Kirsty spreads her wings

For Suffolk student teacher Kirsty Motton, fear of flying had meant missing out on holidays abroad with family and friends for years.

STANDFIRST: For Suffolk student teacher Kirsty Motton, fear of flying had meant missing out on holidays abroad with family and friends for years. The 22-year-old talks to Lynne Mortimer about the TV show that changed her life.

What would you do if someone paid for you to go on a wonderful holiday to America, visiting Florida and Disneyland - the whole brilliant thing?

All you had to do was pack and turn up at the airport?

Most of us would be packed and in Departures before they'd finished talking.

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Not Kirsty Motton.

Although she had always been terrified at the prospect of flying, she hadn't realised the full extent of her fear until she couldn't go through with a fun holiday abroad that was all booked.

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There are a lot of people who don't love to fly but there are few who find themselves in Kirsty's position - totally unable to get on a plane.

It was then that Kirsty faced up to her fear. Up until then, she had just never flown.

Kirsty, who lives near Ipswich, says: “I always thought I was scared of flying but I definitely realised I was when I was due to go on holiday to America - it had been paid for me.

“It was then I knew there was a major, major problem. I just wouldn't get on a plane.”

What was it that scared her so? Kirsty tries to explain. “It was being up that high and because I was convinced the plane would crash.”

“I felt that if I ever got on a plane it would crash.”

Had she missed out on any holidays before? Oh yes, she says: “Portugal, Spain, Ibiza… loads.”

“I would go on holiday in England with my family. My dad was scared of flying as well.”

After she failed to get to America Kirsty knew it was time to confront her paralysing fear of flying. She had considered hypnotherapy but a chance website encounter was to take her along another route skywards.

At the same time as Kirsty was looking to conquer her dread, a programme being made for Channel 4 was looking for volunteers. The show is called Fear of Flying and is being broadcast tonight.

The premise of the programme is that overcoming fear is life-changing. For the millions who suffer from fear it can be crippling but Lawrence Leyton believes he has the answer and, in Fear of Flying he uses his methods to quell people's phobias.

Lawrence is a neuro-linguistic practitioner (the study of how human experience creates our behaviour) and one of the pioneers of Thought Field Therapy. He is also a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in helping people overcome phobias and addictions.

He attempts to cure phobias using his unique approach to reprogramming people's minds. Through a series of sessions and stunts he sets out to cure crippling phobias and give people the opportunity to finally live normal lives.

While millions of people are happy to jet off around the world - every year we take 200 million flights in and out of British airports - there are also millions who cannot. For one in four people flying is a nightmare. For a phobic it's akin to starring in their very own disaster movie.

In order to cure this fear, Lawrence was to set about reprogramming the subconscious mind, erasing negative thoughts and replacing them with positive beliefs. Lawrence believes the fear of flying is made up of four very common and separate fears: the fear of heights, the fear of not being in control, the fear of confined spaces and a specific mental block which makes flying impossible.

In tonight's programme, Lawrence tackles 40 peoples' fear of flying. With his innovative techniques he takes 40 members of the public - including Kirsty - to a secret headquarters where he works to unpick their fear. He has given himself three days to complete the challenge.

It was the request by Objective Productions for volunteers for this experiment that Kirsty's partner Mark found on a website.

Kirsty applied online - as did dad, Steve, who lives in Essex.

“They got in touch and asked me to come and meet Lawrence Leyton and the producer. When I met him we went through a series of questions and he said I was perfect for it.”

The filming took place over 72 hours in March and Kirsty was to face her terror and learn to deal with it.

She explains: “We started with techniques. I call it 'tapping'. You tap certain parts of your face and hands and repeat things and after you have done it, you feel better.”

She was to need her techniques as she summoned her courage to meet the scary situations planned for her.

The pilot training simulator at Heathrow was one nightmare encounter for Kirsty.

“No, I didn't like that. They said it was very like the real thing and I was going to experience what I would on an actual plane… I can't believe I cried about getting into a simulator.”

The emotional impact of meeting her worst fears was to overwhelm Kirsty on more than one occasion but her determination to succeed was greater than her dread .

“Some people didn't even make it on to the simulator,” she recalls.

She also had to go into a claustrophobic tunnel. “It was awful. It's quite embarrassing.”

“With the claustrophobia test they asked what I would be scared of most - being alone or with other people.

“They showed us a picture of this underground tunnel and said that was where they were taking us and I said, I thought with loads of people I would be more scared.”

The experience was petrifying.

In fact: “I spent four days crying my eyes out,” admits Kirsty - slightly abashed.

One of the things Kirsty did not have to face was her worst food nightmare of a plate full of offal… information sneakily obtained by the filmmakers before she went on the course.

“They rang up and asked about dietary requirements before we went.”

Having established what people really, really hated eating, some of the group were then presented with their horror food.

“They made some people eat things they absolutely hate. One bloke didn't like bananas but once he had therapy he actually liked them.

“He asked to have another one.”

All the therapy and all the techniques for dealing with stress were aimed towards one thing… and all the participants knew it was coming - the dark spectre of a real aeroplane flight.

“On the way to the airport when we were told we were getting on an aeroplane he (Lawrence) did relaxation with pressure on my arms.

“It was a bus full of really scared people.”

The destination was Gatwick and an empty terminal. The terrified group of passengers went through to departure.

“We were put through the security checks exactly as you would be if it was a normal flight.”

How was Kirsty feeling?

“It was getting worse and worse. I was getting upset and went to say goodbye to my mum and my partner… now I think how stupid I sound but, at the time, that was how I felt. 'This is it. I'm going to die'.

But Kirsty wasn't going to stop now. Approaching what she believed was a certain fate, Kirsty managed to get on to an aircraft, a British Airways plane.

It was a BA passenger aircraft and the group was in the hands of some of BA's best air steward and one of the best pilots, says Kirsty.

“He talked us through everything.”

On board the plane, she was next to the emergency exit - and next to her dad. Yes, her dad Steve had made it through too, trying to combat his own, deep-seated fear of flying.

“I think we supported each other,” says Kirsty.

“When you watch the programme you won't think he (dad) has a fear. He keeps it so well hidden.”

What she didn't know was that the man seated the other side of her was a cameraman who would be recording her pre-flight terror.

“As the plane took off I have never experienced anything like it. I was really scared about take off. It was awful.

“I really freaked out… I was hyperventilating.”

But once the plane was in the sky and on its way to Southampton Kirsty found herself much calmer.

“Once it was up there. It was weird. I looked out of the window - it was at night. I could see the lights below.

“I walked about on the plane and I was fine landing.

“I felt like I had won the lottery. I knew it had changed my life. I was so happy,” says Kirsty.

Having conquered her fear, Kirsty's world got bigger.

The former building society worker who is to start her teacher training at West Suffolk College in the autumn, lost no time widening her horizons.

Just a month after the filming she and Mark jetted off to Turkey for a holiday. “When I got there I did absolutely everything - scuba diving, a jeep safari…”

And there was another life-changing moment for Kirsty, too because, on her first ever holiday by air, she and Mark got engaged - buying their rings in Turkey.

As for her next flight: “We thought about Paris - I've never been to France.” What's more: “ We're thinking of getting married abroad,” reveals Kirsty who has spread her new-found wings..

Dad Steve hasn't travelled by air yet but he's hoping to book a holiday abroad later this year, says his proud daughter.

Kirsty keeps in touch with her other Fear of Flying fellow travellers via an online forum, leaving messages.

After the Lawrence Leyton experience: “I wasn't, 'Yes! Let's go and get on an aeroplane',” says Kirsty, who adds that she still uses her little help rituals and keeps the rescue remedy to hand.

“I wouldn't say I'm completely without fear - it's rational to be a bit scared.”

As for the programme, Kirsty could have joined the others to view it but she thinks she'd rather sit at home and watch. She'll be seeing the whole programme for the first time tonight.

She wants to add a 'thank you' to Lawrence Leyton and everybody at Objective Productions for giving her the “amazing opportunity”.

Kirsty hopes her story can help others too. “I really, really hope it helps people to overcome fear. It's a great feeling!”

n You can see Kirsty's emotional journey and see how the other fearful fliers got on in Fear of Flying on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm

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