I have few regrets in life. That said, I wish I could tell you that I had once flown on Concorde. I haven’t. But I do remember its very last flight over London, hearing that distinctive sound, and running out into my tiny garden to watch the magnificent bird-like airliner soaring majestically overhead.
Concorde was the world’s first commercial supersonic passenger airliner, an Anglo-French project, initially flown in 1969, with 20 aircraft eventually built. From 1976, British Airways and Air France were the only airlines to fly Concorde, with Braniff International Airways operating a route between Washington and Dallas. Concorde was fast, flying close to the edge of space at a maximum cruising speed of Mach 2.04 (1,350 mph), more than twice the speed of sound.
The operation ended in 2003, following the tragic crash of Air France Flight 4590 in Paris. From the beginning, the project met with opposition, with noise pollution caused by the sonic boom restricting Concorde to sea and ocean routes. Economies of scale also created difficulties, eventually overturned by increasing the price of a ticket, with an emphasis on first-class luxury service. By the end, some 2.5m passengers had flown on Concorde’s commercial flights between 1976 and 2003.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of Concorde. It has, surely, to be one of the most beautiful aeroplanes ever designed. Concorde’s passenger cabin was small – some might even say cramped. Still, the journey between London and New York took a mere three hours; more than bearable when fellow passengers included the likes of Joan Collins, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Sean Connery and Robert Redford.
Eighteen years since Concorde’s last flight, Concorde memorabilia remains eminently collectable, with a thriving second-hand market online. Collectors still want a piece of the action. In December 2003, Bonhams held a charity auction with a Concorde theme. The sale included Concorde paraphernalia and fascinating bits and pieces removed from a broken-up aircraft. The Captain’s Seat sold for £30,550, the Jaeger Machmeter (measuring the ratio of true airspeed to the speed of sound) fetched £32,900, the ‘Driessen Double Cabin Trolley’, £6,462, and a ‘Twelve Place Settings Cutlery Set’, £3,760.
And the enthusiasm continues today. There’s a surprising variety of Concorde trinkets available online. As I write, there’s a ‘Concorde Turbo Jet Engine, complete with Afterburner’ for sale on eBay, with a buy-it-now price of £678,000, ‘not able to fly, but perfect to dismantle and repurpose into a collectable piece of furniture or art’. At the other end of the market, there’s a set of three British commemorative Concorde stamps, priced with a starting bid of 18p.
Concorde’s in-flight menus also offer a fascinating glimpse into a luxurious world. Delicacies served at 60,000ft included: Angus Beef, Smoked Salmon, Lobster and Caviar Canapés, Guinea Fowl, Truffles, Foie Gras, Fillet Steak, Fresh Strawberries and Oranges poached in Grand Marnier; and on the London–New York route, Game Pie and a Full English Breakfast. Concorde’s wine cellar came from the ‘finest vineyards’, boasting an impressive wine list including claret, whisky, cocktails, liqueurs and vintage Dom Pérignon Champagne.
In the final days, Michel Roux, Richard Corrigan and Shaun Hill contributed to Concorde’s culinary excellence, and, in 1998, Christian Lacroix designed the graphics for the Air France menu. A British Airways Final Flight BA002 JFK–LHR menu is currently being offered for sale on eBay at a buy-it-now price of £2,000.
On the British Airways routes, passengers ate off fine bone china from Royal Doulton and drank from Conran Champagne flutes. On the Air France Concorde, Raymond Loewy’s sleek flatware cut a dash, comparable with his designs for the Lucky Strike cigarette packet and the Coca-Cola bottle. Gift souvenirs included Wedgwood paperweights, Smythson of Bond Street notebooks, silver photograph frames, hip flasks and signed flight certificates.
Concorde memorabilia is still relatively affordable, and bargains are to be had. A rather smart set of Concorde luggage labels in blue leather sold for £20 at Reeman Dansie in April 2021. I’m also very much taken with a stylish Concorde silver-plated alarm clock (by Links of London), which sold for a mere £20 at Southgate Auction Rooms last year. I can’t think of a more unusual present!