A Dunstable-born musician has spoken for the first time about how he conquered his fear of flying, as UK therapists report an increase in the public’s anxiety about flying.
Richard Spooner, 44, spent years touring Europe but admitted that he was more scared of flying than performing on stage in front of thousands of people.
His fear stopped him going on holidays and even turning down some job opportunities.
While colleagues in the band supporting the Swiss blues artist Philipp Fankhauser jet off to their next gig, Richard preferred to travel in the tour bus.
He said: “It has something I have always had to deal with and it has stopped me doing things in the past. The thought of getting on an aeroplane and not being in control would be a feeling of literally ‘I’m going to die.
“When I was small, I used to get a lot of pressure in my ears. My mum used to tell me I was terrified of flying because it would hurt my ears. Now, the main thing about my phobia of flying was just feeling stupid.
“I know it’s irrational and that there are probably more people out there who would be more frightened of standing on stage in front of 100,000 people.”
“It would get worse and worse, until I couldn’t sleep. I got so exhausted. If the show was in the UK, I’d drive, say, from London to Edinburgh. Or, I’d quite happily drive from London to Paris, or to wherever we were performing in Belgium. Also, I was much happier on a tour bus for 20 hours.
“I did manage a few flights, but then there was the story of the Germanwings pilot who flew into the Alps and it brought everything back.”
Richard, who grew up in Dunstable and attended Manshead CE Academy in Caddington, then accepted a booking to perform in Romania, which meant him facing four flights. It forced him to seek help, and after two sessions with Rapid Change therapist Howard Cooper, Richard’s phobia eased.
He said: “I was a bit sceptical about Howard and was unsure whether it would work through a Skype call, but it did.
“I did not have to do anything, he just asked me questions and I answered honestly. Howard Cooper is a magician. I didn’t think anybody would be able help me with this phobia. It was unreal. But it happened. It was almost like taking off a jacket. Howard just magicked it away.
“I am fine with flying now and I have been to lots of places in Europe and I have travelled to Luton to see my family, my brother still lives in Dunstable and my parents live in Edlesborough.”
Mr Cooper said: “Fear of flying is by far the biggest phobia I’m now dealing with. I regularly meet pilots and air crew who tell me passengers afraid of flying are a major issue on many flights.
“The number of people I’m treating for flying phobia has roughly doubled in the past three years.
“Three years ago, my fear-of-flying clients accounted for 20-30 per cent of my caseload. That figure has now risen to 40-50 per cent.
“My clients are worried most about ‘The Three Ts’: take-off, turbulence and terrorism.”
Clients report symptoms such as hot flushes, sweat attacks, increased heart-rates, adrenaline surges, difficulties with breathing, trembling, shaking, light-headed spells or dizziness, he said.
He added: “Some aerophobics physically react in blind panic when their fear takes hold. They feel as if a wild tiger is entering the room and is walking towards them.
“Every part of them believes they are in mortal danger, so they run to the exit and have to be restrained by cabin crew from opening the door. Others put on a brave face while the turmoil rages inside them.”