was a girl. Which sort of goes against the whole drag thing for me. Robin’s even more confused!”

Before the balloon competition, Stephen and Robin receive some official backing from Baroness Amos, the British High Commissioner to Australia who invites them to her Sydney office. The office has stunning views across Sydney harbour where Robin reveals that, despite 30 years ballooning experience, he’s scared of heights and can’t look out of the 16th storey window. The duo present Baroness Amos with a picture of Daisy the balloon and she gives them some advice: “You’d better win, that’s my only advice. I don’t want to get a message saying that you lost!”

She says: “The great thing about Australia is that people are incredibly warm and welcoming, but it’s hugely competitive around sport especially with Britain. So everyone will go all out to beat you so just go out there and do your stuff.”

With the backing of the British High Commissioner Stephen and Robin head on to Canowindra; 200 miles west of Sydney and Australia’s balloon capital. “It’s a very sleepy little town. We’re ready but I don’t know if Canowindra is ready,” says Stephen.

The day of the competition finally arrives, and news of their entry has already preceded Stephen and Robin. Twenty competitors arrive at the briefing and, as the only team to have traveled so far, the duo get a special Australian welcome by the organizer who tells the assembled crowd: “These guys from England think they’re pretty hot so don’t let these pommies take any of our prize money back to England!”

The teams will be scored on how close they can fly to a couple of targets hidden in the Canowindra countryside.

Before taking off Stephen says: “Well this is it, this is what we’ve been building up to for the past few weeks…Robin’s in control of everything and we’re really happy to be here. It’s been an amazing journey and this is the icing on the cake.”

The duo start following the map references and, while in constant radio contact with Matt and Victor on the ground, they start to head to the first target. They spot the target cross but misread the speed and direction of the winds and they drift wide. Having been blown entirely off course a despondent Robin says: “I’ve let you down haven’t I? I’m sorry.”

There’s still the second target to go, but will Stephen and Robin be able to overcome their first mistake, hit the target, regain some pride and win the task for Britain?

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