Introducing: High Life Live
High Life’s first virtual get-together featured an illustrious travel panel including BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, pilot, TV presenter and podcast host Kellee Edwards, blind adventurer and Celebrity MasterChef star Amar Latif and top chef Toni Toivanen. British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle introduced the hour-long panel before Sandi Toksvig kicked things off.
Watch High Life Live below
High Life Live: A virtual event transcript
High Life Live: Preparing for take off
Sean Doyle – Hello everybody, and a very warm welcome to this very special High Life event. I’m Sean Doyle, and I’m the Chief Executive of British Airways. I am delighted to be here with you to introduce you to this online event celebrating our love of travel. I know that my last big holiday was with my family back in December 2019 (I went skiing to Italy). Little did I know that the airport I flew into in Northern Italy would soon become the epicentre of a pandemic that would reshape our lives so dramatically in the intervening period.
So, it’s obviously been an extraordinary year for all of us. But I know many of you are here with us today, either on BA’s YouTube channel, or on Zoom, and that you have a lot of travel stories that you would like to share with us. So, we are now looking ahead to international travel, and I’m hopeful that, come the summer time, we will be welcoming many of you back to the skies. We know that people want to welcome us back to the skies, as many countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus are very keen to welcome British Airways and British travellers back to their shores.
And, of course, when you do come back travelling with us, your safety and the safety of our staff is paramount, and we’ve been implementing a large number of safety measures to reassure you that when you do come back to us, that you will be treated very, very well. So, we are sanitising our aircraft from head to toe; we are requiring our customers and colleagues to wear facemasks and to implement social distancing. And, in fact, we have received a Skytrax Award for the implementation of our reassurance framework; one of the very first airlines to do so. And we have been very innovative, we’ve created an enormous contactless journey, which includes our new lounge food ordering app where you can order what you want to consume from your seat and it will be hand delivered. Our inflight magazine is now virtual, and we are rolling out a new pre-flight ordering service for short-haul economy meals, and we continue to focus and invest in sustainability.
So when the time is right to travel, we want to ensure that we are ready to welcome you back. We’ve spent time while you’ve been away, seeking out the best pre-departure and portable Covid testing options and exploring digital help apps, which allow you to open up the documents required by the destination that you are travelling to. We believe people who have been vaccinated should be able to travel without restrictions, and those who can demonstrate a negative test on pre-departure should also be able to travel.
So, here at BA, we can’t wait to welcome you back. We look forward to getting back to doing what we love most and, most of all, look forward to seeing you again. The airline is built with a mission to connect Britain with the world and the world to Britain. And I hope that in a small way, this event will be part of fulfilling that mission, by reconnecting us with what makes travel so special. So my thanks go to Sandi Toksvig, John Simpson, Kellee Edwards, Amar Latif and Toni Toivanen for joining us from around the world tonight to share some of their travel adventures. But first I want to share with you some of what BA has been up to in the past year with a video. So, grab yourself a drink, sit back, and let’s get ready for take off.
Dear Britain, 2020 was the year which at times grounded us all. But while the skies have been quiet, at British Airways, we have been anything but. We repatriated 40,000 of you, so you could be reunited with loved ones; donating half a million essentials (from blankets and pyjamas) to over 157 hospitals, care homes and community projects, keeping vital supplies moving to the people that need it the most. With flights grounded, 1,543 of our incredible colleagues volunteered in NHS hospitals and other local organisations. We kept our aircrafts ready and safe for you; we’ve cleaned our entire fleets from nose to tail every 24 hours; and introduced new airport safety measures, from sanitising stations, to contact-free ordering in our lounges. We also had to make some incredibly tough decisions, saying goodbye to some much-loved friends, as well as some global icons. And now, as 2020 comes to a close, we start to dream of what’s on the horizon in 2021. Exploring new destinations and new adventures. A new year we’ve had to wait a whole year for. And we can’t wait to share the magic of the skies and the world with you again soon. So thank you to every one of our patient customers and our amazing colleagues for pulling together in 2020. And thank you Britain. British Airways. Made by Britain.
Sandi Toksvig – Hello there! I’m Sandi Toksvig. Arm doors and cross check, here we go. I’m going to presume you all know where the emergency exits are. I’ve always wanted to do that. Thank you for joining us, and thank you to Sean Doyle the new CEO of British Airways. You know these virtual meetings that we’ve all gotten so used to, they’re a funny thing: I have been in the bedrooms of people I’ve never met before, and I’ve interacted with some, well, astonishing people. It never occurred to me I’d meet Sean, and I’m thrilled because (and I’m nothing if not thorough) I thought I’d check him out and it turns out he has 20 years’ experience with the airline and can I just say that I took my first BA flight when I was six weeks old, OK, and I am ancient now. So if it was just years with the airline I think by rights that I should be in charge. Then it occurred to me that Sean may have some skills that I do not possess. Again, a little research (I’m going to quote), according to IAG, “Sean started off in various financial strategy, commercial and alliance roles for the airline.” It’s fair to say I don’t even know what any of that would involve when you turn up at work, so, Sean, definitely, is a very good choice.
Well, what a year it’s been. At the beginning of lockdown I had every intention of getting super fit, learning Russian and tidying the kitchen cupboards. In actual fact, I’ve mostly eaten ice cream. Oh and I’ve learned that most business meetings are really only worth it if there are croissants. Without the croissants they seem marginally pointless. It is however possible, I have discovered (and here is some sunshine) to bake croissants whilst I am attending a meeting. Secondly, and this is also a positive, it turns out I didn’t really like shaking hands with people anyway. Which brings me to a question the pandemic has left me with. Who were all those grownups who had to be taught to wash their hands thoroughly? Wasn’t everybody doing that anyway? My other question is: Why does the UK government’s chief medical advisor, who is clearly a very clever guy, keep saying, “Next slide, please”, when they are clearly not slides, because no one has used slides since the 80s. I think it every time he holds a press conference, and then I find I’ve missed what he said. For all I know, things could be worse than I thought, or better! Fortunately there’s a cure for that because finally, and most importantly, I’ve come to realise that historically ‘happy hour’ has not been allowed to fulfil its full potential by being restricted to the one hour. Of course, what I have missed most, is travel. Here’s the truth: my wife and I are devoted travellers. We can only be described as British Airways super fans, to the extent that, and this is absolutely true, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said, “I want to sit in a British Airways business seat and have someone nice and smiley bring me a drink.” So for her gift I purchased a genuine BA business class drinks trolley and served her Champagne on the day. It now stands in our kitchen and we keep oat milk in it.
So, today is fun for me because I am pretty sure we could all do with bringing some holiday spirit back even, if only for the moment, virtually. Behind me you can see the Tivoli Gardens of my hometown Copenhagen, which is where I would most like to be if I could. Today we are going to travel the world in our dreams. We are going to chat sharabangs and relive excursions with a wonderful panel of people. I would love you to join, please feel free to send your questions during the sessions using the Q&A feature.
Right, let’s have a look at the panellists. First up, well a household name frankly, the BBC World Affairs Editor, author and High Life columnist John Simpson. John has covered most of the major world news events from the 1960s to the present day and famously infiltrated Afghanistan dressed in a burqa. But it hasn’t just been war and strife; he rounded Cape Horn in a small boat and was on a desert island in the South Pacific for the first moon of the new millennium.
And another big welcome to Kellee Edwards, who is joining us all the way from Los Angeles. Kellee is a host on the Travel Channel TV and of the Let’s Get It Together podcast. There’s little she doesn’t do in her quest to discover the most remote corners of the planet. She flies planes, she scuba dives, and was dubbed “the most interesting woman in the world” by Outside Magazine. I mean I didn’t even know that was a competition.
Next up, Amar Latif is an entrepreneur, TV presenter and professional traveller, who describes himself as “the blind guy who wants to show you the world”. He became known to millions through the ground-breaking reality series Beyond Boundaries, which followed a group of disabled adventurers trekking a gruelling 220 miles on foot through the jungles of Nicaragua, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. Closer to home, he reached the final of Celebrity MasterChef.
And our final guest is Toni Toivanen, a chef named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30. He has already been a head chef of Michelin two-star Chez Dominique in his birthplace of Helsinki. He worked at Copenhagen’s Noma (thank you, marvellous), and is repeatedly awarded the title of world’s best restaurant. From there, he went to Japan, and later this year he will be in London for his debut residency at Carousel restaurant.
And to all of you watching with us, I believe there’s at least 5,000 of you, a huge welcome from us, this is the biggest plane you’re ever going to be on frankly. Come fly with us and if you have any questions for our finalists, please pop them in the zoom Q&A and we will try and get to them before the end. Grab yourselves a drink, let’s get the holidays started.
So, I said I would like to be in Copenhagen, I am actually in South London. Let’s just start with John, where are you exactly? I think you’re at Broadcasting House I’m going to guess.
John Simpson – I am, that’s why the light’s a bit dim, I think the BBC hasn’t been paying its bills or something recently. Perhaps it can’t afford to. Where would I like to be most? Well there are a lot of places I miss lots and lots. I think I would most like to be in a little cabin beside Lake Baikal in Siberia at this very moment. Because at the end of March all sorts of extraordinary, exciting things are happening in the lake with the ice that is 30 feet deep starting to crack and open up and the extraordinary fish that live there are starting to show themselves, and the extraordinary people that live round there are starting to show themselves as well. I think that’s where I’d like to be most.
Sandi Toksvig – Well I hope you don’t mind if I come with you as Lake Baikal is one of the answers that comes up most often on QI I think. It’s a curious body of water. That sounds wonderful, Kellee what about you, where are you at the moment and where do you wish you were?
Kellee Edwards – I am currently in Los Angeles and I wish I was currently at the Amalfi Coast now. That would be amazing. As much as I love adventure travel, I also love amazing food and wine and Italy is definitely known for that, so that is where I would love to be.
Sandi Toksvig – Anywhere specific on the Amalfi Coast? Can you narrow it down, or does it not really matter, it could be anywhere on the coast?
Kellee Edwards – Anywhere there would work!
Sandi Toksvig – There’s a hotel there called the Luna Convento, which is one of my favourites. I’m going to recommend it to you, there you go. Amar, same question to you darling, where are you and where would you be if you could?
Amar Latif – So I am currently in Dubai, I came here nine weeks ago for one week on business and then I got stuck, but fortunately it’s been brilliant – I’ve had lots of work here. But if I could be somewhere, Sandi, I would love to be in Peru. I remember taking a group of blind and sighted travellers to Machu Picchu and thinking “Well, we’re blind how are we going to appreciate it?” But we had this amazing guide and he brought it to life and with his description it was so spine-chilling that, you know, that was quite an incredible place. And then we went on to Lake Titicaca, where there were the floating islands and we met this indigenous family who were living there. And they’d never met blind people before. So suddenly you’ve got ten blind people and ten sighted people suddenly arriving and they don’t know what to do with us. And then two weeks later I took another group and they had, off their own back, made a model of the island – it was properly about a metre wide – with everything to scale, and wanted us to touch it, and I thought that was incredible, how humans can come together and it restores your faith in humanity. So I would say Peru.
Sandi Toksvig – Maybe Amar it teaches us all to experience things in a different way, don’t you think. That had never occurred to me.
Amar Latif – Absolutely.
Sandi Toksvig – Yeah I think that’s wonderful. Toni I’m going to guess that you’re in Helsinki, is that right darling?
Toni Toivanen – Yes that’s right I’m right now in Helsinki. And where I would love to be is my background in Ishigaki Island in Japan, so somewhere completely different to where I am actually right now.
Sandi Toksvig – Yeah, well that looks amazing. I’ve never been to Japan, what is the one thing that struck you most when you got there?
Toni Toivanen – This little island is part of Okinawa islands but it goes down the south so it’s kind of a separated, isolated island, which has Japanese food, but a lot of influence from Southern parts, so it’s more relaxed and just fantastic for surfing and chilling out.
Sandi Toksvig – Well, now, I know that some of us have been travelling for longer than others and I’m going to include myself in this. John do you remember what it was that kick-started your love of travel.
John Simpson – Yes I do, actually it was my father really who ran away to sea at the age of 16 and became a steward on the P&O line in the late 20s early 30s or something. He used to say, “Oh god, this country is so provincial”. And he gave me that sense that there was a world outside. And the very first time I ever got into a plane was in the awful winter of 1962-3 and my father decided that we should go to Casablanca because he liked the film. So we flew to Casablanca. First time I’d ever been in an aeroplane. I was terrified and I threw up.
Sandi Toksvig – I’m going to beat you there as my first flight was in 1958, so I’m going to claim oldest traveller here. Now Toni, when did you go to Japan? Was it for work that you went or because you just wanted to?
Toni Toivanen – Yeah actually I went because of work. It’s never been my dream to live there but once I went there the first time, I completely fell in love and I was like, “This a crazy place.”
Sandi Toksvig – Did you travel as a child, darling? Did you travel away from Finland?
Toni Toivanen – I started travelling with my parents since being a kid and it was always part of my life, just to explore and new things.
Sandi Toksvig – And what about you Kellee? Is that something your parents introduced you to; the idea of going somewhere new?
Kellee Edwards – Yes absolutely, I always tell this story of seeing mountains for the first time leaving from Chicago coming to California on what is the Greyhound Bus and seeing various landscapes for the first time after leaving the city blocks of the south side of Chicago, and being able to see mountains, which I thought were buried dinosaurs (I thought they were buried brontosauruses, to be specific) and my mum was like, “Oh no, those are not dinosaurs, those are called mountains”, and I was like, “Wow!” And seeing the desert landscape was something that was very transforming to me: to just see what ‘outside’ really looked like. And then when I got a little bit older, me and my parents (we couldn’t afford to get on airplanes, but we could definitely get in the car), and so we did a lot of road trips: up the PCH, up to Big Bear where I went on to camp and obtained some of my survival skills. And so my parents very much introduced me to the world outside of my neighbourhood through what we could see on the road and that was just getting in the car and going. And when I was older I just took it to the next level, obviously.
Sandi Toksvig – That’s such an American thing, isn’t it, the road trip.
Kellee Edwards – Yes, absolutely. I love road trips: they’re awesome. It’s the best way to see a place on the ground for sure and meet the people and see what it’s like out there.
Sandi Toksvig – Amar can you remember what was the first experience you had away from home?
Amar Latif – Yeah it was when I was 18 years old I became blind. I remember waking up and I couldn’t see. And my Mum was so protective; she’d never wanted me to leave the house. I was at university and an opportunity came to go to Canada, and I hadn’t seen much of the world, and I didn’t want blindness to stop me from seeing it. So I just decided, as a stubborn little teenager, that I was going to head out there with my newly acquired blindness. And it was the most amazing experience. I remember I left my mum crying in the airport, I got on the plane and I had butterflies in my stomach and I was just so excited I was going somewhere that I didn’t know anything about. And when I arrived in Toronto, I got on a bus and I was just looking out the window but I couldn’t see, but I was just so excited to go to this place called Kingston. The university was on Lake Ontario and it was one of the best years of my life. I met so many international students from all over the world, and I learned so much about myself. And that experience taught me that if you learn to push your limits, your world becomes bigger.
Sandi Toksvig – I think it’s the thing I miss most, it’s the interacting with ‘the other’, do you know what I mean, the thing that you don’t know well, I think that’s the thing I miss most. So I’m already planning a million trips, so I want to know where should I go, Kellee, where should I go, where should I be heading off to?
Kellee Edwards – Where I would love to head off to first. Well I would definitely love to explore more British Columbia. As soon as April 21st comes they will hopefully lift the ban off of the Americans and maybe I’ll get to go and have some adventures in British Columbia, because there is definitely lots to do out there, lots of wildlife and nature and that’s definitely my bag.
Sandi Toksvig – Fantastic. Amar, what about you, have you got a list, apart from presumably leaving Dubai at some point?
Amar Latif – Yeah, at some point! My company, Traveleyes, we’ve already started planning trips from November onwards. But personally I’m missing – like Kellee said at the beginning – I’m missing Italy and I would so love to be in a nice piazza having a hot latte or having some delicious food where you can just smell the basil and the tomatoes simply from their aroma in the air. I’m so looking forward to having just a nice glass of wine and just rolling green hills all around, so Tuscany here I come, once you’re Covid-free, of course.
Sandi Toksvig – So Toni, Amar waxing lyrical there about food and drink. Is that the thing that drives you when you travel, or do you think you’ve had quite enough of the kitchen, thank you very much?
Toni Toivanen – Yeah, definitely. I always travel because of food.
Sandi Toksvig – So where would you go?
Toni Toivanen – Right now I’d love to go back to Japan. To go back to sushis and seafoods and explore the seafood market. If you’ve ever been to this Japanese seafood market, it’s something you will miss wherever you go, because there is nothing like this anywhere else.
Sandi Toksvig – Are there things that you haven’t seen before, and things that you’d think I wouldn’t even know how to begin to cook that?
Toni Toivanen – Both! It’s incredible.
Sandi Toksvig – I’d like to go with you. What about you John? I always feel like you’ve been everywhere.
John Simpson – I haven’t been everywhere, no. But where I should’ve been about a week after the lockdown is Zimbabwe, which is a country where I’ve lived a bit and visited loads and loads and loads of times – absolutely wonderful. A complete reverse of what everybody assumes from the outside; lovely, lovely people. We had a whole holiday booked there in the Hwange National Park and the Victoria Falls Hotel and staying back in places like in Harare itself in the hotels that I used to stay in when I was living and reporting there, and we couldn’t do it, of course. I thought we could frame the tickets but then my wife said she thought they would be difficult to get out of the frame afterwards so they’re in the drawer and every now and then I ring up BA and say, “Can I still use these?”, and “Oh yes,” they say and so one day I think that will be the first thing we do. To fly back to Harare and travel north and just get back into the African bush.
Sandi Toksvig – The Falls Hotel, I stayed there and I remember playing golf there and there’s no penalty stroke if you hit a warthog I seem to remember. Are you the sort of person who plays golf, or are you the sort of person who, when the cameras are not rolling, just flops onto the beach.
John Simpson – Neither, really. I don’t play golf. I’ve played a lot of other stupid games. I just like reading, actually. That really is probably ancient and out, maybe, but that’s what I like to do. And my 15-year-old kid is absolutely obsessed with wildlife so I wouldn’t actually be able to get my head into a book. We’d be out with the binoculars every bloody morning.
Sandi Toksvig – Amar, what about you, because travel has become very much your life, so it’s your work life. But when it’s relaxing, what do you do to relax?
Amar Latif – So it’s like a mixture. I go with great intentions, because I’m travelling all the time and I’m leading groups of blind and sighted travellers all over the world and so when I have my own holiday I love to be on a sunlounger next to the beach enjoying good food, good drinks, good company. But then after a few days, if I’m somewhere new, I have this curiosity, I think, “Oh my god, I wonder who lives here, what’s the culture like?” And that drives me off that sunlounger. And once I’ve satisfied that, I’m coming back and then I just like to relax. I just like to not really have a plan because, you know, on organised tours you have a plan, so it’s just quite nice to wake up and say, right actually I just feel like relaxing, and taking a walk by the beach. So I kind of go a bit freestyle.
Sandi Toksvig – I’ve never been on an organised tour, should I come on one of yours, darling?
Amar Latif – You should so come on ours. You’d be amazing at describing, Sandi.
Sandi Toksvig – I would enjoy that very much indeed. Now, Toni, I’m going to get you to do some describing because you’ve already talked about food causing you to travel, so let’s imagine that you’re taking me to breakfast somewhere in the world, where do you think we should go?
Toni Toivanen – I think we should definitely go somewhere in New York, to Brooklyn, for sure. Some ‘hipster coffees’, get some bagels...
Sandi Toksvig – Bagels with a schmear. That sounds good. What about lunch and dinner?
Toni Toivanen – Lunch I would go for sure to Italy. When it’s white truffle season, I would go somewhere in Piedmont and just munch down some truffle risotto or truffle pasta.
Sandi Toksvig – I’m salivating already. And dinner? We’re going anywhere we like in the world, where should we go for dinner?
Toni Toivanen – We should definitely go to Kanazawa in Japan. It’s this place called Kataori, it’s a very traditional Japanese kaiseki restaurant. I think the chef is like 34 years old and he’s absolutely phenomenal. And Kanazawa is really for those little white shrimps. You should have a look for those, they’re absolutely delicious. I haven’t tasted anything like this anywhere else.
Sandi Toksvig – I love that, I haven’t even heard of them, darling, so am already looking forward to it. Kellee, I have to say you’ve been described to me as having the skill set of a Bond girl meets Lara Croft. You have done some extraordinary things, you’ve done mountaineering and sky diving and exploring Indonesian caves with thousands of buried bodies, and you’ve trekked on an Alaskan island with the population of 22 people (which for a Danish island sounds like a lot). If I wanted to go on a proper adventure holiday, which I really do like, rather than lying on a beach, where would you recommend that I start?
Kellee Edwards – Well I always say that anything outside of your comfort zone is an adventure, right? And so, for me, even though I love to do hard adventures, I like for people to tap into things that they might be curious about, that they might be slightly uncomfortable with. There’s soft adventures and there’s hard adventures, so I’d say, if you want to feel like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones, why not go visit Central America and see some Mayan ruins, or go to Angkor Wat to have that moment like Angelina Jolie did in Tomb Raider. If you wanna go shark diving, if that’s something that’s really on your bucket list, why not head down to the Great Barrier Reef where you’re able to do that. So, I feel like, choose the adventure that makes you uncomfortable slightly, that maybe scares you, but is definitely on your bucket list. And I would start at any of those.
Sandi Toksvig – I think that’s right, I was staying at a hotel in Costa Rica which you could only get to by white water rafting and I was terrified but I have never forgotten it. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life. So, bite the bullet, right? Just go for it.
Kellee Edwards – Did you fly off of it? Because I was on a white water raft and I definitely came out of it once, and that was very thrilling, to say the least. I’m here sitting with you so it worked out.
Sandi Toksvig – What about you John? I think you’ve been to, somebody told me, about 140 countries? I know you’ve manhauled a sledge across the Arctic and I know you’ve lived previously with an uncontacted tribe in the further regions of the Amazon. Is there one that stays in your mind that you go, that was astonishing?
John Simpson – Well, yes, it’s the last one you mentioned, actually, it’s the being with an uncontacted tribe in the furthest reaches of the Brazillian Amazon. I did it long ago now in the 90s and have always been meaning to try to go back, to see what’s happened to this tribe. We almost did it, we got within ten days of getting there. I’d grown a beard and we’d bought all the stuff, the forked sticks and stuff, including mirrors and beads to trade with the tribespeople because they really like that. And then the river that we had to travel down turned out not to be deep enough because the rains had failed, so we said, OK we can’t go right at the moment, but in a year’s time, or six months’ time, but that was now three years ago and, to be honest, I’m not sure now I am going to make it. But I still fall asleep sometimes thinking about being in that village and hearing the tribespeople singing.
Sandi Toksvig – I’m lining myself up with trips here, John, because I’ll go with you as that sounds absolutely fantastic.
John Simpson – Please do!
Sandi Toksvig – Quick question for you John from Richard Twynam, one of our people listening in: “My wife and I bumped into John in Harrods as he enjoyed an orange juice. Where in the world outside of the UK has he enjoyed his most memorable orange juice?” This is a question I never thought would come up, but there we are!
John Simpson – Well, can I answer it by saying, like everybody else I’ve been watching all these bloody series on television where I’ve certainly seen far more people killed than I’ve seen in real life, thank god. But the one that I loved the most was one called Midnight Diner, a Japanese series. If you haven’t seen it, I really, really, really recommend it. It’s gentle and sweet and charming and amusing, and that’s where I wanna go and get my orange juice. And, again, who knows when we’ll be doing it, but that’ll be very high up on the list.
Sandi Toksvig – I think all those other ones with a lot of death in them are probably Danish. I’m just going to put it out there. Amar, your recent trip through Turkey, what a stimulating and multi-sensory exploration. It made me want to put my camera down when I travel to really experience my surroundings. So talk to me about multi-sensory travel. How do you make your trips so multi-sensory and what’s top of your list to have the next trip?
Amar Latif – Well, Sandi, when I look for a trip, I don’t, we don’t find trips that are multi-sensory. First I think, right, what is interesting to go and visit whether you’re blind or you’re not? And then we work really hard to bring out those sensory aspects, so, for example, unexpected places like when I went to Egypt and you know you come across these temples and I think, sighted people, you take your camera and take the Instagram shot and then you move on, but when you’re blind, people describe what things look like, but then you want to touch them, and when you touch a temple that’s 3,000 years old, I get this magic buzz feeling, you know? Like that you’re connecting with the past. And then to find the hieroglyphics, the tactile way of communication, you know the writing that they used, that’s so blind-friendly, and I was like, “Oh my God I can read this!” Braille was only invented in the 19th century and I’m thinking that these guys are so well ahead. The Egyptians, they created a way to communicate that blind people could understand as well. So, yeah, that’s where I’ve been. In terms of where I’d like to go, I guess I’d love to go to Brazil and feel the Iguazú Falls, you know, and feel the spray on my face. And then go to the Rio Carnival because it’s like the biggest carnival. And you know because we’ve been in lockdown (and I know you said, Sandi, that you don’t like shaking hands) and I like a bit of contact, so I thought the Rio Festival Carnival, it’s got like two million people, it’s one of the largest carnivals in the world and I’d love to like dance with people and just feel alive!
Sandi Toksvig – That sounds wonderful, I like hugging people, I just think handshaking is not quite my thing, really. From Greg Davis: “Toni - how do you find new restaurants, foodie places when you land in a new city?”
Toni Toivanen – Well, I just go for a walk and look for those nice little shops around the streets, and just jump and try out. I think that’s the best way to explore new cities and find out those outstanding places. But of course I also have a lot of friends, so I ask them for their recommendations and it’s a really good way.
Sandi Toksvig – I do think that the way you travel makes a difference. Kellee, I know you said that you prefer to travel solo, in fact I think you’re quite famous for it. Is there an art to solo travel? I mean, it’s probably particularly pertinent now, what with social distancing. What do you love about solo travel? I mean, are there particular destinations that are good for solo travellers?
Kellee Edwards – Yes, so, the reason why I like solo travel, and I kind of equate that because I grew up as an only child, so I’m used to playing by myself, right? And trying to find ways to entertain myself. But with that also is learning how to compromise and I feel like for the types of trips that I like to do because I like to err on the adventurous side, a lot of people are not necessarily comfortable with that, or even necessarily have the skill set, or are just scared. And so I am not the type of person to wait on people to go travel with me. They have this meme where it’s like ‘How a trip starts’ and it’s like 20 people, and then when it’s time to pay it’s like ten, and then when it’s time to actually go, it’s just you at the airport. And I’m that person at the airport. If we’re supposed to go, we’re supposed to go. So I like solo travel because I don’t have to worry about if something is going to work out or not with them, I just have to make sure that this trip works out for me. And so that’s the part that I really love about solo travel. There’s plenty of places you can go as a solo traveller. To start, especially in the beginning, my first solo trip alone was to Thailand and so I always tell people that is a way to really immerse yourself in a world. I remember getting off a plane and seeing Thai writing everywhere. And the first thing I wanted to learn was what does the word ‘exit’ look like? So that, no matter where I’m at in the city, if I see Thai writing, I remember in the airport that that’s what exit is and that’s where I need to go.
Sandi Toksvig – We’re very different people, Kellee, I know the word for beer in about 30 languages.
Kellee Edwards – I’m looking and always thinking about the safety aspect of it. California is a great place to come to visit, I love California, I live here. There’s so much you can do by yourself visiting. We have literally land, air and sea right here in the state, so you can have all of those adventures. Peru is another great place, I’ve been to Machu Picchu twice. I loved the way you described it, Amar, and how your guide gave you chills just the way he said that, because I’ve thought as a seeing person how much it affected me, so I can only imagine how amazing that description was for you.
Sandi Toksvig – I’m going to travel with you as well. I’m going to drink beer and you’re going to have to get me out of there.
Kellee Edwards – *inaudible* is also an amazing place to go as a solo traveller.
Sandi Toksvig - Amar, let’s talk about the obverse of that. The groups that you travel in, they’re a mixture aren’t they, of both blind and sighted travellers? What’s it like travelling in a group, because I genuinely haven’t…
Amar Latif – Yeah, I love it, Sandi. I know where Kellee’s coming from as well. But on our groups, I always think it’s not just about the places that you go to, but it’s also who you go there with. So imagine you come in a group, we meet at the airport. You’ve got ten blind people and ten sighted people, they’ve never met each other before, and then you’ve got a tour manager. And then every day you announce the pairings, and suddenly you’re partnered with a different blind person, and there’s this big buzz around the whole thing because you’re like, the sun is shining and you’re with a new partner and you’re kind of like, “Oh, so what’s your name, what do you do?” And then as you’re walking along the street in Sorrento and someone is describing what they can see, there’s like a big, massive, electric buzz about the whole thing, and there’s just so much laughter. And then if you imagine you’re stood at a beautiful viewpoint, and you’ve got ten sighted people describing so passionately what they can see to their blind travellers who they’ve just met, and I’m just stood there and just listening, and everyone describes things in a different way, because people always think they’re never going to be good at describing things, that’s what sighted people always say. But I always say, look, everyone is different. And when they’re bringing things to life I feel so, so inspired, and I just love it and being with our groups. I’ve been doing it for 17 years and every group is so different, but I just love it.
Sandi Toksvig – It sounds wonderful. We’re going to have a quick quiz in a second. Anybody ever brought home a weird souvenir? Anybody?
Amar Latif – I’ve brought a crocodile that you put on the table and its tail wiggles. That’s from Cuba.
Sandi Toksvig – John’s got something on his lap. WHat is it, John?
John Simpson – It’s something that I've had for many years. It’s a fish made in Afghanistan – landlocked, so weird – and I can keep my fountain pen and glasses and the sort of ultra-necessities in it.
Sandi Toksvig – Love that. It’s a pencil case.
John Simpson – Sort of…
Sandi Toksvig– Marvellous. Right, just to finish off, between the four of you you must have somehow, I would imagine, been to every country on earth. The question is, who’s been paying attention? I have five very tough questions to find out. If you know the answer, just shout it out (of course, you can play along at home, but I can’t hear you).
Right. Question 1: Pilots like a challenge and the Canarsie approach is a particular favourite. But in which city are you landing? Is it Innsbruck, New York, Berlin or Buenos Aires?
Amar Latif – Innsbruck?
Sandi Toksvig – Amar’s gone for Innsbruck. Any more for any more?
John Simpson – New York.
Sandi Toksvig – New York is right! John gets that past them. Narrowing it down. Question 2: Everyone loves the Airbus A380 and can’t wait to see BA’s fleet of super-jumbos back in the skies. But how many passengers can each carry? 299, 380, 469 or 523?
Kellee Edwards – 299?
Sandi Toksvig – Nope. Bigger than that.
John Simpson – 469.
Sandi Toksvig – 469! John’s just storming this, people. Get in there. Question 3: Rank these ultra-long-haul routes in order of distance, so the longest first. All these flights are either running or scheduled to come back later this year. So Perth to London Heathrow, Singapore to New York JFK, Auckland to Doha. So which one is the longest flight?
Amar Latif – Perth to London?
Kellee Edwards – They all seem so long.
Sandi Toksvig – They do seem so long, and so tempting, if I’m honest with you.
John Simpson – Singapore to New York?
Sandi Toksvig – It’s Singapore to New York. Yes it is. It’s 9,537 miles. The Auckland to Doha is 9,032 miles, Perth to London Heathrow 9,010 miles. All pretty enjoyable time in the cabin, frankly. Now, which of these places does not have a famous cocktail named after it? Is it Los Angeles, Moscow, Alabama or Singapore? No – that’s not right. I don’t think it should be Los Angeles, I think it should be London, but maybe Los Angeles doesn’t either. I think it is Los Angeles because there’s a Moscow Mule, an Alabama Slammer and a Singapore Sling. Anyway, we need to get a Los Angeles drink going
Kellee Edwards – There’s definitely not one here, I can tell you that.
Sandi Toksvig – Anyway, question 5: The world’s shortest scheduled flight is between two Orkney Islands, operated by Loganair, lasting 1.7 miles. (I have in fact taken this flight). But how many seconds is the flight? Is it 60, is it 90 or is it 120? It’s seconds – there’s no inflight service. It’s literally up and down. 90 seconds. Now shall we say that John won that quiz? This is a controversial question: aisle or window seat? Anyone take a strong view?
Kellee Edwards – Window
Sandi Toksvig – Window from Kellee.
Amar Latif – The window’s a bit wasted on me, so I go for the aisle.
John Simpson – I like the aisle, too. I don’t like all that having to say, “Excuse me, excuse me, sorry”.
And then you start to think about half an hour, an hour later, “Oh God no, I’ve got to do it again.” So aisle for me every time. I don’t care if they bump into me, I don’t want to have to apologise all the time.
Sandi Toksvig – So what about you Toni?
Toni Toivanen – I would go for a window because usually when I’m travelling I’m extremely tired so I like to sleep so I’m not disturbing anyone, I can just fall asleep and keep going.
Sandi Toksvig – I have to say I like the aisle. Although I enjoyed it when a rather elderly woman sat down next to me on a plane once and she gave me her name and I mine and she said, “Do you have any pressing problems you’d like to discuss?” and I said, “No.” And she said, “Good”, and went to sleep. Bloody marvellous – “Shush now, will everyone be quiet.” One final last question from me to all of you when you do get back on the plane. Toni, is there anybody who you would particularly like to find sitting next to you?
Toni Toivanen – I would say I’m really boring because I fall asleep so I would love to – to be honest – travel alone. I’m not a good company to be honest, for travels, on a plane.
Sandi Toksvig – On a plane, OK, you like an empty seat really.
Toni Toivanen – Yes
Sandi Toksvig – OK, all right. Kellee, can you pick a person? I know you travel a lot on your own but if you could travel with somebody?
Kellee Edwards – Well I would say, once the pandemic is over, I would love to sit next to Chrissy Teigen, I think she is incredibly entertaining and funny. But I think you also have to be careful who you sit next to because if there is a lot of talking going on, I’m still going to be paranoid for the next year about all the talking! So I don’t want to sit next to someone and then be so excited and have all these questions, just to then think no, we shouldn’t be engaging like that.
Sandi Toksvig – I hope that that goes soon, because one of the great pleasures in life is meeting somebody that you haven't met before and having a new take on life. I hope someday soon we all relax and people don’t look at you like you're bringing some terrible thing towards them. What about you Amar, have you got a dream person?
Amar Latif – Well, this is more practical, normally I sit there and the inflight entertainment system is so inaccessible normally, and I sit from my laptop. So I think, as we’ve got Sean Doyle here, I wouldn’t mind sitting next to him and discussing how we can make British Airways the most accessible travel company in the world. So, me and Sean travelling, I’m blind and I’ll blindfold Sean as well, and we’ll both have a laugh and also if I’m sat next to him it means I’ll get well looked after.
Sandi Toksvig – And just help me with this, Amar. If someone was seated next to a person with sight difficulties, what should they do? Should they say, “Is there something I can do to help?” or what is the best thing that helps you?
Amar Latif – Absolutely, it’s always best just to ask, whatever someone’s disabilities because you might not be comfortable and you might have not met somebody in a wheelchair and someone that’s blind, so the best thing to do is say, “I’ve never done this before, how can I help?” But what you’ve got on airlines – this is all the big fancy planes - is the touch screen entertainment systems, you can’t touch them. And even the call button these days is a touch screen, so I can’t call the cabin crew. Maybe that’s why they’ve done it because they know that I harass the cabin crew a lot! But you can also have audio description on the films as well, so there’s so much that can be done and I’m really excited to hopefully work with airlines to do that.
Sandi Toksvig – Well I think that sounds terrific. What about you, John? Have you got a dream person that you would like to sit next to?
John Simpson – No I haven’t sadly. I’m a most miserable traveller. I get the biggest headphones I can find to fit over my ears and I put a thing on so that I don’t have to make eye contact with anybody. And I read or I’ll watch a movie, or I listen to music and I grunt if someone asks me a question. So, if I was sitting next to, I don’t know, the Dalai Lama or, I don’t know, you, even if I was sitting next to you I’d just grunt if you said, “Hello John”, I’d just put the headphones on. Sorry about that.
Sandi Toksvig – No I very much hope we don’t sit next each other as it sounds terrible. I have to say, even after lockdown and even after being married for 15 years, I would still love to be on a long haul flight with my partner because we just get on so well, there’s nothing we like better than sitting next to each other on a flight and just having a long chat. Well I think and I hope that I have persuaded all of you now that I am going to travel with you, are we all OK with that, is that all right?
All – Yes, sounds good!
Sandi Toksvig – I’m tougher than I look, I can carry bags, it’ll be fine, it’ll be lovely. If we had to, heaven forbid, lockdown again, I would lock down in my little tiny wooden cabin in the woods in Denmark. Has anyone else got a place where they think, well in the next lockdown I’d do it. I would do it in this one place.
Kellee Edwards – I would head up to Alaska and find a cabin somewhere. The 22-person island was Nikolski, Alaska, and I would totally go back there, there’s plenty to experience, see.
Sandi Toksvig – Yeah, back in touch with nature, it’s a nice thing. Anybody else got a place?
John Simpson – I would go back to my childhood and I’d rent a cottage on the seafront somewhere in Suffolk and I’d walk almost perpendicular (is that perpendicular?) against the wind, backwards and forwards, and I wouldn’t see anybody and I would have the most fantastic time. I suppose I’d see my family… just.
Sandi Toksvig – What about the other two, Toni?
Toni Toivanen – Yeah, I would also go back to my parents’ place, in Finland, where there are not too many people around, so it’s a quiet place next to a forest. Just the wolves and you, perfect.
Sandi Toksvig – And what about you Amar?
Amar Latif – I’ve got something to thank covid for, because, being blind for the last 25 years I’ve never really walked in the woods by myself. But when the first lockdown happened all my friends said “we can’t do this, we can’t guide you, we can’t link arms,” so I thought, “what should I do?” I always say to people that adversity brings great opportunities, so after being frustrated for days and stuck in my apartment I thought, “right, what can I do?” And then I brought this strap and I stuck my mobile phone on it, and my friends from overseas guided me and they guided me into the woods near my house which I didn’t even know existed. And it was the most incredible experience. I’d never been walking in the countryside by myself, and then, they said “if you reach down you’ll find some bluebells, touch them”. And after a while I said do you mind if I switch this phone off. And I sat down at the bottom of a tree, and it just felt so amazing. You know, it was so incredible. So I probably will find myself some woods and just batten down, just like John.
Sandi Toksvig – Well it’s very interesting that each and every one of us has chosen to be closer to nature. That’s an interesting result from the lockdown. I’m afraid we’re going to have to finish because, well Mr Simpson has got to go and be on the six o’clock news and say something terribly important.
John Simpson – I’m sorry. Very sorry.
Sandi Toksvig – No it’s a delight, I’m going to run and watch. I’m afraid that does bring us to the end of this inaugural BA High Life event. I do hope you’ve enjoyed it, I’ve absolutely loved it. We’ve had lots of lovely questions from you about travel tips, I’m afraid we haven’t had time to cover them this afternoon, but I do recommend you head over to the British Airways Holidays page at ba.com. There you can find all sorts of fabulous destination guides from everything from city breaks to road trips to beach holidays. And when we end the session there is a little survey that’s going to pop up, we would love to hear what you thought about whether we should do something like this again. It just remains for us all to say goodnight. In the time-honoured Zoom fashion, we’re all going to unmute and wave. Say bye!
Meet the travel panel
The host: Sandi Toksvig
Sandi Toksvig is a British–Danish presenter, comedian, actor, author and political activist best known for her presenting stints on QI and The Great British Bake Off. Her knack for comedy was honed during her time in the Cambridge Footlights troupe (producer of many a household name, including Hugh Laurie, David Mitchell, Olivia Colman, Emma Thompson et al), before going on to embark on a successful career in TV. Travel credentials include hosting the recently broadcasted Extraordinary Escapes on Channel 4 and Excess Baggage, the BBC Radio 4 travel show she co-hosted with John McCarthy.
Having joined the BBC as a sub-editor aged 25, John Simpson is now one of its leading and most long-standing foreign correspondents. World affairs editor at the broadcasting giant since 1988, John has reported from more than 140 countries and interviewed more than 200 world leaders (including every British Prime Minister since Harold Wilson). Luckily for us, John is particularly fond of writing his monthly column in British Airways’ High Life magazine, which he has penned for the past 20 years.
Host of the Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands, Kellee Edwards has been hailed by Condé Nast as ‘One of the Most Powerful Women in Travel’ – and we couldn’t agree more. Starting out as a YouTube vlogger with her series Kellee Set Go!, Kellee is a revered travel polymath, with journalism accolades, TV presenting and podcasting (Kellee hosts the Let’s Go Together podcast for Travel + Leisure) under her belt. She is also a certified pilot, intrepid adventurer and qualified scuba diver.
Adventurer, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and the first ever blind contestant to appear on Celebrity MasterChef, Amar Latif has not let an incurable eye condition dampen his lust for far-flung adventure. He first made waves in the industry doing what he does best – helping others with his remarkable travel agency, Traveleyes, for blind, visually impaired and sighted holidaymakers. From there, Amar’s TV career took flight in form of various BBC and Channel 4 travel documentaries, starting with TV hit Beyond Boundaries, which saw him trek more than 200 miles across Central America, and, most recently, Travelling Blind, co-hosted with comedian Sara Pascoe.
Since rising through the ranks at two-Michelin-starred Chez Dominique in his hometown of Helsinki, Toni Toivanen has long been ‘the one to watch’. And now, everyone is. Shortly after his stint as head chef at Chez Dominique, Toni was snapped up by Noma, Copenhagen – frequently hailed as the world’s best restaurant – before earning a coveted spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 of emerging talent. Soon, you’ll find Toni in the UK capital as he takes up residency at Carousel [link: https://carousel-london.com/whatson/toni-toivanen/], the Marylebone supper club known for spotlighting the best and brightest culinary stars in its kitchen.