In the early 1960's, Don Cameron came to Bristol as a young, newly qualified aeronautical engineer to join the Bristol Aeroplane Company, as it was then known, based at Filton. At weekends, he would go to the Bristol Gliding Club at Nympsfield and it was in the evening at the bar that many aeronautical exploits were planned.
One member of the Bristol Gliding Club, Giles Bulmer, produced a copy of a National Geographic Magazine showing a new type of ballooning that had just been invented in the USA. Seven of the Gliding Club members took up the idea and, after many difficulties, produced the "Bristol Belle", the first modern hot-air balloon in Western Europe. It first flew on 9th July 1967. All the members of the group learned to fly using this balloon.
Having discovered the hard way how to make a hot air balloon, Don thought it seemed a good idea to build a few more balloons and for a while did so on a hobby basis with demand slowly expanding. By 1970, however, Don Cameron took the rash step of resigning from his "real" job and founded Cameron Balloons Ltd.
The early days of ballooning were great fun; there was always something new to be done - flights over the Sahara Desert, a flight over the Alps etc. These succeeded, but Don's own attempt to make the first balloon flight over the Atlantic in 1978 ended in the sea about 100 miles from France. It was this adventure that prompted his fellow members of the Bristol Junior Chamber to ask him to give a talk about his exploits one evening and, in the pub afterwards, the idea of the Fiesta was born.
The following year, on the weekend of the 7th-9th September 1979, a small gathering of like-minded balloonists came together to celebrate the first ever Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Organised by the Bristol Junior Chamber of Commerce and Shipping, the Fiesta was held at the popular ballooning location, Ashton Court.
Spectators witnessed a mass ascent of all 27 balloons attending the Fiesta and marvelled at the many other flights made throughout the weekend. Most balloons came from the West Country, while others came from Ireland, Luxembourg and West Germany.
The Fiesta was financed by sponsorship through local firms and businesses, as well as some national companies. During the Fiesta, sponsors were allocated a balloon used for displaying their advertising banner. Employees of the sponsors were then encouraged to participate with the crewing of the balloon which involved retrieving the balloon as well as going on a flight.
With a total of 117 flights made from Ashton Court, the first Bristol International Balloon Fiesta proved to be a roaring success, paving the way for future fiestas.
From this small beginning, the Fiesta has grown year after year, flourishing into what has become Europe's largest annual hot air balloon festival.
Today, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta attracts over 100 Hot Air Balloons with 500,000 members of the Public attending over the four days of the event. The involvement of the business community is still central to the Fiesta, through The 100 Club.
During its 33 year history the Fiesta has become as much of an icon for Bristol as Brunel, Wallace and Gromit or Concorde.