Guy Martin’s Battle of Britain: Pilot Anna Walker explains how she taught the star combat moves for Channel 4 show
Guy Martin was in good hands when he took on the ambitious challenge of learning the skills of Battle of Britain pilots. For the TV star’s instructor was seasoned pilot and vintage aircraft expert Anna Walker.
Born and raised in Brazil, Anna's first experience of aeroplanes was flying at the age of six with her half-Danish, half-English father when he got his private pilot’s licence. By 13, she had begun flying gliders. At 16, she moved to England to attend school and she became a competition aerobatic and display pilot in 1993, before gaining her commercial licence in 1999.
Anna is a flying instructor on land and seaplanes – she runs Clipper Seaplanes, the only seaplane training establishment in the country – and has flown more than 60 types of aircraft. Among them are the iconic Spitfire, Hurricane and Mustang, for which she is a display pilot.
It was in a Hurricane that Anna trained Guy for Channel 4’s Guy Martin’s Battle of Britain, as well as in a de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, famed for its service during the First World War, and the ‘Wacky Wabbit’, a well-known Harvard aircraft based at IWM Duxford, in which Guy learned his first combat manoeuvres.
Filmed in September last year, this fascinating programme – which involved Guy undergoing the same training as a Battle of Britain pilot – culminated with a ‘dogfight’ between Guy’s Hurricane and a Messerschmitt 109, flown by the Duxford-based Aircraft Restoration Company’s John Romain, who previously flew one in the Christopher Nolan movie, Dunkirk.
Guy successfully completed the task and greatly impressed Anna with his ability. Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from her home in Kent, Anna says: “I was faced with an unenviable task of trying to put him through what was a very ambitious challenge, but he was absolutely remarkable. He’s by far the best student pilot I’ve ever had. His ability to pick things up and work it out for himself was incredible.”
Anna, who also has Italian blood on her mother’s side, says that Guy took to flying “like a duck to water”, adding: “The fact that he landed the Tiger with less than two hours’ instruction was remarkable; I’ve never had anyone who picked it up that easily. And by the way, in the whole programme there’s no fudging, no CGI, no pretend – it was absolutely as it was.”
That’s not to say that Guy found it all plain sailing. “It was unbelievably difficult – he threw the towel in twice and they didn’t show a lot of it,” reveals Anna. “I really had to turn the screw and say, ‘If you can’t grasp this basic thing that I ask you to do...’ which was completely unrealistic, to be honest, but he didn’t know...
"So I just kept the pressure on him, in the kindest possible way, but I had to try to get something out of him that would enable us to go onto the next step. Otherwise it would have just become a ride in a Hurricane. I knew he had it in him, I just wanted him to prove it to himself.”
She adds: “If it hadn’t been for his skill and general aptitude, it would have been a complete disaster. I don’t know anyone else who would have first of all undertaken this completely harebrained idea, and second who would have done so well – and in such a modest way.”
Anna admits that she doesn’t watch TV, but knew of Guy because, as a fan of motor racing and bike racing, she remembered him from his TT racing days “when I used to cheer for him and hope he would win, because he came so close so many times.”
She says that the pair got on very well indeed: “There were so many similarities in our backgrounds and our interests and everything we’ve done in the past. I still like motor racing and I had my prangs and he had his prangs. Obviously, his were much more serious than mine. I’ve always been involved with machinery. My family had an earthmoving company so I was brought up on tractors.
“I was extremely close to my dad. He is very close to his dad, so we both came from this working background – hands-on, engineering and family graft. We can talk tractors until the cows come home, and we did actually.”
Guy didn’t really know anything about Anna prior to filming the series, and neither did the production company, North One TV. “They just knew that there were few instructors that could have done the training from beginning to end – the Tiger, the Harvard and the Hurricane,” explains Anna, “and there’s only one two-seat Hurricane in the world, and I happen to be one of the three pilots flying it.”
Anna says the pair are still friends, although Guy, who never watches his own programmes, has told her that people keep asking him about the “flying instructor from hell” – “and apparently he keeps defending me, saying I wasn’t that bad.”
Having appeared in a number of television programmes last year, Anna says she lost count of the number of times she was tested for Covid-19. “I guess it’s the only way that these companies could justify assembling a whole production crew,” she notes.
Anna, who also strives to get more girls into flying and other aviation-related careers, works full time at Biggin Hill Airport, for a company called the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. “They operate three two-seater Spitfires and a two-seater Hurricane, taking passengers and flying most days,” she says, adding that she also flies regularly at Duxford.
“I’ve actually got two aircraft based there,” she says. “They’re part of the museum exhibition and from time to time they ask us to take part in the air shows. One of them is a 1930s German biplane, a Bücker Jungmann, which was the equivalent of the Tiger Moth, but the German version, which is much more sophisticated than the Tiger Moth – but not as effective.
“The German version’s a bit too complicated and the Tiger Moth was harder to fly, so in actual fact it was a simpler aircraft but a much better trainer. And then I have a 1947 racing plane – called ‘Le Vier Cosmic Wind’ – that’s very rare. It’s one of only three still flying in the world.”
Anna adds: “Also I fly for a couple of operators who are based at Duxford, so I fly some Spitfires that belong to an American collector.”
For more on IWM Duxford, visit iwm.org.uk.